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Jonathan Pie Said The Left Was Wrong, Not The Right Was Right

25/11/2016 10:10

On the night of the US election I stayed up to watch the results with Tom Walker, creator of fictional news reporter Jonathan Pie. We were drinking Jack Daniels, and as we witnessed state after state turning red we found ourselves requiring more and more alcoholic refreshment. By the time Ann Coulter appeared, gloating about the success of Donald Trump, I could no longer be sure whether I was still awake or had passed out in a drunken stupor. After all, gloating Ann Coulters are a common feature of my nightmares.

Tom and I spent the next day writing a Jonathan Pie video in response to the result. We were hungover, obviously, but who wasn't feeling queasy and disorientated on that particular morning? This new script took a different approach to previous Pie films. Although a staunch lefty, we thought it would be interesting for the character to take the left to task for its culpability in Donald Trump's victory. We attempted to convey the notion that bad ideas can only be defeated through debate, by persuading people rather than insulting and shaming them into silence. In short, we were saying that branding all Trump voters as racist or sexist is strategically unsound.

It's a concept we also addressed when writing the live Jonathan Pie show, which begins a second UK tour in February. Amidst all the expletive-ridden Tory-bashing, there's a moment when Pie shifts gear and attempts to challenge the prejudices of his audience. "To suggest that anyone who voted Leave in the EU referendum is automatically a bigot," he says, "is, in itself, the very definition of bigotry".

Something about this idea has clearly resonated. Of all the Jonathan Pie films, his response to the US election result has been by far the most widely shared. To date it's chalked up over 115 million views online through a combination of Viral Thread, YouTube and the Jonathan Pie Facebook page. It has caught the attention of media on both the left and the right, a fact which some have found troubling. Mashable, for example, points out that it "has been widely covered by right-wing outlets as proof that their view of what liberals think about them is correct".

To be clear, Jonathan Pie is no fan of the right. He has always been explicitly left-leaning and anti-racist, so it's odd to see reactionary websites such as Chicks on the Right and the imaginatively titled Right Wing News sharing the video. And when someone told me that Breitbart was quoting an extensive transcript of our work, it did feel a bit like being slapped in the face with a bag of guts.

At the risk of sounding defensive (which means I'm about to sound defensive), there's very little we can do if conservatives are enjoying our film. This doesn't make the film itself right-wing, any more than Kim Jong-un's love of basketball makes the NBA a cheerleader for authoritarianism.

Surely with Donald Trump in the White House, we can all agree that the tactics of the left (or, more accurately, the liberal left) are in need of a rethink. I'm more convinced than ever that part of the problem is an over-emphasis on identity politics at the expense of the class struggle. Identity politics is not necessarily progressive. It's a bourgeois fig leaf, an illusion of progress that distracts from the realities of economic inequality.

Despite what many of her supporters argued, Hillary Clinton was not a progressive presidential candidate simply because of her XX chromosomes. Elevating one specific woman to a position of power may send out a positive message, but it does nothing in of itself to lift working-class women out of poverty; the UK electorate understands this only too well. It does, however, allow middle-class voters to feel better about themselves while they continue to reap the benefits of the economic status quo.

This obsession with identity politics has been evident in many of the criticisms I've received since the Pie video went viral, which seem to be based on the view that as a "straight white male" I'm in no position to comment on the broader implications of Trump's victory. I remain unconvinced that my race or gender should determine what I can or cannot write about. And if I'm straight, somebody had better let my boyfriend know about it.

Others have misinterpreted the video as a call to engage white supremacists in debate. "As a person of colour," writes Amit Singh for Consented, "does this mean putting my life in danger by turning up to a KKK meeting and politely asking to read a passage from Franz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth?" Having watched the video through the prism of identity politics, Singh ends up railing against an argument that Pie never made.

Of course we should speak out against racism, misogyny and homophobia. Pie does so regularly. We also need to recognise that when it comes to social mobility and equality, money is still what matters most of all. If ordinary working-class Americans who have been failed by the political establishment are to be so readily conflated with the Ku Klux Klan, then it's easy to see why Trump will secure a second term. As George Takei points out, many Americans voted for Trump not "because of what he stands for, but rather despite it".

In any case, I consider it a small victory that so many Trump supporters are now sharing a video that refers to their hero as a "pussy-grabbing, wall-building, climate-change-denying, healthcare-abolishing, tax-dodging, shit-spewing demagogue". Surely that has to count for something.

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