And the prize for least shocking headline of the day goes to, “PIERS MORGAN SEEN BROWN-NOSING DONALD TRUMP”. At one level, there is no mystery here. As JK Rowling and Ewan McGregor and many others have suggested, it is just a naked romance with power. And yet there is something weird going on in this transatlantic axis, a strange symbiosis that, repulsive though it may be, deserves further attention.
I take the verb “to brown-nose” from the lexicon of Private Eye, the great satirical fortnightly, which was collegiate enough to open up to me its vast archives on the man they like to refer to as Piers “Moron”. Whenever I mention the name to friends I notice they tend to come out with sentences like “What an x!” – where “x” is almost any sensitive part of the human anatomy, male or female. The Private Eye index confirms this initial insight. I am going to pass over the largely squalid details of Piers Morgan’s career, except to say that if I could run all the cuttings through a word frequency checker I suspect that at the top of the list would be “hypocrite” or “hypocrisy”.
Apparently, for example, Morgan still has a small scar on his face due to getting punched by an irate Jeremy Clarkson. No doubt there are many who carry such scars. But in Morgan’s case the incident was alleged to have been inspired by a newspaper campaign, orchestrated by then Mirror editor Morgan, insinuating that Clarkson was committing the grave sin of adultery at the very same time that Morgan himself was allegedly having an affair with (as the Eye would say) a “fragrant hack” from another newspaper. Hypocrite, QED. There are too many similar contortions and contradictions and absurdities to count, unless you fast-forward to one of his most recent rants, ''Ladies, I love you'' tweet before proceeding to denounce any “rabid” or “nasty” women (notably on the Women’s March) who didn’t happen to be in love with him or his BFF.
Maybe I should try, as someone kindly proposed, to “take him down”, in a definitive demolition job from which he would never recover. But the reality is, it is well-nigh impossible to take down someone who is crawling around at such a low level in the first place, or as they put it so snappily in the King James Bible, “a creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth”. And so I really want to try to stand him up again and put him back on his feet and stop him being so ashamed of himself that he has to seek validation in the eyes of others.
Coming bang up-to-date, Jeremy Kyle, trying to out-trump Morgan, has taken to heart his own blaring, pseudo-superior tele-counselling advice, “BE A MAN!” (not to mention, “YOU ARE A DISGRACE!”) and shoved off to Barbados with the voluptuous nanny, only blotting his copy book by dumping her in steerage while he cruised home champagne-class. An “amoeba of a man” in Kyle-speak. But as my son Jack commented, “Maybe hypocrisy is not so bad – your standards ought to be better than what you say or do – and definitely better than your tweets.” In other words, it is preferable to understand the moments of madness in which you come out with racist, sexist, or fascist garbage as anomalies rather than adopting a full-on extremist, fundamentalist, maniac persona in order to make perfect sense of them all. Like Katie “Biggest Bitch in Britain” Hopkins, for example. Thus achieving consistency and fake “authenticity” at the price of becoming a total monster.
The problem with Piers and celebrities in general is they are forever trying to straighten themselves out, to go, in effect, to personality rehab, so that they can be consistent, and conform with themselves, and thereby become the impossibly one-dimensional creatures we wish them to be. Authentic 100% hypocrisy-free. They aspire to the geometry of the straight line.
Elizabeth Wurtzel once spoke of a “Prozac Nation” in which everyone was high on medication all the time. But beyond the neuroses of individual celebs who will remain forever screwed up by virtue of trying to cram themselves into some stupid self-addressed envelope, the fact is that we are now confronted with the even more terrifying spectacle of the “celeb nation”. We see whole countries aspiring to the status of celebrities, as if in a global X-factor competition, a reality TV – or tweet – show.
Without wishing to boast, I think I may be the one who has finally got to the bottom of the seemingly vacuous “Brexit means Brexit” formula, so beloved of our Prime Minister. Its meaning is its structure. Its structure is the tautology, the mathematical equation, which merely repeats what you already knew. We are living through a tautological, Euclidean age of moronic simplicity.
Maybe it began with French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, perhaps the first celebrity writer and thinker. The opening lines of the Confessions (completed in 1769) suggest not just that he has a high opinion of himself with his “enterprise that has had no predecessors and will have no successors”, but more that he sees himself in isolation from anyone else, resembling perfectly only himself. He offers to delineate “a man in all the truth of nature: and this man will be me”. First word “Je” (I), last word of first paragraph, “moi” (me). And in case there is any ambiguity, he adds, in the next line, “Moi, seul”. Me, alone, solo. Me, myself, and I. Brexit means Brexit. Jean-Jacques is a pure one-off, a law unto himself. A singularity.
Post-Romantic celebrity culture has invaded our politics. We are no longer allowed to be a pluralistic, open society, the imperative is to be closed and singular. Just so long as I (whether a citizen or a state) am coherent with myself. I must be consistent and uniform. I am therefore best represented by another singular individual, like Trump, a reality TV star, whose only mission is to be radically other and unlike. Thus, politically and economically, tending to be protectionist and isolationist, building walls and fences, and in the case of Brexit Britain “taking back control of our borders”, as if the islands were a simple Euclidean object, non-fractal, anything so long as it is one and not many. Without contradiction. Anything, but not hypocritical. In all the truth of nature.
Brexit means Brexit is cartoon thinking, the political equivalent of Popeye’s “I am what I am and that’s all that I am”. Is there, as Sadiq Khan was arguing this week, a parallel between Trump, Brexit, European populism, and nationalism? I would go further and see analogies with the totalitarian movements of modernity, from fascism through to Isis. The fundamentalist position relies on the exclusion (ultimately the annihilation) of the other (the infidel, the Jew, the gypsy etc) and the formation of some mythological cult of personality, from Stalin through Mao to Trump. It is egocentricity at the level of the multitude.
The cult of personality is always a fallacy because there is no such thing as personality, only a bundle of psychological particles colliding with one another, a barely sustainable juggling act, performed in a void of almost perfect nothingness. At best, a composite or construct. The BBC Sports Personality awards are an exercise in pure pathos, given that we are asking athletes to be good at pretending to be personalities as well as at running or playing tennis or driving fast cars. I think David Hume, the Scottish philosopher, and a contemporary of Rousseau’s, may have been the first to see through this con. He didn’t much like Rousseau and was certainly sceptical of his inflated sense of ego and his paranoia. But it wasn’t until RD Laing’s The Divided Self (1960), a psychological study inflected with existentialism, that we began to understand that “21st-century schizoid man” (to quote King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King) was not the exception but rather the rule.
The self-consistent mind – free of contradiction and hypocrisy – is pure metaphysics, the heir to the soul. A quintessence of dust. Celebrities are our feeble attempt to reassure ourselves that we are not going mad or that our reason is falling apart. We need them to embody our imaginary undividedness. Our purely hypothetical non-ambiguity. Can we blame them if they go mad? Or are madly hypocritical?
“Fictitious” (as Hume would say) at the level of the individual, “unity” is a dangerous and deluded word when it comes to whole countries. Thus the “United Kingdom” (is it?), the “United States” (Trump has just reasserted the need for unity – United States means United States – thus drawing attention to the inanity of the idea), and the late lamented “Soviet Union”. The nation becomes a narcissist strutting the world stage.
I was reminded of all this the other day. It was shortly after the son of Muhammad Ali was detained trying to return to the US on account of either having the wrong name or the wrong religion or whatever (better safe than sorry!). It was when Henry Rousso was refused entry. He is French but born (as hitherto I had never known nor cared, but trust eagle-eyed US border officials to spot it) in Egypt. Therefore suspect. But I sort of doubt they had also spotted that he is the author of the classic history, The Vichy Syndrome, a study less of Pétain’s Vichy regime itself but rather of how, after the war, the French managed to convince themselves that they were a nation of heroes rather than (as some undoubtedly were) Nazi collaborators. The semi-amnesiac era of what Rousso called the “broken mirror”.
We are inhabiting a worldwide broken mirror right now. It is reflecting back at us a false image of ourselves as heroes. As RD Laing said, “Many of us are only too successful in acquiring a false self to adapt to false realities.” Maybe we have more to fear from the wannabe hero, who is pure tautology, hero means hero, than from the hypocritical Piers Morgan court-jester types.
At the risk of booking a place in next week’s “Pseuds Corner”, I would suggest that RD Laing’s theory of “ontological insecurity” fits Morgan rather well: in his devotion to heaping praise (Trump) or blame (Beckham), he exhibits the classic “lack of autonomy” and “dependency on the other” and “a clam- or vampire-like attachment in which the other person’s life-blood is necessary for one’s own survival”.
But he could be worse. He could be Katie Hopkins.
Andy Martin is the author of ‘Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me’ (Bantam Press, RRP £18.99). He teaches at the University of Cambridge. Follow him @andymartinink