Culture

Miranda Devine’s Latest Column Is Titled ‘NRL Bosses Are Totally Gay’. It Doesn’t Get Much Better From There.

The NRL have punished a junior player after he made a homophobic on-field slur. Miranda Devine believes the decision to be "paying obeisance to homo-fascism". Because, what?

Do you think that News Corp columnist Miranda Devine ever considers in her quieter moments, maybe in the dead of the night when all are asleep and the house is settling, that she might, maybe possibly, be not cut out for this journalism caper? And if she does do that, do you reckon that in those moments she feels a sudden pang of anxiety, like an icy hand lightly brushing over her heart, when she begins to wonder, even for a fraction of a second, if she really is cut out to write words about things in a paper read by people? And having allowed that pernicious thought to needle its way into her mind, do you think it sets off a terrifying chain reaction of self doubt, creating a feedback loop that propels her closer and closer to the edge of a kind of Lovecraftian madness-pit — an abyss of loathing and soul wrenching self-awareness from which, she knows, there is no return?

In those moments, if they ever do happen, I wonder if the only thing Miranda Devine can do to halt this descent is to stumble to her computer while the room spins and the floor races away, open a Word document, and set that cursor racing across the screen, leaving words in its wake like someone shitting themselves while running a marathon to nowhere.

Does this sound like something that’s plausible? Probably not, no. But it would go some way to explain the kind of fever-dream level ramblings for which she has become famous.

Published in this morning’s paper, her latest offering for The Daily Telegraph is hard to engage with purely because of its lack of substance. It’s like trying to wrestle a fart. The title, published on a leading news site in the year 2014 which we may or may not link to here, reads ‘NRL bosses are totally gay’ and begins with the line:

WHY doesn’t the NRL just burn Mitchell Moses at the stake?

It’s an excellent question, albeit one that bears some quick explaining.

Mitchell Moses is a young and promising rugby league player who was recently handed a two-match ban by the NRL. So I suppose the answer to the question of why the NRL is forgoing a stake-burning is that he’s already been punished with a two-match ban. You can’t punish someone for the same crime twice, Miranda, it’s made pretty clear in the excellent documentary Double Jeopardy, narrated by and starring Ashley Judd.

So what did Moses do to deserve this? Put simply, he made comments to Luke Bateman during an on-field fight on Saturday that were deemed by the NRL to be in breach of the code’s anti-vilification policy.

Devine continues:

[Moses has] been caught up in this illiberal modern day crusade to hunt down homophobes, and who cares if he’s guilty? Rugby league will make an example of him to show how progressive it is. Paying obeisance to homo-fascism.

Here’s a fun experiment. Don’t read those words in your head; read them aloud. Do it now, I’ll wait. I wrote this in the past so you really can’t keep me in any case. Okay.

Can I hazard a guess that you did not do that? Can I further suggest that the reason you did not do that is because doing so would make your co-workers/fellow commuters/loved ones immediately assume you to be insane on the grounds that this is an objectively insane thing to say?

But if you did read them aloud, congratulations. Can I ask — when you said them did you feel less like they were the words of a self-described “hard hitting journalist who writes for the Daily Telegraph” and more like an old man who lives in a burnt out car in a vacant lot who the local children tell stories about on Halloween?

The second one? Was it the second one?

And in the same way that you wouldn’t think to engage with Old Man Boxcar, I’m hesitant to actually deal with why Miranda Devine thinks this — but we’ve climbed the fence and crept across the lot, and I’m not winning the dare unless I rap on the car’s foggy window, so here goes:

If Moses isn’t guilty of breaching the NRL’s anti-vilification policy, what did he say, then?

What Moses actually said was “f…ing gay c …”, during an on-field biffo with Bateman in the dying ­moments of Saturday’s Under 20s state of origin game.

Let’s just quickly remove those textual bleeps to get the full effect of this argument.

What Moses actually said was “fucking gay cunt”.

Okay, Miranda, why isn’t that homophobic?

Let’s get one thing straight. “Gay” no longer just means “homosexual”.

Look. That didn’t end as badly as I thought it would. When a conservative cultural warrior Miranda Devine starts a thought with ‘Let’s get one thing straight -’ and doesn’t end that thought with ‘all the gay people’, in relative terms you’re coming out on top.

The word has changed meaning over the last decade. Young people use “gay” to mean lame, or dumb or stupid, as in: “That’s so gay.” South Park even had an episode about it.

Somewhere out there, a plaque is being made up to be fitted to the tomb of journalism, next to a vial of the tears of Paul Barry. It reads, ‘May the 6th, 2014: the day that a columnist used the phrase ‘South Park even had an episode about it’ as an argument.’

Then this:

In Britain there was a campaign against homophobia with the slogan “homophobia is gay”.

I’m just going to leave this FAQ from that campaign’s website.

If using the word “gay” as a derogatory term is bad, why are you using it in the name of this campaign?

We are not advocating the use of the word “gay” as a derogatory term. Instead we are using the fact that it is used so widely in this context to demonstrate how common homophobia is.

It is a rare columnist indeed who can write something that misses the point with such power that it not only misses the point, but travels all the way around the world and hits you in the back of the head.

No one owns a word. English evolves, and it is quite capable of ­embodying two separate meanings in the one word. It is just tyrannical to demand that people must use a word only in the form approved by homosexual activists.

Here’s one of the moments where Devine waxes philosophical, snapping off a tasty chunk of truth from the school of linguistic descriptivism. For two sentences she manages to keep her train of thought on track, approaching some kind conclusion before getting distracted by the concept of tyrannical homosexual activists, derailing and plowing into a barn.

Yes, you are technically right, language does change. The story goes that when Charles II first saw St Paul’s Cathedral, he said it was ‘Awful, pompous and artificial’ – but back in the 17th Century, those words also meant good things! Ho ho! You should have seen the look on Christopher Wren’s face.

But just because a word can be used for a non-literal purpose, it doesn’t mean the original meaning isn’t relevant. Here’s a nice example. Until quite recently, you could play ‘JEW’ in competition Scrabble despite, it would appear, its status as a proper noun. Why? Because you could use it as a verb, as in ‘He jewed me out of my money’. In this usage, are you saying someone’s actually a Jew? Well no you’re not, and that’s why you get your 13 points. Are you still tying the figurative to the literal? Of course you are. Is it offense? Well, obviously that depends on who you ask.

Maybe in the future we can sit on our hover-porches and tell the incredulous little ‘uns about how people used to be offended by these meanings being used interchangeably and how newspaper columnist used to be a job — but that day quite plainly hasn’t yet arrived.

Bateman isn’t even homosexual. What more evidence do you need that Mitchell didn’t say “gay” as a ­homophobic slur?

Now, this argument has been dealt with very well in this article by Rebecca Shaw, but if you don’t think something can be a slur unless it is directed at a person from the group it is slurring, then you have fundamentally misunderstood how context, slurs and words work.

The article goes on for some more words, but there’s no more arguments beyond ‘Mitchell Moses probably has a sad now’. In any case, the figure in the burnt out car appears to be stirring and we’d best make our retreat.

She ends:

What might have started as a noble cause to prevent vilification of homosexuals is in danger of backfiring. If punishing an innocent man is supposed to promote tolerance, someone at NRL headquarters is on drugs.

See that ‘might’? It’s a small little word, but it does seem to suggest that Miranda Devine isn’t entirely convinced that the prevention of the vilification of homosexuals is a noble cause — or probably more likely, has no idea what she thinks. Leaving that aside, it’s difficult to see how giving someone a two match ban for calling another player a fucking gay cunt is out of line with that aim.

And so we return to our earlier question. Do you think that after writing this and hitting send, she felt that twinge again? And when her editor emailed back with the customary enthusiastic response, do you reckon she pondered that editor’s sincerity? Am I — she may well have thought, as she closed her browser and slumped in her chair — really the hard hitting journalist that my bio suggests? Or am I the journalistic equivalent of the geek at the carnival, biting off chicken head after chicken head, keeping the punters rolling, filling the coffers of my employers, but doing little more than providing a spectacle to be gawked at or reviled.

Do you think she wonders that?

Prolly not, eh.

Ben Jenkins is a writer. He tweets from @bencjenkins  

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