Botox and bullsh*t: Two columnists and one kind of contempt for you — the reader

I wanna write for the common people, common people like... youuuuuuu

🎵 She came from Grazia/She had very little knowledge/She studied Trolling at St Rupert’s College 🎵


Polly Vernon writes satire with the kind of subtly that Robert Oppenheimer brought to the redevelopment of downtown Hiroshima. In Saturday’s Times Magazine, she wrote a double-page spread — that’s a DPS to media saddos like myself — that was designed to be funny but dripped with such contempt for the lives of ‘civilians’ (what some journalists have been known to dismissively call the readers that actually buy their ‘work’) that it was a two-page argument for violent Marxist insurrection. In summary: She’s got less money because of the pandemic and has had to live — horror of horrors — like an ‘ordinary’ person.

I’m not going to rehash my reasons for despising Vernon’s article here, but suffice to say I hated it so much that you could use my rage to power a bijou little boutique hotel that Vernon herself would find insufficiently luxurious. You can read my notes on it in the tweet below. They are angrier than Malcolm Tucker trapped in a wheelie bin:

There’s a common meme now about ‘saying the quiet bit loud’, which refers to the tendency among establishment figures to be quite brazen about their hatred for certain groups or the sheer brutality of some of their plans. The Nouveau Broke feature, which includes Vernon boasting about the ease with which she secures commissions normally, fits that profile perfectly. It should be the journalistic equivalent of a Ratner moment — the notorious admission by Gerald Ratner that the jewellery he sold was ‘total crap’ which led to the derailing of his whole business — but journalists, particularly comment and feature writers, don’t have to face any consequences for this sort of thing now. In fact, it just gets them more work since hate clicks have the same economic value as ones driven by happiness.

It’s likely that Vernon will lap up the praise she has received from other journalists and people who identify with her aspirational doggerel while turning the criticism into fodder for more pieces about being ‘cancelled’. She cannot lose really and showing contempt for millions of people is basically fine because many of her readers feel similar distaste for ‘the sort of people’ who buy stuff from Tiger, like Lidl, and don’t know about really expensive spas where you get charged inordinate amounts of cash for so-called wonder treatments that do fuck all.

🎵 'Cause everybody hates a tourist/ Especially one who thinks it's all such a laugh 🎵

In the same magazine issue as Vernon’s feature, Caitlin Moran’s latest book was given a heavy trail with two extracts. The second of them was the most affecting; it covered one of her daughter’s experience with an eating disorder and how Moran and her husband, Pete Paphides, dealt and didn’t deal with the situation. It was a piece of writing that actually justified the hype and (almost) the salary that Moran gets for her journalism, film, TV and literary projects.

But The Times and, presumably, Moran who must have signoff on these things, immediately wasted the moral capital from the eating disorder piece by trailing at the bottom of the page today’s extract which is… about Caitlin Moran getting Botox. So after writing painfully and perceptively about the pressures put on young women to look right, act right, and be right, Moran is delivering a jokey look at plastic surgery. The cognitive dissonance is strong.

Both the heartfelt piece and the more jokey extract that focused on Moran and Paphides maintaining their sex life despite having to deal with two kids were decent. But they represent a problem that Moran has set up for herself; she writes so often about herself and her family that they are never just people — they are content machines, a handle for Moran to crank and create new stories for columns, books, and fiction. In her own origin story — made more extreme for dramatic reasons — Moran has found material for three different projects already: Raised By Wolves on TV, the How To Build A Girl trilogy of novels (two have been released so far), and the How To Build A Girl movie.

But the well of Moran’s sort-of hand-to-mouth youth is surely now dry. So the sequel to her non-fiction mega-hit How To Be A Woman has to be about something else and that something else is… her family. That’s why she’s expanded her feminist tent to drag in men; she needs to talk about her husband — himself now a memoirist — because that’s material and her children because they are living, breathing material, extensions of her. And one of her daughter’s is already a pop star — or at least trying to be — so it’s a good cross-promotional move for the Moran/Paphides dynasty.

In the exaggerated expressions and the swift handbrake turn moves like jumping from her daughter’s pain to a jokey discussion of her sex life and then her Botox needs, Moran says one thing really: “You, the reader, are there to watch me goon. And you will love it.” That her choices mean that other human beings — including two who are her daughters — become characters in a cartoon series. Caitlin Moran is happy to make herself the rubber-faced protagonist and her family are along for the ride. Think the Kardashians are an American thing? Well, we’ve got dynasties — new and old — all over the place in the UK, it’s just that they pretend they got there through merit.

Maybe I should be a little less tough on Polly Vernon. At least she’s honest and willing to admit that she’s better than you.

From a multi-million pound house, with access to almost anything, Caitlin Moran pretends she’s just like you. And that’s just another kind of contempt.