THE BLOG

Katie Hopkins Killed the Comet Lander and I Want to Cry

17/11/2014 12:52 GMT | Updated 17/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Last week humanity landed a space craft on a comet moving at about 30,000 miles per hour. It took ten years and four billion miles to get there. The science it sent back will give us incredible new insights into the emergence of life, the planets, and everything we know and love.

Meanwhile, a wally on Twitter said something stupid, a sexist comedian made an arse of himself in public and a celebrity took her clothes off.

So which of those two sets of stories do you think were more popular?

Was it the transcendent scientific and existential accomplishment of landing on what is effectively a moving bullet for the good of all mankind?

Or was it 'personalities' being idiots? Was it the people we all purport to ignore, but ultimately endorse with our time, conversation and clicks, who with either the mindless dexterity of the true idiot, or the cynical skill of the genuine troll, consume our potential by inspiring nothing, creating nothing, doing nothing but pulling our strings to recreate the same old cycle of righteous anger followed by assertion of previously held opinions - on both sides?

I'll save you the bother of wading through my multi-layered rhetorical mulch. It was Katie Hopkins, Kim Kardashian and Dapper Laughs.

It was not even close.

Yes, it's true that for a brief moment on Wednesday the comet out-trended the Kardashiapocalypse. That lasted about an hour.

But over the week as a whole, on our website - where you can see which stories are most popular for yourself on the right hand side of most articles - and across the media, it was a different story. A horrible story. A nightmare scream of a death-ballad, in fact, where the fragile beauty and peace of the Philae launcher's bumpy ride to history was crushed beneath the steaming fury and smirking vapour of Katie Hopkins' latest act of self promotion, Kim Kardashian's Photoshopped bum and that man everyone hates.

And judging from anecdotal evidence from other newsrooms, it was true across much of the media too.

Landing on a comet versus Katie Hopkins: you have voted. Congratulations. Enjoy your deathscape of Twitter backlashes and reaction blogs. You did this. You. The Philae lander didn't die because its batteries ran out. It died of a broken heart.

A heart you broke. With your lies.

Now, let me say for the record that I don't really mean that.

I'll also admit that the issues of sexism and racism raised by these particular 'controversies' aren't devoid of value - even if these media events through which we discuss them are largely artificial.

Katie Hopkins could evaporate in a puff of steam tomorrow and I would barely notice, but I'm sure for some she is the critical lens through which the Palestinian conflict comes into focus. If that is true for you, well fine, but my advice might be to ask literally anyone else about it instead.

Similarly, while I don't think the silly shirt a scientist wears to work necessarily counts as "three steps back for humanity" compared to the value of the Rosetta mission as a whole, it's worth discussing. An image to ponder and thoughtfully criticise. A lesson to learn.

Dapper Laughs, too, has significance, though mainly at this point for the dozens of other sexist 'lad' comedy accounts now scrambling to gather up his proven audience for shit.

I also know that science isn't for everyone. It's complex and abstract, and in the case of Philae the images just weren't that great, in a make-the-front-page sense.

So yes, who cares that humanity landed on a comet in the context of ISIS, of Palestine and ebola? What does it matter that we spent a billion euro to land a fridge on a rock, when there remains even the hint of sexism, racism, the housing crisis and whatever is currently happening with the NHS (Bad? It's bad isn't it?) on Earth?

Couldn't a similar rant be written about all of those topics amid the continuing media domination of Katie Hopkins' Twitter account? Yes, it could. But those things don't personally affect my site's traffic, so I'll let them slide.

Finally, I'll also accept that the failure to get a Hopkins-scale reading audience for comet-landing coverage ultimately comes down to journalists. We can always do more to make the landing more explicable, more approachable and ultimately more interesting. We tried. We wrote 16 stories about the comet. Many of them did quite well. But as for cracking the top ten? It didn't work.

So here is the stark fact: humanity landed on a comet last week, and we talked about it for half an hour one afternoon.

Katie Hopkins said something stupid, and it took three of the top five most-read spots on our Most Popular stories list for the entire week.

And I was forced to write this blog just to try and get the comet lander and Katie Hopkins in the same headline.

So my message to the European Space Agency is simply this: when you're about to launch your next ten-year mission to a comet, save me a seat. I'm coming too.