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As a conservative, I pity woke liberals who allow political differences to ruin their appreciation of art. Why be so fragile?

Guy Birchall
Guy Birchall

Guy Birchall, British journalist covering current affairs, politics and free speech issues. Recently published in The Sun and Spiked Online. Follow him on Twitter @guybirchall

Guy Birchall, British journalist covering current affairs, politics and free speech issues. Recently published in The Sun and Spiked Online. Follow him on Twitter @guybirchall

As a conservative, I pity woke liberals who allow political differences to ruin their appreciation of art. Why be so fragile?
For right-wingers, discovering a celebrity is vaguely ‘on their side’ is a novelty. For lefties, discovering one who isn’t in total lockstep is a life-shattering insult. Is ideological purity really that important?

I’m that most unfashionable of things, a conservative. In terms of being considered cool, that puts me somewhere between Crocs and Donny Osmond in the current culture, but you can at least get away with liking those things “ironically.” I’ve basically always been this way, I often joke when people ask me if I “ever went through a lefty phase” by replying, “Well, I voted for David Cameron twice.”

As such, I’m very used to the idea that most of my cultural heroes – musicians, actors, comedians, authors, and so on – would probably think I was an a**hole. In the unlikely event I’d ever end up at dinner with, say, Ricky Gervais or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I’d probably give politics a miss just for a quiet life. 

I’ve always moved in mostly liberal circles, working as I have in the media in London for years. I even made a brief foray into stand-up comedy. But having “controversial” opinions such as thinking Brexit was broadly a good idea and not believing Donald Trump was “literally Hitler” haven’t exactly won me friends. On the occasions I’ve been asked directly for my view on either subject and answered truthfully, I’ve been greeted with the kind of look I’d expect to get for having just confessed that my main hobbies are dogging and Freemasonry. 

Which is why I find it bewildering to watch large sections of my generation go into fits of hysteria when they discover the world view of one of their heroes differs even slightly from their own.

The most fitting recent example of this has been the collective screeching from the woke left over JK Rowling. The Harry Potter author has recently been revealed to be what is known in Wokish as a TERF, or trans-exclusionary radical feminist. Simply put, this means she doesn’t believe a strapping lad with a five o’clock shadow can’t throw on a dress, say his name is Dorothy, and then have carte blanche to stroll into a women’s changing room. This has pretty much turned her into Voldemort, as far as leftists are concerned – they’ve been left sobbing into their Gryffindor pyjamas, claiming she has “ruined their childhood.” 

To use another word from the woke lexicon, this seems exceptionally “fragile.” Rowling is very left-wing on virtually everything: she’s one of the few billionaires who’s never been accused of having “complicated” tax arrangements, she was vociferously pro-Remain in the EU referendum, has been consistently anti-Tory, and even retrospectively revealed that Dumbledore was gay. 

Her liberal credentials are virtually flawless, and yet this one deviation from the woke orthodoxy has seen her denounced across the board. Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, who literally wouldn’t have careers without her, castigated her over her blasphemy. Several fan sites have erased her from their pages. Some called for her publisher, Hachette UK, to refuse to carry her work anymore (though obviously that was never going to happen – no publisher would drop Harry Potter). In short, these people reacted to Rowling pointing out that “people who menstruate” used to be called “women” like Ayatollah Khomeini did to Salman Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ and issued a woke fatwah.

The same thing happened a few years ago, when Kanye West came out as a Trump supporter. Suddenly, the rapper was “deranged” and “not really black”, and had “internalised white supremacy.” 

From my side of the aisle, this looks completely crazy. I thought ‘Joker’ was one of the best films I’d seen in years, and this didn’t change because I discovered Joaquin Phoenix was a vegan fundamentalist who thinks the dairy industry is basically running bovine concentration camps. I’m still able to enjoy Green Day’s oeuvre, despite sharing virtually none of their politics. If I were a US citizen, I’d be the exact target of ‘American Idiot,’ but I still think it’s a good song. 

From a philosophical point of view, insisting on ideological purity from artists is just about the least “liberal” thing in the world. From the perspective of having an interesting existence, it just seems a sure-fire way to have a sinfully dull life.

I can only assume that their insistence on it stems from a lifetime of being coddled, sheltered and protected from any dissenting opinion. It’s a novelty for me when I discover that a celebrity agrees with me, which is why Laurence Fox has been such a breath of fresh air for me recently. However, I’m not going to suddenly pretend to be his biggest fan or insist that ‘Lewis’ is better than ‘The Wire’ just because I’ve found out we agree on Brexit. 

It seems insane that we’ve reached the stage where right-wingers like me are the ones arguing we should be able to appreciate art for art’s sake, regardless of an artist’s politics. You shouldn’t let your political leanings be the defining feature about you, but I suppose if you believe in “identity politics,” then there’s no way of avoiding that. I should mock these people for their myopic outlook on art and life, really, but – honestly? I just feel sorry for them.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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