Did you hear about the rich comedian who bigged up South American Marxist dictators, rejected science, welcomed press censorship, and wanted his poor fans to have expensive energy bills and crap, rationed healthcare?
No, it’s OK. I don’t think it’s funny either. Which is what makes it so appropriate in the context of this week’s subject – the Twitter pontificator and occasional comedy script writer, Graham Linehan.
Before I go any further can I make one thing clear? I loved Father Ted (which Linehan co-wrote with Arthur Mathews). It’s one of the funniest sit-coms that has ever been on TV, especially the My Lovely Horse episode, and I prostrate myself with adoration and admiration before the mighty talent that was part responsible for it. O wondrous Linehan, you have created a greater, funnier, more enduring piece of art than I have managed or ever will manage in my own miserable career, and truly, sincerely I salute you for it.
Right, praise over. Now we can move on to the rather less attractive side of Linehan, which I only became aware of when I started following him on Twitter: his strident left-wing politics?
“Popular comedian turns out to be rampant socialist shock.” No. I suppose it isn’t a shock really. But the co-author of Father Ted, you might have hoped, would be above all that. One of the great joys about that series, after all, is whether you’re a classical liberal like me or a socialist or a Maoist you can love it just the same because the humour is so apolitical. It’s about the Catholic church, but there are no paedophile jokes; it’s set in Ireland, but there’s no sectarianism or simmering loathing of the English; it’s about three men living together in a lonely cottage on a remote island but there’s never any dark, edgy suggestion that they might be homosexual.
Unfortunately, if you follow Linehan on Twitter, you don’t see much of that gentle, whimsical side. You don’t get much humour, either, which is a bit of a swizz given that Linehan was recently ranked one of the top 100 funniest people on Twitter. What you get instead is Linehan’s views – or his retweets of the views of ideological fellow travellers like the Guardian’s Seumas Milne – on Palestine, on climate change, on Leveson, on the NHS, on Hugo Chavez, every one of which might have come straight out of the Angry Fifth-Former’s Bumper Compendium Of The Correct Way To Think On Every Key Issue Of The Day.
Let’s examine the recent Tweet of his that really got my goat and prompted this article.
It reads: “So energy secretary Ed Davey has given the green light to this happening in the UK” – and then hyperlinks to the YouTube footage from Josh Fox’s Gasland where the man lights the tap in fracking country and lo! Shock horror! the methane in the water supply catches fire.
Now I suppose, two years ago, when Gasland first came out it was possible just about to take it at its word: fracking causes earthquakes; fracking pollutes the water table; fracking makes burning blue flames come out of your tap; etc. But since then it has been so comprehensively debunked, the methane scene especially – notably by filmmaker Phelim McAleer, director of the forthcoming Frack Nation – that to cite it as an argument against fracking seems about as blinkered and stupid and misleading as, say, citing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as evidence of a world wide Jewish conspiracy.
What’s going on here, it seems to me, is an abuse of power and trust. Thanks to his justly popular TV comedy series, Graham Linehan has acquired a large Twitter following – 270,000 plus. Many of these followers – such is the way of fandom, especially comedy fandom – will treat Linehan’s pronouncements as being little short of holy writ. He’s funny, he’s sassy, he’s successful, he’s famous, he doesn’t suffer fools – so what he has to say about the world generally must be well worth heeding.
And this doesn’t just apply to Linehan by the way. The showbiz and media world is rammed to the gills with these celebrity bien-pensants disseminating the same predictable and unquestioning greenie/left-liberal world view, in a way that would have made Gramsci proud: Richard Bacon; Dara O’Briaiaian, Ben Goldacre, Simon Singh, the 10 O’Clock Live team, any comic who is given airtime on Radio 4…. I call them the Wankocracy.
What’s dangerous about the Wankocracy is that they don’t know that they’re the Wankocracy. Because they spend so much time in the company of other celebrity Wankocrats, stroking each other’s egos, reading the same newspaper, sharing the same values, they automatically assume that theirs is the only right and true view of the world. What this results in is a toxic complacency. That Linehan Tweet on Gasland, for example: it is the inevitable product of a world – the Wanker’s Bubble – where everyone is so perfectly sure of the way they think that they never feel any compulsion to question the basis of their ideology.
As far as the Wankocracy is concerned, it is an absolute given that the earthquakes (in reality tiny tremors no worse than a bus driving past) caused by fracking are a real menace, that the water-table-pollution threat is serious (no it’s not – as even the aggressively green Environmental Protection Agency has conceded), and that shale gas exploitation will be far more disastrous for Britain than the current wind farm craze.
In every detail, they couldn’t be more wrong. I say this not because I am a foaming, scientifically illiterate, climate-change-denying, right-wing ideologue – as Linehan and the rest of the Wankocracy tend to caricature me: hey, beats arguing on facts, doesn’t it? – but because this is what the vast weight of evidence from the US says.
The shale miracle has caused US natural gas prices to drop by two thirds, with wondrous knock-on effects to the local and national economy. Cheaper energy means more disposable income for households and an international competitive advantage for businesses. In states like North Dakota – sitting atop the Bakken Shale – it has resulted in a massive boom, creating many real, well-paid jobs in a time of generalised economic hardship. And all this has been achieved without causing environmental damage anywhere near as great as the ravages caused by so called “clean” wind energy.
If Linehan – or any other member of the Wankocracy – has a problem with any of this, they should spit it out and say so. It’s a tenable position, I suppose, just about: “I’m a rich celebrity and I don’t give a toss about all the little people whose lives would be improved immeasurably in Britain by the shale gas revolution.” But I’d concede, it wouldn’t earn them quite so many laughs or the same degree of popular affection.