Well, now, there was a thing.
I’m referring to the reaction to my previous post, which I think it would be fair to say was quite strong. I guess that’s partly obvious from the things you can see as a reader of the blog – it’s my most commented-on post in quite some time – but it was more obvious from behind the scenes, with the big spike in pageviews:
Showing you the graph like that probably makes it seem like I’m bragging, but I don’t mean to. It’s just an interesting thing, and something I thought you might be interested in as well. And what I really want to say is thank you to everyone who read my post, and I’m glad those of you who found it worth recommending to your friends and followers did so. I’m always astonished anyone can be bothered wading through my more …epic posts, and I’m pathetically grateful when they do. So thank you.
I hope you won’t think I’m being hideously ungrateful, though, if I admit to a slight feeling of relief that the activity on the blog has gone back to normal. I do always feel weirdly exposed whenever a bunch of new people turn up to read something of mine. Grateful and flattered, of course, but also anxious and uneasy in a fairly profound way that I find hard to explain or justify. I guess it says ‘thoughts from an addled mind’ up top for good reason…
Anyway, never mind that.
One of the more enjoyable consequences of watching that post blow up in the way it did was the opportunity it gave me to keep half an eye on things that people were saying about me in other places. On that point, I was gently amused to see a confident assertion somewhere that I was female. Not that I object to people thinking I’m a woman – to be offended, I’d have to think there’s something wrong with it, and I don’t – but I do find it a little odd. It’s something that’s happened a number of times, and while I don’t expect casual readers (or committed ones, for that matter) to check out my ‘About’ page and discover the truth, I do always wonder what it is about this blog that makes people think I’m female.
Does calling myself ‘Aethelread the Unread’ make people subconsciously think of me as an ‘Ethel’? Do they find a reference somewhere to me being attracted to guys, and end up being led into error by a default assumption of heterosexuality? Is it something to do with my prose style? Does my long-winded-ness make people think of the stereotypical attributes of feminine speech? If so, what about the fact that a lot of my posts – including the last one – are obsessively detailed exercises in nit-picking, and that is, according to the stereotypes, a masculine mode of discussion? Is there just some part of my ‘energy’ (to use a god-awful, new-age phrase) that comes across as female?
Well, who knows, and, to be honest, who cares?
What I found slightly harder to dismiss was another ephemeral comment somewhere in a far corner of the net, which suggested that the post was good as far as it went, but that it should be discounted because it had been written from a rightwing perspective. Now, by all means, call me a girl and I won’t flinch, but accuse me of being a rightwinger and I’m far more likely to take umbrage. Or, I would have taken umbrage, if I wasn’t just more confused than anything else.
I can’t really see what would lead someone to think the post had been written from a rightwing perspective, unless it’s the brief aside about the illiberalism of liberals. But we’re surely not so thoroughly Americanised that we’ve started using the word ‘liberal’ to mean ‘leftwing’? I mean, we currently have a liberal party in government, and they’re impeccably rightwing.
For the record, anyway, I was using the word liberal, not as a means of defining where someone exists on the left-right spectrum, but where they exist on the reactionary-radical spectrum. A liberal in this sense is someone who supports moderate progressive reform, or liberalisation (while a reactionary reacts against progress by pursuing regressive measures, and a radical favours more radical forms of progress: they’re pretty literal terms). Anyway, I did feel quite tempted to point the individual concerned in the direction of another recent post of mine on a related issue – David Cameron, multiculturalism. authoritarianism. I mean, any post that ends, only semi-ironically, with ‘The Internationale’ has to count as pretty leftwing, doesn’t it?
I actually found myself wishing people were reading that post for other reasons, too – namely that in the last third or so I try to set out why I think Islamophobia and homophobia (and other forms of prejudice, too, although I don’t specifically mention them) are linked, and how the only real solution to either problem is to solve both. Compared with the post about Johann Hari’s article, it’s a lot more constructive and positive, and I would prefer people were reading a post like that.
As a general principle, I dislike negativity. I think it’s corrosive and toxic, and that it tends to inhibit meaningful change; while people are standing around arguing, they’re not getting anything done. It’s for those reasons I try to avoid it where I can, and why I’m more interested in trying to make a positive case for what I believe in than a negative case against what I don’t. I fall way, way short of that all the time, of course, partly because making a positive case is harder than making a negative one, and partly because I get cross and allow my emotions to get the better of me. There are also times when I don’t just get cross, but also think negativity is necessary. I genuinely thought Hari’s article was disingenuous, and distorted, and profoundly damaging, and that it was necessary for there to be a number of point-by-point rebuttals (not that I ever expected anyone much would read mine).
That doesn’t change the fact that I was uncomfortable with how much character assassination was involved in the chorus of criticism. A number of people seemed to be trying to damn Hari and everything he’s ever done, but I’ve been reading him for years, and he can be really quite good (at least for a liberal; at least for someone employed in the mainstream media). Take this article, for example, published since the dodgy Attitude one, and making a great deal of sense about the causes of radicalisation amongst some Muslims (and, yes, it does tend to contradict what he said in the dodgy one, in that it involves thinking about Muslims as people, with real motivations for their actions, not just as some alien, scary other). Or there’s this one, again recent, and putting a human face on the rise in homelessness that will be an inevitable consequence of the ‘reform’ of housing benefit. Both of these are good, I think, and I’m happy to recommend them, which is why Johann Hari continues to feature in my blogroll.
Hari’s articles only usually go so badly wrong when he tries to write populist polemic, which he’s never been able to get right. Either he ends up sounding patronising, or – as with the Attitude article – he feels he has to pander to prejudice. I realise they probably ended up looking like rhetorical devices (and, if I’m honest, I hoped they might work like that), but when I asked Johann why he was writing this kind of article, or told him he was better than the statistical manipulation he was engaging in, I meant it. He is better than that article (and some others) suggest.
Well, this has turned into more of a digressive post than I was intending. I really just wanted to put down my slight feeling of relief at things getting back to the usual, coupled with my astonishment/ gratitude at having been – briefly – quite widely read (well, by my standards at least). There’s one definite positive that’s come out of all this, anyway. By way of a comment left on that post, I’ve discovered a fantastic blog, Fagburn: ‘Prolific radical gay blogger commenting on the media, politics and popular culture.’
Sounds like it should be right up my alley.
As it were.
(Sorry, I’ve been watching a lot of Frankie Howerd clips on YouTube lately, and it’s catching…)