On Friday afternoon I did something in an interview which I’ve never done before I lost my temper. In my defence I have argued the issue of disablism many times across all media against some fierce competition, but if you’re familiar with Brendan O’Neill you’ll understand my situation.
Brendan O’Neill is what can best be described as “interesting” in his take on issues, which many of us understand to be crucial, in terms of debate, discussion and reflection. Racism, Rape, climate change and latterly hate crimes against disabled people, have all fallen under his eye and with a bored swipe he has framed his argument, it seems to me, along basically the same lines. To Brendan if you speak out on those issues it’s an attack on the working class.
He describes himself as a libertarian but could just as easily be described as a contrarian, or in a phrase from my childhood he’s very much a contrary Mary.
The issue at hand was Frankie Boyle and his tweets on the paralympians. It had been my third interview in 48 hours and there had been some opposition and some agreement. At no point had we strayed from the issue at hand but then I’d never been placed before Brendan O’Neill before.
Within seconds of speaking his palpably bored voice deployed words like patronizing, attack, censorship, the masses and patronizing again. This weird and unrelated misdirection of an attack had me incredulous.
Incredulous that he was being given airtime to forcibly and determinedly minimize a crucial issue of hate crime targeting disabled people.
What some pundits would no doubt view as emotion on my part I could equally decry on their part as over simplification and misdirection. Some seemingly play with issues which mean absolutely nothing to them, yet mean very much to many others or as Brendan would describe them “the masses”.
I waited he spoke he waited I spoke. In reply to everything I offered in terms of disabled humour hate speech the rise of hate crime and propaganda he retorted with the same response. It was an attack on working class people. When he wasn’t offering this response he snorted over my replies. That’s when I lost my temper and decided that in fact this was best dealt with, with mirroring. So that’s what I did.
I asked the writer and political activist George Monbiot who has encountered O’Neill previously over the issue of Climate change for his view
“This seems to be his standard line: criticize big corporations? You’re attacking the working class. Call for governments to do something about global warming? You’re attacking the working class. Disagree with his crazy polemics on any issue at all? You’re attacking the working class. He launches furious polemics against people from public school backgrounds who take leftwing positions, largely on the basis of their class origins. Yet somehow he’s able to put all that aside when someone takes an insanely rightwing position (i.e. one that he agrees with): see, for example, his embarrassing fawning over Lord Monckton and James Delingpole, who are not exactly horny handed sons of toil.
O’Neill exemplifies the Living Marxism cult: claim that the most extreme rightwing market fundamentalist positions are in fact leftwing and in the interests of the working class.”
Brendan took his thoughts on me from The Jeremy Vine Show to his Spiked twitter feed and then, no doubt bored moved on to other things.
Hat tip to him however as by enraging me with his rudeness, this rendered him potentially reasonable by comparison.
The problem with this school of thought is that in “debating” with him I felt the same range of emotions as I do with Internet trolls. They are not interested in what anyone else thinks they just want to make mischief.
Public debates seem to be increasingly wandering down the path of polarizing opinion whether TV, Radio, Facebook or Twitter people seem to be either bored stupid, or furious. What isn’t seemingly allowed is nuance or respect and politeness. I maintained composure on air in the same way I do online and the provocation was exactly the same. Deliberate and ultimately benefitting neither people’s understanding of the issue nor finding accord between debaters on any common ground. The intention with trolls is to make you angry get a reaction and move on which is why so many pundits these days are required to have an opinion on a broad range of topics. Often they are put up against experts in their field either through life experience, or research and it’s difficult when confronted by a person who is so blatantly sneering of the issue and those in receipt of their condescension.
In recent press coverage of Julian Assange and his occupation in The Ecuadorian Embassy’s guest suite, up popped Brendan giving voice to his theories on what constitutes rape. The notion of where angels fear to tread doesn’t seemingly give Brendan even a moments hesitation as he treated us to these homilies in his Huffington Post Blog
“It is more accurate to say that "sex pursued in defiance of a lack of consent is rape"
“Having a daft mind is now just as likely to see you branded a rapist by feminists as having a guilty mind.”
“Feminists who are subtly rewriting the meaning of rape are taking us away from this civilized approach and towards something more backward, even feudalistic: the criminal punishment of people who do not have criminal minds.”
Suitably confused by Brendan’s strange explanation of “rape, rape”, “not rape” and “feminists ‘wrongly’ blaming rapists, for rape” I asked the feminist writer and blogger Cath Eliott for her take on my new best friend.
"What struck me most about O' Neill's comments apart from the obvious vile misogynistic victim blaming, was the fact that he seems to take so much pleasure wallowing around in his own ignorance and then gloating about it. It was clear he knew nothing about the current laws around rape and sexual violence, and it was also clear that he'd done nothing to educate himself about it, no research or anything, before putting pen to paper. It's as if to Brendan O' Neill and other men like him the Sexual Offences Act 2003 has never happened, and so rape and consent can mean exactly what those men want it to mean. It's a sense of entitlement that says women are there for men's enjoyment, and O' Neill and his cohorts will interpret the law however they want to ensure it continues to protect them and allow them continued access to women's bodies when and however they want it.
But O' Neill makes his living from being a professional contrarian. The other issue that has come out of this for me is the responsibility, or lack of it, from the media. And that's despite everything's that's come out of Leveson. The Huffington Post should never have printed his piece, but they did because they knew it would provoke outrage and garner them lots of hits. But that's probably a debate for another day...”
The points of George Monbiot and Cath Eliott certainly give me hope that the current fashion for using highly incendiary pundits, like O’Neill, who can be found snuggled down in the heartland of the right over at The Telegraph, is seen for what it is. A ratings chasing game of “He said, She said”
It’s boring to make it your business to enrage whether the listening audience or a campaigner and most unforgivable of all is the dilution of issues which need much closer scrutiny and above all impassioned defence.
If the only intention is to trade on anger, then it’s pointlessness precludes anything approaching debate but then, perhaps, that’s the point. It’s a living I guess but for anyone else who is placed in the debating chair opposite Brendan my advice is to realise he's just doing "his thing" otherwise you'll find an otherwise enjoyable "talk in the park" becomes unexpectedly as it did for me, a yelling chase through the long grass, much like Fenton's owner and as enjoyed just as much by the "Fenton" concerned.