Yesterday, The Independent carried this article: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/frankie-boyle-goes-on-hunger-strike-to-support-shaker-aamer–the-last-british-detainee-in-guantnamo-bay-8720221.html.
To save you clicking on the link, here’s the gist: the Scottish comedian, Frankie Boyle, has gone on symbolic hunger strike in support of Shaker Aamer, the last British detainee in Guantánamo Bay. (In fact, the Indie is being less than accurate here: Mr Aamer isn’t a British citizen: he’s a Saudi one, with legal British residency, but that’s of no real import.) When I read of this so-called protest, I felt horrified, sickened, betrayed even, so I posted a link on Facebook to the article above with the comment ‘Frankie Boyle has gone down in my estimation.’ What follows here is a conflation of the conversations which followed.Since I first encountered Mr Boyle some seven or eight years ago on Mock the Week, I have been a fan. I liked his wit, his irreverence, and the mischievous glint in his eye. Let’s make no bones about this, I fancied the pants off Frankie Boyle because he seemed never to give a toss about what anyone thought of him. But this? This is just blatant ‘Like me because I’m campaigning for a good cause.’ He’s sold out. He’s changed. Now, suddenly, after building an entire career on not caring whom he hurts, he suddenly wants us to care because he says so. Why that should wound me personally, I have no idea; but it does. I desperately want him to turn round and make some sick, Daily-Mail-reader-enraging comment about life in Gitmo; I want my politically incorrect, scandalous Frankie back. Because if he’s gone, I simply cannot believe in this new Saint Francis, Patron of the Oppressed, and must suspect him of — what? Of trying to make himself popular with the masses? Of playing the good guy so TV stations will forgive him his past indiscretions and welcome him back with open arms? No. No. That’s unbearable. His wit has always been indiscriminate. Everyone was fair game. Frankie Boyle’s venom was spread far and near; and when it struck, it struck hard — but its impact was due to its honesty. He said what we all thought, even if many of us were afraid to admit those thoughts even to ourselves.
So why is he doing this? Because after a lifetime of not caring, he’s suddenly learned compassion? Or because after a lifetime of being the voice of unpalatable truths, he’s suddenly learned acceptable duplicity? Either way, it’s not good, Frankie, and I am saddened. Nay, more than that. I rarely have anything even approaching a visceral reaction to current affairs, but that Frankie Boyle would stoop to this has truly sickened me. I am angrier about it than I can express here. I feel it to be a betrayal of both his admirers and his principles.
My left-wing friend sees only the good in his gesture. She feels that the fact that his actions have resulted in the publicizing of Mr Aamer’s situation justifies his action; and because his going on hunger strike is part of an organized international campaign (according to the Stand For Justice website, people from around the world have promised around 1200 days’ hunger striking on behalf of the Guantánamo detainees), that legitimizes it.
At this point, I confess, I had missed out on the fact that it was a symbolic hunger strike. I was naïve enough to think that Mr Boyle (he who hadn’t previously given a stuff about anyone) had undergone such a moral sea change that he was now prepared to endanger his life, Suffragette or Thich Quang Duc style, to save the life of a man he’d never met.
If we imagine a thermometer of anger, his willingness to do this raised the temperature to uncomfortably hot — open a few windows or turn up the aircon — but still bearable. How dare he, I felt, put the life of a stranger before the well-being of his partner and family, not to mention compromising his own health. After all, for it to be a valid protest, he must, surely, intend to take it that far (otherwise all he’d be doing would be stopping as soon as he got a little peckish, and that’d hardly be very meaningful; indeed, the cynical amongst us might view it as more of a publicity stunt than an act of solidarity). Then there would be the concomitant medical expenses and the fact that — if he died because of this Quixotic gesture — that’d be an end to his talent and his ability to do anyone else any good (or bad) in the future.
That he had given the settlement he received from a previous libel case to the cause, whilst arguably surprising, seemed quite reasonable; just because he was fearless in his attacks doesn’t mean he had to be a meanie.
It was at this point that my friend pointed out that his hunger strike was symbolic, there was no danger to his health (‘Of course he’s not aiming to starve himself to death — or even into a state of serious health risk; and for all you know, his partner may wholeheartedly support him’), and that such campaigns — she cites anti-capitalism ‘spend no money days’ — can en masse be highly effective. And it was at this point that the mercury in the thermometer began to bubble in a disturbingly energetic manner. Time to evacuate and declare a heatwave warning and get the fire brigade on stand-by.
So every time (and there have been many) I’ve been on a diet, I should have claimed I was symbolically starving myself for some worthy cause? I’ll bear that in mind next time. And sure, Frankie’s partner will support him if it’s symbolic — she’s probably been nagging him to shift a few pounds for months now.
The only way such a protest could ever, in my eyes, have any form of validity is if he was so committed to the cause that he’d die for it. I mightn’t condone such an action, but I would respect it. This strikes me as nothing more than publicity seeking and vanity. If he was really trying to raise awareness of internees of Guantánamo Bay, rather than raising awareness of F. Boyle Esq., he’d have a burly American soldier sticking a feeding tube down his nose whilst yelling, ‘TAKE YOUR F**KING MEDICINE, YOU MURDERING SAND NIGGER!’
As for ‘spend no money’ days — if directed at large multinationals, maybe they can make a point. But that’s entirely different. Said multi-nationals exist to make a profit. If they cease to do this, then they cease to exist. It is in their own interest to take note of their users’ demands. I remain sceptical of the value of such protests, however, because equally capitalistically-minded individuals, with more money to spend in an afternoon than most of us earn in a year, will still go shopping, simply taking advantage of the emptiness of the shops. Moreover, if not carefully managed, small retailers can suffer, and not making a penny on Thursday can end up putting them out of business if the rent is due on Friday. Guantánamo Bay, on the other hand, simply exemplifies the US view of human rights and disregard of due process. In whose interest is it to release Aamer… really? There’s no oil to be drilled for and no money to be made.
Now, I don’t consider myself right-wing, but as far as I can see the purpose of these symbolic actions is to make those performing them feel better. They are token hardships ‘endured’ by people with rather comfortable lives to try and absolve them of the middle-class/liberal guilt they feel for not being a persecuted minority. In other words, they are for increasing the well-being (and often status within a particular social group) of the individual performing them, and are of no direct benefit to the oppressed individual or group they are supposedly in support of. It would be arrant idealism to think that those at whom they are directed will take any notice unless they themselves have something to lose. Boycotting a certain commercial chain, for example, can have an effect because those in charge think ‘Eek, if this continues, we’ll go out of business and our opulent lifestyles will be but fond memories — maybe we should do [whatever].’ By the same token, politicians will do a U-turn if their safe seat becomes slightly too wobbly for their liking. A few comfortably well-off, first-world dwellers making themselves a tad less comfortable (but all the while knowing that their next meal awaits them when they’ve had enough of being symbolic) are not going to change the thinking of the United States. The US is too powerful to feel threatened by symbolic gestures. The guy’s in Gitmo, which means that — regardless of any facts or evidence to the contrary — for the vast majority of Americans, who have been carefully brainwashed into collective paranoia, he’s a terrorist and should stay there.
So, not only do we have the issue of whether the Americans either know or care who Frankie Boyle might be — ‘Dodgy looking Brit misses a few meals’ is hardly going to penetrate American social conscience — we also have the question of timing. America isn’t bothered about Guantánamo Bay at the best of times; but with the acquittal of George Zimmerman a few days ago, they’re more concerned about whether over-enthusiastic Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinators are going to shoot them as they go about their lawful business. Zimmerman, they feel, should not be roaming the streets putting their lives at risk. The only way they’d want Aamer out of Gitmo is so Zimmerman could occupy his place. ‘Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,’ Obama proclaimed this morning. Whether Zimmerman should have had the book thrown at him or not doesn’t matter. The perceived miscarriage of justice has got most of America buzzing. Obama can appeal to the white middle classes to assume an African-American perspective on the whole affair. It’s politics, folks, and justice comes second to spin. So, really, with all the fun and games to be had, is this the right time for the polite clearing of throats and ‘Ahem, erm, excuse me, sorry to trouble you, but we just thought you might want to know that we’ve missed our breakfast because there’s a bloke still banged up in a Cuban jail… No? Oh, OK, bacon and eggs all round it is then’?
In his time, Frankie Boyle has targeted the monarchy (the Queen, he said, is ‘so old her pussy is haunted’), the disabled (his remarks to the mother of a child with Down’s Syndrome were pronounced ‘no different to bullying;’ he later mocked the appearance of British Falklands War veteran, Simon Weston, who was severely burned in action; and his comments on Katie Price’s handicapped son had the Daily Mail and its ilk baying for his blood), international affairs (he likened the situation in Palestine to ‘a cake being punched to pieces by a very angry Jew’ and joked about ‘studying Israeli Army martial arts [and knowing] 16 ways to kick a Palestinian woman in the back’), and earlier this year, his monologue for Comic Relief, in which he focused on the royal family, Oscar Pistorius, Pope Benedict XVI, and the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal, was deemed so offensive that the entire six-minute performance was cut out of the show.
Frankie Boyle’s current protest may or may not be sincere — but it’s hard to believe we should care when the person telling us to is one who’s always made it clear he doesn’t. He could just as easily be making jokes about the ‘Guantánamo diet and health resort’ and campaigning on behalf of disabled children of vacuous celebrities. Once, he was headline news for weeks because he had ‘a theory that Jordan married a cage fighter ’cause she needed someone strong enough to stop Harvey from f**kin’ her’ — now, it would seem, he’s hoping for the same notoriety because of this ineffective and tokenistic demonstration of solidarity with a cause the old Frankie would have gleefully mocked and pilloried.
And meanwhile, just imagine the scene in Whitehall where senior civil servants are considering whether the UK should increase its displeasure with the US over the detainment now that Mr Boyle has missed not only breakfast, but possibly elevenses and lunch as well:
‘So, who is this Boyle chap anyway, Chivers?’
‘He’s a comedian, sir. Recently suggested that Her Majesty’s corpse should be hollowed out and operated like a puppet, by the actor that portrayed Gollum, no less.’
‘Hmm. Indeed… Well, we can’t rush this sort of matter, eh?’
UPDATE: It would seem that Mr Boyle managed a whole week without food. I’m sure anorexic girls (the ones who wish they weren’t; not the Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia adherents) and people in third world countries would love to be able to have a square meal every seven days. Shaker Aamer himself has been on hunger strike for 150 days. So, wow, I’m sure Frankie’s protest really moved those in charge of Guantánamo Bay and all the prisoners will be released forthwith. Twat! And to think I used to like this man (before I realized he was a self-serving publicity junkie).