It’s not satire ... This dinosaur’s creepy schtick is beyond a joke
OF all the reactions to the news that actor Emma Watson revealed some breast in a Vanity Fair shoot, the most dispiriting and vile was the splurge of lechery penned by Rod Liddle in his Spectator column. His piece was a reminder that, metaphorically speaking, we live in a Juras- sic world; dinosaurs are alive and walking the earth.
The column, which came across like a slightly slimy piece of erotica or a parody of an early Philip Roth novel, explained how, to show solidarity with women on International Women’s Day, the writer spent a substantial amount of March 8 “looking at a photograph of Emma Watson’s t**s”. Liddle then described them, in almost anthropomorphic detail.
I imagine it was partly meant to be satirical and draw attention to what some considered the hypocrisy of Watson being a feminist campaigner. But mostly it seems like an excuse to describe her breasts and state how “heartily” he approves of the shot as a feminist statement. It even climaxes with Liddle’s declaration that: “I think the feminist cause would be advanced enormously if Emma went further and decided to show us all what my 11-year-old daughter refers to as her ‘front bottom’.” Need I say more?
It’s typical Liddle. Sex seethes through whatever he pens. Whenever he writes about a woman his primary urge seems to be a comment on her looks. Nicola Sturgeon is for him a “wee thin-lipped munchkin of a leader”. Labour MP Caroline Flint was “fit as a butcher’s dog”, and Carol Vorderman was, in his book, Selfish Whining Monkeys, “a**etastic”.
When he does this, Liddle is pretty much saying that sex is what women are there for, so let’s dismiss all the other stuff. Occasionally it seems like he’s trying to puncture our prudishness, but mostly it just comes across as a sexist attempt to undermine women by objectifying them.
After reading this latest column I had an awful flashback to 2009 and the piece that Liddle wrote on Harriet Harman. “So – Harriet Harman, then,” the piece began. “Would you? I mean after a few beers obviously, not while you were sober.” Chillingly, it went on to describe in intricate and fantastic detail, how such a scenario might actually happen.
When the Harman piece triggered a tsunami of outrage, Liddle apologised and said his piece was a “parody of guttural, base sexism” and he thought readers “would know it was a joke”. Presumably that was what he assumed, also, on this latest occasion. His Twitter account, after all, declares him a satirist.
But I don’t buy the “parody” or “satire” excuses. Both words, these days, can be used to get you out of anything: racism, sexism, belittling causes you don’t like. One can’t react to satire because, well, that would mean one was taking things far too seriously.
But satire often has intent, and you can react to that. The intent here was to undermine International Women’s Day, and also to continue his campaign, begun in a column in The Sun in November, against Emma Watson whom he, back then, declared a “whining leftie”.
Often it feels like satire is the last refuge of the misogynist. It’s the white man’s safe space. Perhaps Rod Liddle is the one-man British Breitbart, a voice working away at the grievances of the threatened or left behind.
The problem is that satire functions best when its sting is directed towards the powerful – and there are still relatively few women in power. What does it mean when a powerful female celebrity like Watson is attacked by a male, Liddle, himself a fairly powerful and influential commentator? Of course, Liddle can crank up a greater sense of disparity if he seems to be speaking for the working class, the male left behind. That almost works in his columns for The Sun. But in The Spectator, he’s with his own, speaking to the elite – and it doesn’t quite wash.
In my more optimistic moments, I like to imagine Liddle is really a double agent who appears to be working for the patriarchy but is actually trying to undermine it by displaying the kind of blatant sexism that tells the world how much we need feminism.
But that, of course, is wishful thinking. The full horror of Liddle is that he’s writing for men out there who still think like him, with whom his writing chimes. Liddle is there for the dinosaurs who can’t see a woman as anything other than t**s and ass. While they still exist, feminism has a long way to go.
It’s typical Liddle. Sex seethes through whatever he pens. Whenever he writes about a woman his primary urge seems to be a comment on her looks
For Rod Liddle, satire appears to be the last refuge of the misogynist. It’s the threatened white man’s safe space