Friday, 16 October 2009

In which I join a mischievous and heavily orchestrated internet campaign

Yeah, so pretty much everyone has joined in giving Jan Moir's spectactularly offensive Mail column, "Why there was nothing 'natural' about Stephen Gately's death..." (now pathetically retitled "A strange, lonely and troubling death..." as if a more thoughtful headline somehow mitigates the swill within) a good kicking. Normally I try and avoid the subjects everyone else is doing, but in this case it's hard not to want to join the kickers.

It's hard to know where to start. Moir begins with a bit of pointless padding about other celebrity deaths (Heath Ledger and Jacko), and then starts talking about how the recently-deceased Gately couldn't really even sing. Now, I don't give a fuck about Boyzone; I've got a bunch of Six Organs Of Admittance and Chris Corsano records, and I listen to genres stoner doom metal entirely without irony (or drugs even). Heck, I've even got a surprising amount of Jandek albums which I had to grow a beard that I could stroke along to. I've made 26 records of my own which had a combined listenership that could safely fit on a single-decker bus, so to see these lucky chaps performing bland ballads and inexplicably getting showered with money and awards and the wet knickers of teenage girls has always been a bit depressing. All of that is irrelevant to Gately's death though, so to set the scene a supposedly serious column by joking that "he could barely carry a tune in a Louis Vuitton trunk", as Moir does, seems a bit crass somehow.

Still, that probably would have made for a better column than the one she launches into, which defiantly casts scorn on the coroner's verdict:

But, hang on a minute. Something is terribly wrong with the way this incident has been shaped and spun into nothing more than an unfortunate mishap on a holiday weekend, like a broken teacup in the rented cottage.
Actually, no-one called it a mishap. The official cause of death was pulmonary oedema, which is a dangerous accumulation of fluid in the lungs.
The sugar coating on this fatality is so saccharine-thick that it obscures whatever bitter truth lies beneath. Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again.
As many people have pointed out, 'healthy' and fit men DO die in their sleep, for a variety of reasons. Although in this case it's a disingenuous argument; if he had a fluid build-up in his lungs then he didn't just die for no reason, and having a serious medical condition requires a particularly loose definition of the word 'healthy'. What's troubling about this is that Moir is just nudging and winking at the readers; the coroner and the family may believe one thing, but WE all know different, right, folks? We know what people like Gately get up to! This would be staggeringly heartless so soon after his death even if there were solid grounds for casting aspersions, but with an official explanation in place and nothing but assumptions in the opposing corner it's just pure vindictiveness.
After a night of clubbing, Cowles and Gately took a young Bulgarian man back to their apartment. It is not disrespectful to assume that a game of canasta with 25-year-old Georgi Dochev was not what was on the cards.
What was, Jan? And how did it relate to his death? Any evidence? Some kind of theory? ANYTHING?
Gately's family have always maintained that drugs were not involved in the singer's death, but it has just been revealed that he at least smoked cannabis on the night he died.

Nevertheless, his mother is still insisting that her son died from a previously undetected heart condition that has plagued the family.

Yes, because a hereditary heart condition known to be present in his family is absolutely ludicrous, whereas cannabis = death is just pure, solid science you can take the bank. Where the column gets most outrageous is towards the end, where this tragic death is somehow co-opted into a rant about civil partnerships:
Another real sadness about Gately's death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships.

Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael.

Of course, in many cases this may be true. Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately's last night raise troubling questions about what happened.
Kevin McGee hanged himself. He wasn't in a civil partnership at the time. He had been battling drug addiction. There's genuinely no similarity between the two deaths other than that they were both gay, and that they'd been in the papers. This kind of dog-whistling, "see what happens when the gays try to get married" garbage is just so utterly foul that it's hard to imagine a paid newspaper columnist actually going through with writing it. But here, sadly, we are.

The reaction has been strong enough that Moir has put out a damage-limitation press release to try and make herself look vaguely human. It's not an apology, which I suppose is fair enough since she doesn't feel sorry and clearly meant every word she said. "Some people, particularly in the gay community, have been upset by my article about the sad death of Boyzone member Stephen Gately", she points out. I'm not in the gay community, and I'm certainly not in the Boyzone fan community; I'm just one of those crazy human beings who thinks that viciously raking over the largely imagined details of a tragic death, in public, before a man's even been buried, insulting his family and casting doubts on the integrity of the coroner, is kind of not really cricket. You may not be sure about the wisdom of civil partnerships, Jan Moir, but this is really not the angle to be criticising them from if you want to get any sympathy, even from people who thinkthat equality is somehow a bad idea. The response goes on, hilariously suggesting that her critics probably haven't read the massively widely-available online piece that got Tweeted around the globe, before compounding it with another torrent of burning stupid:
However, it seems unlikely to me that what took place in the hours immediately preceding Gately’s death - out all evening at a nightclub, taking illegal substances, bringing a stranger back to the flat, getting intimate with that stranger - did not have a bearing on his death.
It doesn't matter what it seems like to you, Jan. The facts don't care what you think. That's why we have coroners and inquests and police. There's a reason we don't write on death certificates "Fucked if I know...looks a bit dodgy though, he was one of them weed-smoking gay fellas...just put that down". It seemed 'unlikely' to me that a professional writer would think this column was a good idea, but hey, I'm revising my opinions in the light of new evidence! So, what was that you were saying about civil partnerships?
"In writing that ‘it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships’ I was suggesting that civil partnerships - the introduction of which I am on the record in supporting - have proved just to be as problematic as marriages."
What happy-ever-after myth? Find me one person, one single living person in human history, who claimed, nay, even suggested, that civil partnerships would in all cases be a lifelong recipe for happiness. Just one. Were you asleep when we debated civil partnerships, Jan? Because I'd always assumed that the reason we did it was that homosexuals are just people, as complex and uncategorisable and multi-faceted as any others, imperfect just like you and me (well, perhapss not quite as imperfect as you). There was no expectation of a 100% success rate for gay marriages, just a simple recognition that some sort of basic fucking equality in the eyes of the law might be quite nice, an acknowledgement of the fact that gay people are not freaks to be marginalised and stereotyped and looked upon as a threat. Get with the fucking nineties, Jan!
"In what is clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign I think it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones."
Yeah, you're right. All these people who read your article, they don't really think it was nasty. They're all quite right-wing and intolerant usually, but on a Friday they like to let their hair down and pretend to be politically correct liberals for the lulz. It's how the kids roll these days! We don't feel anything! It's definitely not that journalists have been cossetted for years by the cosy world of printed media, reaching a largely sympathetic audience who can't really reply. It's definitely not that journalists like you are only now suddenly coming face-to-face with what reactions their columns genuinely provoke in real people in an age of instant communication. Just keep believing the problem is everyone else's and nothing to do with the bilious drivel you wrote, it'll all be fine!


  1. Ahhh, I was waiting all day to read your response to this, I'm glad you didn't avoid writing about the same thing as everybody else.

    The last paragraph is a good reminder of why it's still worth mentioning the same horrible article & adding another voice to the opinions of so many other bloggers/tweeters/forumers out there.

  2. Thanks, Beth! I'm slightly surprised I bothered to write this when I came home, I still haven't opened Uncharted 2 yet. *insert 'someone is wrong on the internet' cartoon*

  3. Solid piece of writing, Jonathan, perfectly outlines why Jan Moir's article is a vicious, cruel and unnecessary piece of gay-bashing.

    A lot of my friends are hoping she loses her job, but as one said. "I hope she keeps her job and the Daily Mail fully support her so that people can boycott this paper and put it out of business for good!"

    This isn't just one mad barking dog it's a whole kennel full of them - called The Daily Mail.

  4. Particularly liked your last paragraph - good point and well made.

  5. Great stuff - I just took apart her 'spology' on my blog as well. Really hope the PCC gets off its arse and does something..but I doubt it somehoe.

  6. Excellent piece. Now all we can hope for is that this does the same for the Mail's circulation in Ireland (and elesewhere) as Kelvin MacKenzie's sensitive remarks on Hillsborough did for the Sun in Liverpool.