Over the past few months I have become, and remain, deeply embedded in the student movement in the UK and Europe. Many of the young people who feature in the piece – on whose activities I’ve been keeping meticulous notes, and who are of a similar age and political attitude to myself – have since become as close to personal friends as observational subjects ever can be... This has stretched my objectivity to its limits. I have had to work and rework the article to make sure I was constructing an accurate portrait.
So says Laurie Penny, reporting from “the front line of student activism.”
Readers familiar with Ms Penny’s brand of activist journalism – in the pages of the Guardian, New Statesman and the communist Morning Star - may find her use of the words “accurate” and “objectivity” inadvertently amusing. This is the same Laurie Penny who tells us that, while “not everyone who displays an England flag is a fascist,” football is nonetheless “commodified nationalism” played by “misogynist jocks” indulging in “organised sadism.” The World Cup is apparently not about football at all, but “only and always about men.” It’s a “month of corporate-sponsored quasi-xenophobia,” one that “violently excludes more than half the people.”
Like so much in Laurie’s world, it just does, okay?
Writing for Red Pepper, Ms Penny tells us that, “capitalism is built on the docile bodies of women” and that women are reduced to “reproductive labourers whose physical and sexual autonomy is relentlessly policed.” The same article rails against “US state governments [that] compete to think up ever more cruel and unusual ways to punish women for sexual self-determination.”
It is, I think, fair to say that Laurie Penny enjoys railing against things, generally things that aren’t entirely obvious but which are framed as both terrible and somehow self-evident. A typical Laurie Penny article is long on assertion, short on facts and coherent argument, and invariably written in the highest possible gear. She rails against the Conservative Party (“hordes of drooling poshos”) and its “brutally intolerant moral agenda.” The details of this brutally intolerant agenda are, alas, somewhat vague. She rails against “the bruised superstructure of patriarchal capitalist control,” the particulars of which also remain unspecified and mysterious. She rails against a “heteronormative patriarchy that oppresses all of us.” (What, you didn’t know?) She rails against “brutal repression” by an impending police state that no-one else can see, and she rails against protestors “not being heard,” as if being heard must entail being agreed with and obeyed. Ours, she says, is a world “on fire.”
When not railing against a heteronormative police state that’s brutal, intolerant and also on fire, Ms Penny likes to share with us an extensive menu of personal miseries, along with other aspects of her fascinating self:
It’s getting harder to stay in touch with why I write and campaign in the first place. It’s getting harder to stay angry… That terrifies me more than anything... The centre-right have taken back my country… Across the pond, the American right are winning the fight for ideological control of the world's only superpower.