The beauty of bad

How bad can a written article be?

There probably isn’t an objective limit. You could have a computer program generate 1,200 random words, or you could find a theme in twenty separate graphic tales of DIY injuries, or simply string together racial slurs, you could even – were scraping the bottom of the barrel your thing – have Rod Liddle write it. It’s a hole with no bottom.

But how bad can a written article be and still have people praise it?

One contender for that must be Edie Miller’s take on why British media is so transphobic.

It’s being praised because it takes a particular stance on the current trans debate, for what it’s trying to say, rather than the confused mess of what it actually communicates.

From the familiar defence of ‘TERF’ as simply a description, which now must be read in the tones of the bar-room bore lecturing you that, “Actually, it’s just a corruption of the Latin, niger, meaning ‘black’, so, really…”, through to the fascinatingly bad decision to build the tower of its central argument on the quicksand of being against people who support the ‘brand’ of science that debunks astrology and homeopathy, all that is bad is here.

Every paragraph brings new surprise that somebody, anybody, thought the article worth share and a kind word. There’s a the bit where it compares the term ‘TERF’ to ‘Italian-American’, because they are a sub-set of something. Not all Americans are Italian-Americans, not all feminists are trans-exclusionary. Of course, because the term Italian-American still only applies to Americans with Italian lineage, and has not attained a wider meaning, it does make the reader wonder if that paragraph was the subject of last minute Bowdlerising, and that the comparison term was originally ‘Mafia’, which has grown beyond its original scope.

It praises Lily Madigan, while being very careful to avoid saying what it’s praising her for; her achievements to date having been slight, to say the least. In one startling paragraph it claims that trans-women are women and thus “not a threat” in women’s spaces. No time is given for counter-examples. It is simply presented as axiomatic that any man who identifies as a women becomes harmless.

The article can’t even really decide who it wants to shake a stick at. Ostensibly, it’s about transphobia in the British media but, as noted, sceptics are to blame, as are the left (although the right aren’t excused either), Graham Linehan, and biologists (who skirt dangerously close eugenics, argues the author, who presumably couldn’t spare the time to Google the definition of ‘eugenics’), and in-quotes “feminists”, with their in-quotes “women’s spaces”, who turn their back on these women who should be allies.

Eventually, it decides to mainly blame Mumsnet, which is, “to British transphobia more like what 4Chan is to American fascism”, a phrase so awkward in its grammatical construction and so wildly cockeyed in its analysis that, to use the debunking brand of science, it should have formed a black hole of infinity density and consumed the rest of the in-quotes argument.

Mostly, though, this piece drips with the sense of entitlement that so completely poisons the trans-rights movement. It never occurs to the author that the problem isn’t that their case has been distorted, but that it’s never been presented. Men should be allowed to identify as women and be automatically accepted, support from feminists should be a given, access to women’s spaces, both physical locations and roles such as being a Labour Women’s Officer, should be an automatic right, questioning any of this on grounds of risk or of science should be forbidden.

As the author herself tweeted…

arguments are bad

Ultimately, it lays the blame in the wrong place. Mumsnet is a temperature gauge for the nation. It is a huge and diverse audience, some left, some right, some sceptics, some daily readers of their horoscope, some in the media, some who never even turn on the news. If you haven’t convinced them then you haven’t convinced the general public and, until there’s acceptance that there’s an argument to be won, rather than demands to be made, you never will.

Still, look on the bright side, at least it’s given us a new benchmark for how badly written something can be and still deemed praise-worthy.

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