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Jan 15 2013

Who the heck is Julie Burchill?

You have to know in order to get the punchline to this video.

So I looked. Read this and this and this. And then, like me, you can go back to ignoring Julie Burchill’s existence. Forever.

25 comments

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  1. 1
    David Gerard

    No foolin’, Julie Burchill has been writing this sort of bile – about any target whatsoever, or contradictory targets – for thirty-five years. It’s all been pretty much the same: trolling for attention. But she gets her copy in on time and generates controversy, so editors love her.

  2. 2
    Louis

    Julie Burchill is a UK (left-ish) newspaper columnist. She frequently spews out (to me seemingly random) articles with just enough right to keep my eyebrow on my head after reading all the wrong. I think, although I am by no means an expert, that she is a deliberate controversialist, so I tend to view her works more as performance art than serious thought, but that said she’s managed to provoke thought in me more than once so I don’t write her off utterly. I guess my view of her work is more confused than complicated, probably because her work is more confusing than complicated or enlightening in my experience.*

    This latest bit of transphobic drivel? Yeah, that’s not one of her “good” articles. She needs a metaphorical and literary kick up the bottom for this one.

    Louis

    * Incidentally my view of Burchill is a view I have of several columnists from across the spectrum here in the UK. If you want a general rule of thumb derived totally from my anecdotal experience living in the UK and the USA: in the UK the newspapers are nearly universally bad and the television news reasonably good, in the USA the newspapers are usually pretty damn good (I’m thinking of the big ones here, not just the ones I might “agree” with) and the television news nearly universally terrible. Our (UK) newspapers seem to me to have dropped a longer way from the journalistic ideal than their USA counterparts. I stress this is my idiosyncratic opinion, and thus likely very wrong!

  3. 3
    Matt Penfold

    Julie Burchill is a UK (left-ish) newspaper columnist. She frequently spews out (to me seemingly random) articles with just enough right to keep my eyebrow on my head after reading all the wrong. I think, although I am by no means an expert, that she is a deliberate controversialist, so I tend to view her works more as performance art than serious thought, but that said she’s managed to provoke thought in me more than once so I don’t write her off utterly. I guess my view of her work is more confused than complicated, probably because her work is more confusing than complicated or enlightening in my experience.*

    She first came to prominence when writing for the NME (New Musical Express) at a precociously young age as a teenager. She does not seem to have matured as a writer since. I agree she sometimes has something interesting to say, but to be honest I do not often feel like wading through the crap and narcissism to find it.

  4. 4
    David Wilford

    Roz Kaveney has an insightful column about Burchill’s opinions:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/13/julie-birchill-bullying-trans-community

    I especially like this paragraph:

    “Moore and Burchill seem to have a weird objection to anything they think of as intellectualising. Intersectionality is not hard to understand – it’s the simple observation that most people having a bad time in this society are getting it in the neck for several things at once, and the way we write about oppression needs to address that. This is not weird PhD fodder discourse; just a new vocabulary of tact.”

  5. 5
    Louis

    Matt,

    I agree she sometimes has something interesting to say, but to be honest I do not often feel like wading through the crap and narcissism to find it.

    And therein lieth the problem! ;-)

    Certain columnists require a hearty breakfast, plenty of coffee, a good night’s sleep and a comparatively stress free morning to peruse over an appropriate coffee break. A bad bit of Burchill can cause me severe sarcasm towards colleagues in the afternoon if I approach it unprepared. Hence why I tend to avoid a newspaper at coffee time and instead console myself with either company or a copy of JACS. My ability to maintain a tolerant front absent a bitingly sarcastic demeanour is severely denuded by published idiotic oxygen thievery early in the day.

    Louis

  6. 6
    robro

    Who? There are so many media bigots of one stripe or another these days, it’s impossible to keep up. One wonders where the Republicans get their “Liberal media” trope.

    Good of the Guardian to apologize. While I like many of their columnists (Ana Marie Cox being a personal favorite), they do air some surprising comments, particularly in the religious area.

  7. 7
    drxym

    Julie Burchill is a newspaper columnist specialising in bitchy, opinionated newspaper copy. Personally I don’t find her columns especially interesting, inciteful or funny. Just boring attempts to be controversial. She’s not the only columnist who does this. The British tabloids seem to specialise in employing people like this to shoot their mouth off and provoke some faux outrage for a few days.

  8. 8
    Matt Penfold

    It is no coincidence that Burchill used to be married to Tony Parsons, another writer who thinks being controversial equals being a good writer. Parsons recently claimed that if his wife (one subsequent to Burchill) earned more than him his dick would literally fall off.

  9. 9
    rachelholmes

    Matt,

    “Parsons recently claimed that if his wife (one subsequent to Burchill) earned more than him his dick would literally fall off.”

    I don’t suppose you know what her name is, do you? I feel a Kickstarter project coming on. What? IT’S FOR SCIENCE.

  10. 10
    jose

    But remember, FtB is radical.

    Nope. FtB is 100% funfem.

  11. 11
    roland72

    I was absolutely flabbergasted at Burchill’s article. I usually buy the Observer – I bought last weekend’s one without knowing anything about it & was tipped off by a friend. To see such incredible hate speech in print was just surreal – and in the stablemate Sunday paper to the Guardian?? I had no idea Julius Streicher was still in journalism and infiltrating the leftwing press.

    I can’t justify spending money on a paper if there’s a risk of that money funding writing like this. So until the Observer apologises and commits to not paying her for anything again, that’s the end of my relationship with that paper. I wrote to them and told them so. The editor’s watery “apology” about hurt feelings doesn’t do the job I’m afraid.

  12. 12
    DLC

    I could have gone the rest of my life without seeing that. More to the point, without knowing about Julie Burchill or her writing. Can I get another 500ml of brain bleach, please ?

  13. 13
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    Louis:

    in the USA the newspapers are usually pretty damn good

    Not really anymore, not even the larger ones. The New York Times, to take the most obvious example, runs the horrible brainal diarrhea of Ross Douthat, David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, the Freakanomics guys, and various other shitbirds. To the extent that it’s liberal, it’s a very upper-middle-class, don’t-rock-the-boat sort of liberalism. Sometimes they still do good reporting, but their reputation for “all the news that’s fit to print” is and has always been vastly overrated, unless “fit to print” is equated with “okay with the corpocrats.”

    drxym:

    Julie Burchill is a newspaper columnist specialising in bitchy, opinionated newspaper copy.

    How ironic, snarking a transphobe with a misogynist slur, as well as an adjective implying that women shouldn’t have opinions at all.

  14. 14
    Louis

    Ms Daisy Cutter,

    Oh crap, really? Well I confess my extensive experience of American print journalism is ~19 years out of date, so thanks for the correction. I’d hoped in the interim your illustrious print organs hadn’t quite stooped to the depths ours have.

    Louis

  15. 15
    Matt Penfold

    The Observer publishes an 8-page supplement of the best of the NYT. I have to say I am not overly impressed by the quality of journalism on offer, although Natalie Angier is always good.

  16. 16
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Moore and Burchill seem to have a weird objection to anything they think of as intellectualising. Intersectionality is not hard to understand – it’s the simple observation that most people having a bad time in this society are getting it in the neck for several things at once, and the way we write about oppression needs to address that. This is not weird PhD fodder discourse; just a new vocabulary of tact.

    No. It really isn’t that. It really isn’t that at all. This is part of the reason that confluence was coined – the intersection has turned out over time to be a bad metaphor for what Crenshaw wanted to communicate and the term has taken on a life of its own that utterly fails the potential of the actual, original insight – which also isn’t too complex.

    The original insight had to do with court cases where black women were denied the right to sue for race discrimination because of the wide prevalence of gender discrimination, and how that made it impossible to prove that the discrimination was race based. **in the same cases for the same plaintiffs at the same time in front of the same judge** they were denied the opportunity to sue on the basis of gender discrimination [inartfully and frequently inaccurately called sex discrimination in US legal parlance] because of the wide prevalence of racial discrimination.

    Then, to create the ridiculous out of the tragic, they explicitly argued that they were experiencing both at once so that an employer couldn’t submit a motion to get preliminary judgment on one suit by arguing that they were guilty of another infraction, and then reverse the argument later. They would have to concede one to get off on the other as the suits were brought simultaneously. Judges denied that, too, as there was no action explicitly for **combined** racial/gender discrimination.

    In other words, Black women didn’t get it in the neck and bleed a pint for being black, then get it in the neck and bleed a pint for being women. They got it in the neck both times, but the expenditure of clotting factor on one wound meant less for the other – so neither closed as quickly and each Black woman lost 1/2 a gallon instead of a quart.

    Intersections weren’t merely about getting it in the neck twice – they were about the **interaction** of experiences, the constructive interference that defies all physical laws of linear amplitude growth.

    But Crenshaw’s theory was a theory of moments – the moment that a judge decides to invalidate an attempt to end racism because sexism exists, or vice versa; the moment when a screener at an anti-domestic violence shelter denies safety to a woman seeking to escape abuse because she speaks the language of a land she fled to escape starvation, or racism, or classism, or just more sexism.

    The theory of intersectionality was failed by our inability to come up with easy examples of moments when it wasn’t just being white, it wasn’t just being straight, it was being **white and straight together** that resulted in a special benefit even greater than could be calculated by adding the benefit of being white to that of being straight. Crenshaw **never** intended this to be only about how we get it in the neck. Although her original papers on the topic don’t elaborate, in the papers’ obiter dicta (if you will), she makes clear that being white intersects with being a woman every bit as much as being black does. While there’s an observation that is crucial that there are times when the sum of oppression is more than the sum of its parts, Crenshaw wasn’t advocating the view to which intersectionality now defaults: when we’re talking about intersectionality, we’re talking about being targeted by oppression, not privileged by it.

    This is part of what confluence was conceived to fight, but not all of it. Next post specifically about confluence. Right now I have to get the kids dressed.

  17. 17
    Q.E.D

    Burchill is a provocateur whose modus operandi is to “epater la bourgeoisie”.

    I cant’ think of a good word to convey her level of smug but it’s the kind of smug without any of the qualities that might cause one to be smug such as superior intelligence, wit, talent or skill.

    It is a special kind of smug that permits her to loudly proclaim her downtrodden working class origins ( “I’m as common as muck, me”) while also claiming that working class people are superior and have better values than other classes of people. The kind of smug that doesn’t see the irony and hypocrisy of constantly reminding everyone that “I’m working class, me” – while earning her living in the uber middle-class [1] occupation as a writer for a broadsheet.

    It appears never to have occurred to her that while she may have been born into a working class family, she is no longer working class unless, as I suspect, she is claiming some sort of hereditary right to the title [2]

    [1]: note for USians in the UK “middle class” tends to mean a more socio-economically privileged class than US “middle class”. My understanding is that in the UK it tends to mean the professional class, owning/inheriting your house, attended fee-paying schools and university educated and often an accent that denotes al of the above.

    [2] I have lived in Britain for 12 years and my daughter is British but I admit I am still confused about class in Britain. I welcome any corrections from properly British people.

  18. 18
    Q.E.D

    Tracked down Burchill’s piece reprinted by Toby Young in the Torygraph. Here are some lowlights [warning, ignorant, malicious slurs to follow]. Note that, as always, she manages to bring in her working class background and lack of University education as badges of honour and superiority in a discussion slur-fest aimed at transgendered people.

    “a bunch of dicks in chick’s clothing”

    “a gaggle of transsexuals telling Suzanne Moore how to write looks a lot like how I’d imagine the Black & White Minstrels telling Usain Bolt how to run would look.”

    “To be fair, after having one’s nuts taken off (see what I did there?)) by endless decades in academia, it’s all most of them are fit to do. Educated beyond all common sense and honesty, it was a hoot to see the screaming-mimis accuse Suze of white feminist privilege”

    “She, the other JB and I are part of the tiny minority of women of working-class origin to make it in what used to be called Fleet Street and I think this partly contributes to the stand-off with the trannies. (I know that’s a wrong word, but having recently discovered that their lot describe born women as ‘Cis’ – sounds like syph, cyst, cistern; all nasty stuff – they’re lucky I’m not calling them shemales. Or shims”

    “We know that everything we have, we got for ourselves. We have no family money, no safety net. And we are damned if we are going to be accused of being privileged by a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs.”

    “To have your cock cut off and then plead special privileges as women – ”

    “Shims, shemales, whatever you’re calling yourselves these days – don’t threaten or bully we lowly natural-born women, I warn you. We may not have as many lovely big swinging Phds as you. . .”

    Here is the Burchill article in toto

  19. 19
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Confluence:

    I’ll keep this short, since this isn’t a big discussion thread & it’s a response to a comment, not the OP (and the second response at that).

    Confluence is a metaphor with two tightly integrated uses.

    The first indicates the way that different aspects of identity and experience flow together to create one person. Each spring, each source of experience or identity, eventually reaches a confluence with others, eventually adding up to the sum of person.

    This is not blackness and gender passing by each other, combining in a particular moment – say, on the phone with a shelter screener or in the decision of a judge. This is a combination that is lasting, that manifests in the ongoing life of the person. And this flowing together does show combined effects – a poisoned spring will eventually poison the stream into which it flows. Moreover, the damage will not be the same for every stream, since some toxins will be diluted and rendered harmless, others are mixed with substances that promote the toxic effect and become more dangerous. The same can be said of nutrients arising within the context of a single spring.

    Likewise, whiteness or blackness or might have more or less effect on the personality of an eventual, individual adult than it may in another adult. The effect of race is changed -and not always linearly or even predictably- by the flowing together.

    The paired metaphor is for society. Indigenous experience and whiteness and manhood combine in certain ways. Though the metaphor breaks down if each person must be envisioned, in some way we can only imagine is related to Deepak Chopra’s quantum magic, to be entering the social stream simultaneously from multiple tributaries. But this isn’t necessary. We can imagine the make-up of those tributaries as “dislabeled experience” rather than “disabled persons” [and parallel divisions for other experiences].

    Finally, we can speak of a stream as having a laminar flow – where because of local conditions the waters of one tributary do not particularly affect others to any significant degree. This is particularly useful to describe how flow can happen with little (but not zero) mixing – the bottom-hugging waters stay on the bottom, the surface waters remain in the sunshine.

    Or we can speak of a stream as having turbulent flow, where quite a lot of mixing occurs, sometimes efficiently though rapidly, othertimes with quite violent disturbance of the stream.

    The details of the metaphor, however, are not as important as the use to which the metaphor is put. As expressed earlier, it is hoped that without the emphasis on momentary coming together at an intersection, and the easy availability of a “crash” as the metaphor for interaction – but at best that each stream of vehicles slows the others rather than benefits the others – confluence will make it easier to talk about multiple privilege in the way we now find ourselves able, through intersectionality, to speak about multiple disadvantage.

    But it is also hoped that we see a better capacity for dealing with interaction over time. While intersectionality was never only about the disadvantage side of the oppression coin, it was a theory of moments: two things come together at a crucial juncture to make a decisive difference that neither could make alone.

    Tactics is often said to be strategy constrained by time. If its of any use to people you could think:

    tactics are to strategy as intersectionality is to confluence.

    Hope that’s useful to someone.

  20. 20
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Sweet gods of chocolate icing – I clearly can’t make anything short.

  21. 21
    Cyranothe2nd, there's no such thing as a moderate ally

    @ Crip Dyke–

    Thanks for writing those explinations. I admit that I’ve always used “confluence” and “intersection” as synonyms. You explained brilliantly how they are not and provided some historical context as well. Useful distinctions!

  22. 22
    guthriestewart

    QED #16 – you’re just about there. But middle class does not mean your children were privately educated, although that often happens. Rather it’s a title for a set of values and opinions and behaviours.
    Therefore it is entirely possible to be poor and yet posh, rich and yet decidedly working class in behaviour or outlook, although the last few decades have made it clear how much supposedly ‘working class’ people who make good are desperate to abandon anything ‘working class’ about themselves.
    In Burchills case, she’s uselss and bad and one of the reasons I don’t read the guardian or observer much is because they troll their readers like nobodies business.

    I don’t need to read hateful right wing ranting in the guardian or observer, there’s 5 or 6 other ‘news’ papers I can read it in. So why do they do it? I can only assume because of a misplaced sense of fair play and a desire to increase their hitcount.

  23. 23
    persiflage

    @Q.E.D

    I cant’ think of a good word to convey her level of smug but it’s the kind of smug without any of the qualities that might cause one to be smug such as superior intelligence, wit, talent or skill.

    I can’t think of a good word either, but I can offer this rather elegant expression from AE Housman* for the phenomenon:
    “I cannot reconcile the strength of his anxiety to seem superior with the faintness of his endeavour to be so.”
    I am properly British and am also confused about class, if that helps. It wasn’t something I grew up with a huge awareness of and I’m not at all comfortable attributing a ‘class’ to myself. I’m not remotely clear on where one is supposed to draw a line between working-class and middle-class. I think the problem is partly that the nature of work has shifted so dramatically over recent decades away from industrial and manual labour, so that far, far fewer people have a simple correlation of ‘I do X for a living (and so did my father/mother before me), therefore I’m working-class’, and many more people who are ‘well educated’ in comparison with their parents or grandparents are still in low-paid (or no) employment.
    Also the ‘middle class’ is so immensely broad, and the term is so frequently used somewhat pejoratively to stereotype a particular social type of upper-middle-class person, that people are reluctant to self-identify as middle class if they’re lower- or middle-middle class. This is further complicated when we can’t seem to agree whether to define class by upbringing or by current circumstances and lifestyle.

    (*in a scathing scholarly review of an edition of Ovid by a Dr Postgate, if it matters)

  24. 24
    Q.E.D

    slightly OT

    @ persiflage

    Thank you for the marvellous quotation. I also like your analysis; her class animus appears to be founded on a totally outdated class paradigm. Burchill is still harbouring a kind of class resentment that would have been reasonable from a coal miner who lived when Orwell wrote The Road to Wiggan Pier. This kind of resentment is perfectly absurd coming from a columnist in the 21st century who in her best years was making over £200K.

  25. 25
    sonofrojblake

    Wigan Pier – one g. I grew up there, solidly working class. Now I’d say I’m middle class, although probably lower middle since my chartership is in a profession other than law, medicine or the clergy. Possibly middle-middle. It’s terribly complicated and few British people understand it. Burchill demonstrably doesn’t.

    The true offence here is not Burchill’s – she has said nothing worse in this column than in many she has spewed before. Blaming her for this sort of expression of opinion is like blaming a small child for filling its nappy/diaper.

    The real offence here is that of the editor – the man who read this appalling crap and made the decision to publish it in a national newspaper and online. Burchill is a freelance hack who will likely profit from this controversy, indirectly. The editor responsible for paying her, and for printing this stuff, should be out of a job this week.

    Sadly, all of the ire will likely be heaped on Burchill, to her likely delight, and the editor will get a slap on the back for all the extra traffic to the website.

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