BBC Radio 4 – Today | Does Kim Kardashian deserve sympathy?

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A woman getting tied up and robbed would be, you’d think, a no-brainer when in comes to sympathy; but as I wrote for the Independent on Monday, that’s not been the case for Kim Kardashian, who has been an object of schadenfreude and even glee since the public learned that she was the victim of an armed heist. This morning, Today invited me on to debate this with journalist Celia Walden, and I couldn’t have asked for a clearer example of the attitude I wrote about, with Walden claiming that Kardashian “flaunting” herself led to an “instinctive reaction” of unconcern. Hear me explain what this says about our attitudes to violence against women, and what it has to do wit Donald Trump, on the link below.

Listen on iPlayer (from 01:54:40)

A hunger artist

How can self-destruction be explained? What rationalisation can we put on something as brutal and seemingly-voluntary as starving yourself? Bishop Martin Shaw attempts to constrain the extreme asceticism of radical and mystic Simone Weil within religious terms:

Some would say that Simone had an obsessive/compulsive personality that led to the eating disorder: anorexia nervosa. Whether neurotic or anorexic, such labels come nowhere near a true understanding of this refined soul who dared to face the darkest of human circumstances and there find the Light of Christ.

Simone WeilIt’s not an eating disorder if you do it for God, apparently. Shaw’s distinction feels unfair, as though he has to wrangle Weil free from the anorexics, with their reputed vanity and girlish lack of substance. But saying that Weil couldn’t have been an anorexic because she was too serious simply feeds the romance of anorexia and the valourising of self-harm.

In fact, the language used by Shaw’s interviewee to explain Weil’s transcendent not-eating was easily reconcilable with the self-justification of anorexics: Sara Maitland (not included in the transcript) described Weil as being concerned with bodily purity. Well, quite. Out of all the complicated physiological and social causes of anorexia, I’d argue that this sort of celebration of the frail heroine is probably more dangerous than any number of size zeroes on the catwalk. Even a mystic can be sick, but for supposed-critics to echo that sickness and turn a horror of consumption and flesh into a devout experience – that’s just stupid.

Related: Paperhouse reads: Wetlands

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009

Some would say that Simone had an obsessive/compulsive personality that led to the eating disorder: anorexia nervosa. Whether neurotic or anorexic, such labels come nowhere near a true understanding of this refined soul who dared to face the darkest of human circumstances and there find the Light of Christ.

Sara Maitland is a writer who has a special interest in Simone Weil – and I asked her whether the eating disorder was significant in Simone Weil’s spirituality.

The culture we make

I don’t like waking up to Nick Griffin being interviewed on the Today Programme one tiny bit, and since you’re reading my blog, you probably don’t like it either. That’s the thing about an ultra-stratified media world: your readers choose you, and they probably choose you because they agree with you already. Or, maybe, because they’re looking for an opponent to their own beliefs – but either way, it’s unlikely that many minds are going to be changed. On Sunday night, my Twitter feed was full of people worrying that the approach they’d taken to the BNP was the wrong one: maybe shouting “fascists” doesn’t work after all, they muttered.

Well, it depends who you’re saying it to. And saying it to a self-selecting group of Twitter-followers and blog readers probably isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. People who vote BNP have got their own outlets, and it seems that they like to spend a lot of time there, having their prejudices reinforced. Talking among ourselves is useful, it solidifies purpose, it makes action possible – but it only rises above being a pointless stunt if you make it a prelude to doing more.

6% of a one-third turnout is hardly a resounding embrace of fascist politics, but it’s enough to win them money and prominence to present their arguments. The BNP know about the shortcomings in journalism, and they’re keen to exploit them: even a local council candidate appreciates the value of the newswire in broadcasting his message.

Challenging mainstream press and broadcasters over unproven assertion presented as fact might be a good start. Checking their sources. Confirming whether the pictures they use are accurate. Pressuring them to move away from reporting how they think people feel (thereby turning those perceived feelings into confirmed grievances) and towards reporting what actually is, with a critical eye on statistics and surveys. And when you find a mistake, not just blogging about it, but writing to the publisher or broadcaster and pointing out where they’ve gone wrong. Culture isn’t inborn (despite what the BNP say), it’s made. At the moment, we have a news culture that fosters half-truths, lies and unchallenged agendas: I think that can be remade. I think it has to be remade.