Ethan Shone 30th January 2019
Yesterday Ross Greer, a Scottish Greens MSP for West Scotland, appeared on ITV’s breakfast show Good Morning Britain (GMB) to defend his tweets about that most sacred of British cows, Winston Churchill. Greer called the wartime prime minister a “white supremacist” and a “mass-murderer” which, if nothing else, has proven to be a very effective way of getting on the telly and making Piers Morgan’s piss boil, both of which are generally to be applauded.
Clearly Greer’s comments were designed to be provocative. The argument about applying modern standards of decency to historical figures is a worthwhile one — but Churchill’s culpability for the starvation of millions of Indians and his decision to let loose what amounted to a state-sponsored terror group on the Irish people means he doesn’t actually measure up so well to historic standards of decency, either. But that’s by the by.
Incidentally, this isn’t the first time Morgan has pinned hopes of viral-worthy controversy on discussions about Britain’s most contentiously well-loved Prime Minister. In May last year we were treated to a discussion on, “Should we be ashamed of Churchill?” and just a few months later, in October, we covered the completely different question of, “Is it offensive to quote Churchill?”
Good job there’s been nothing more pressing or current we could have been talking about. That said, Churchill is far from the only topic up for debate on GMB, Morgan has also set social media alight with highly reductive discussions about race, gender, the national anthem (a personal favourite), Donald Trump and more.
He places himself firmly in the position of the every man, as a defender of good sense and right-headedness in a society becoming increasingly shrill, unreasonable and petty
Though he’s supposedly there as the moderator, with guests brought in to represent either viewpoint, Morgan more often than not leans heavily toward one side. Usually, this pits him against progressivism and “left-wing thought”, but to his credit he is not entirely partisan: he made a feeble attempt at holding Tommy Robinson to account last year and has also had on big-game hunters and US gun proponents to make him, by contrast, look like an almost agreeable human being.
The idea, regardless of the actual issue up for discussion, is that he places himself firmly in the position of the every man, as a defender of good sense and right-headedness in a society becoming increasingly shrill, unreasonable and petty. I imagine that’s what he tells himself, anyway.
Now honestly, if I knew nothing of GMB and someone told me more-or-less every morning on one of our main TV channels we have discussions and debates about controversial issues with proponents of wildly opposing views putting forward their cases to an audience of millions, I’d be like, “Sweet, sounds useful.” If we actually had a forum for people to put forward interesting and controversial viewpoints where they were given the space to explain them before an opponent was offered the same right, then great.
What is the purpose of this type of shithousery?
But what it actually is, almost without exception, is a dumbed-down slanging match, where a disingenuous point is not debated but shouted around, with no room for nuance, actual discussion or even, often, facts. It’s not a good-faith debate between people who, even if they’ve no intention of coming round to the opposing point of view, have at least an interest in understanding it. It’s the pub-bores idea of a debate: say your piece loudly and ignore everything else.
If the purpose of actual debate is to try to reach understanding and broaden our ability to empathise with other viewpoints, then what is the purpose of this type of shithousery?
Its goal, clearly, is to stoke controversy and simply watch as views and clicks and comments become ad revenues. But its purpose?
In Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, 1984, the Two Minutes Hate is a daily ritual in which the members of a highly-repressed society gather in front of a screen to scream obscenities and indulge in some blind rage, ostensibly aimed at whoever Big Brother wishes to present as its — and therefore society’s — enemy.
The purpose of the Two Minutes Hate in Orwell’s world is not necessarily to get people to hate specific figures — though this is one effect — but to make those involved forget, just for a few minutes, that the world they inhabit has turned to hot fiery shit all around them and the people in charge are responsible for basically all of it. Sound familiar?
The idea is everyone’s hate is directed the same way, but clearly that isn’t always the case, as the book’s protagonist Winston Smith expunges his feelings of hatred during the two minutes not toward the enemies of Big Brother but to the party itself. This actually doesn’t matter, ultimately, because as long as everyone’s totally consumed by mindless hate, they’re not thinking critically about their situation.
Every time you tweet Piers Morgan, whether you’re saying he’s dead right or saying he’s a cunt, you help his career
In the same sense, when GMB presents us with one of its culture-war-inducing debates, two camps emerge, both vehemently opposed to each other. These sides become temporarily consumed by what is almost always an ultimately pointless debate, which benefits nobody except GMB and, in a grander sense, the people in the world who you actually should be angry at.
Whereas anger can be righteous and bring about worthwhile change, in this context it is useless and debilitating in that it is driven down a complete dead end.
Essentially what this boils down to is the reality that every time you tweet Piers Morgan, whether you’re saying he’s dead right or saying he’s a cunt, you help his career and, in the process, you condemn us all to more of this mindless, pointless bullshit. But unfortunately, you (and I) will continue to do it anyway.
Because, to quote Orwell: “The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in.”
Ethan Shone 30th January 2019