I keep wondering what it’s like to be Katie Hopkins. Not just Hopkins, but any of these modern characters who’ve made — or been allowed to make — a job out of reacting to current events with incendiary, contrary opinions.
Somewhere in the last few years, the role that I, like many teenage boys, took on as an obnoxious 6th former, of ‘offensive/contrary opinions troll’ became an actual paid career path. Thankfully I grew out of it, having only behaved that way because I was seeking validation, and would rather gain looks of revulsion and giggles from the gallery than no reaction at all. Twenty years on, the likes of Hopkins, Milo, Mensch, and those who aspire to be like them, are still all tugging each other off in the common room, because it’s all they have.
But what is that like? With no other skills, and no self-respect, knowing that your only way to make a living is by peddling hot-takes contrived to turn as many stomachs as possible? Most likely, it’s crushing. “Someone popular has died. Better rush to Twitter to let everyone know I don’t give a shit. Christ, I wish I was fucking dead.” Most people don’t like their work, but this career must be exhausting above all others. Get up; see an atrocity on the news; carefully construct a blasé opinion about not caring to keep your brand going and cashmoney coming in.
The majority of people with a shred of humanity will feel empathy on hearing of, say, a well-loved celebrity’s death; of police brutality, poverty, mental illness, drowned refugee children washing up on the shore. But if you’re one of these purveyors of outrage, that’s the fire-house bell signalling the pole-slide down to the laptop, to compose a thought, an outburst, a take; something to rile the masses and fist-bump the fellow trolls. And, you’d better do it quickly, to most effectively grab those sweet retweets, and invites onto talk radio shows and daytime discussion panels, to expound with further-scripted zingers in best pantomime villain priggishness, so you sprint to the keyboard, heart ricocheting against your ribs, with a silent prayer of “Please, please don’t let anyone have said something equally reprehensible yet…” If there’s nothing on the news, then you’re forced to be creative. Maybe a sneering reflection about the poor, or the overweight, or whatever try-hard Cards Against Humanity nonsense will get your name back in the papers, and your arse back on the studio sofa defending your views to a sexless presenter duo. Most likely a pop at immigrants, as that’s the most easily inflamed, perpetually raging fire of recent years.
With bad news coming at a rate of knots, more than just shitty takes, the Pro Trolls now find themselves having to adopt political ideologies they may or may not have agreed with, in the days before becoming locked into character. Fascism on the rise and getting negative reactions from the lefties you’re constantly feuding with? Well, eventually, you’re going to have to align with actual Nazis. You can’t take a step back, or be seen to have empathy; to side with the ‘snowflakes’ and ‘SJWs’; the angering of whom has become your life’s work. It’s all-in now. If a celebrity dies, if a left-wing MP is shot in the street, if dusty, bleeding children, and the corpses of their friends are pulled from bombed-out streets in the Middle-East, and you’re not there to post about how sad it all isn’t, then someone else might get there first; someone like you; someone who gets invited onto The Wright Stuff as a result, while you’re sat at home, thirty pieces of silver down.
I wonder if it eats away at the soul, a sickly, nagging guilt. Maybe at first, you don’t really believe what you’re saying, and the money feels dirty as it’s tipped into your account, while you tell yourself you’re just playing a role, posting missives from The Upside Down. There were flashes of humanity in Hopkins, during her stint on Celebrity Big Brother, where, like all but the truly unhinged, she was unable to stay ‘on’ 24/7, and gave occasional reminder she was a human being. Although perhaps anyone would look more palatable while locked in a house with Perez Hilton, a man who spent his time literally screaming into people’s faces about how great and happy he was while wearing sunglasses to hide the tears of self-loathing and insecurity welling in his eyes.
“She’s not so bad,” people said, but then came the Sun column where she compared warzone-fleeing refugees to cockroaches, suggesting they be mowed to shreds with gunboats. At that point, the Hopkins persona; the brand; could not turn back. Having stated that she will never back down or apologise (although she recently was legally required to, and did so at 2am for minimum visibility), it’s clear the thing she fears most is having to take any stance that would bring a fatal blow to the carefully-constructed brand, like seeing two wrestlers chummily eating together at KFC a couple of hours after you’d watched them hitting each other with chairs. People pointlessly argue with Katie Hopkins on Twitter like they would with Mickey at Disneyland, as though she’ll suddenly remove her foam head and break character. It’ll never happen. She won’t do a Mike Yarwood, say “And this is me,” and croon out a dreary, heart-felt ballad.
I suspect that, over time, you become that person, like a method actor who can’t shake the role. Still, part of you must feel it, deep down, in the pit of your gut that fears for the world your children will grow up in, when you get a news alert about a terrible event, and know you’re going to have to let everyone know how hard that you don’t care, because that’s who you are now. I genuinely have intense pity for anyone who’s made this their life, for whom human suffering is something their very name demands be used as glib rage-bait. But I despise them too. Though contrived, these personas still breed very real hurt, anger, and unrest. And nobody who wasn’t a massive fucking dick to begin with could ever consider living that way.