Laughter the best medicine
Since April 2018, Titania McGrath has been making people laugh, cringe, and go insane with her satirical tweets sending up social justice lunatics
I approached Titania McGrath’s debut with equal levels of trepidation and excitement. Since April 2018, she has been making people laugh, cringe, and go insane with her satirical tweets that send up the antics and tactics of social justice lunatics. She has already been banned from Twitter once and, one assumes after the release of the book, she will be banned again. Such is the digital struggle of anyone who dares to challenge woke orthodoxy.
In her introduction, McGrath claims that she is a “a modern-day Joan of Arc . . . a radical intersectionalist poet dedicated to feminism, social justice and armed peaceful protest”. Humility is one of McGrath’s great strengths. The book contains short essays and poems on all of the most hateful elements of society today such as men, cultural appropriation, the gender debate, whiteness, Brexit, veganism and free speech. McGrath rages against the patriarchy and white supremacy with such verve and linguistic dexterity that you almost think it’s all real. (Indeed, McGrath is often mistaken for a genuine progressive activist on Twitter — that’s how on point her satire is.)
In the poem “Angry Vagina” McGrath is as sharp and precise as a clit piercing: “My growler growls./Plucked-up and back-eared/it chewmunches through Patriarchal savannahs.” Never before has a poet been able to capture so well the innate anger of the human front bottom.
On issues of race, McGrath is the perfect combination of Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks but without all of the baggage. McGrath explains, quite rightly, that the so-called “experts” are not to be trusted. We must instead turn to the real experts like YouTuber Franchesca Ramsey. McGrath explains that she “use(s) the term ‘POC’ because it is a convenient way to group all non-whites together without having to go to the trouble of identifying their differences.” She goes on to explain that “Whiteness always equates to structural power, even in predominantly black countries” — an intersectional truth that is lost on many people who are blinded by reality.
In the essay “Why I’m No Longer Talking to Men About Feminism,” McGrath drops feminist bombs all over the patriarchy: “I would rather be boiled alive in a giant crucible of yak’s piss than have a man look at me without my consent.” She bemoans the fact that “fourth-wave feminism has yet to eradicate male sexuality in its entirety.” (Give it time, Titania!) And she gets right to the heart of the matter — the most important tenet of the fourth wave, the commandment that all woke scolds must abide by: “I believe all women. All of them. Under all circumstances.” The very notion that one half (the superior half) of the human population would be capable of deceit is the most hateful and toxic idea that still gets disseminated through our culture. McGrath knows this. She is trying to save us from the tyranny of being sceptical and asking for evidence.
This may be the most important book of 2019 (although I reserve the right to change my mind when I get a chance to read the forthcoming Chelsea Handler tell-all). Now, I understand that sarcasm and satire are hard to distinguish from earnestness these days. And I have done myself no favours, by employing satirical tactics in order to honour the spirit in which McGrath’s book was authored.
But let me spell it out for you, reader: I really mean it. The culture wars of the late 1990s and early 2000s were won by the sane people because they were able to successfully make fun of the myriad absurdities of political correctness. It was a hard-fought victory, but it was also easier to win back then — Camille Paglia and Christina Hoff Sommers would appear on Bill Maher; Saturday Night Live would make fun of hysterical campus safe-spacery; South Park and The Simpsons were actually funny because they took on political correctness; the mainstream in general actually allowed for heterodox voices to be heard.
These days, the free speech movement has been relegated to the internet and independent platforms. And if you dare to call all of the progressivist incoherence incoherent, then the mainstream media will join in a chorus of “Unsafe! Racist! Sexist!” until you are either unpersoned or give up. This is why Titania McGrath exists and why this book exists. It’s a miracle that a major publisher (Constable is an imprint of Little, Brown) actually dared to publish it, but I’m so glad they did.
The new culture wars will not be won solely by offering up good ideas and engaging in good-faith debate (although that stuff is all important for sure). The culture wars will be won when people wake up to the fact that they have way more fun on the other side of intersectionality. We will win with laughter. This is something that the current cultural gatekeepers and tastemakers seem incapable of. There is a deep simplemindedness and joylessness that permeates our current culture, and McGrath’s book both exposes it and rails against it in complex and joyful ways. Or, to paraphrase the great McGrath in one of her less nuanced moments, “Some people really are fucking idiots.”
By Titania McGrath
Constable, 160pp, £12.99