Last week The Irish Times fell victim to a cruel hoax. On its website it published an opinion column which argued that wearing fake tan is racist. The column attracted a huge volume of traffic, swiftly becoming the second most-read piece on the site. It then emerged, however, that the article had been submitted by a pseudonymous prankster, who reportedly created it using AI.
The editors have now removed the column, and apologised for not realising that it was a sham. Personally, though, I feel sorry for them. After all, how were they supposed to tell it was fake, when the opinion it expressed was no more ridiculous than those that are expressed every day by genuine Left-wing columnists?
Take the comment section of The Guardian. None of its writers, as far as I’m aware, have ever suggested that fake tan is racist (or, in the words of the Irish Times hoax, “cultural appropriation and fetishisation of the high melanin content found in more pigmented people”). But they’ve managed to detect racism in pretty much everything else.
For example, yoga (“I Teach Yoga – Its Appropriation by the White Wellness Industry is a Form of Colonialism”), the countryside (“To Be Black in the British Countryside Means Being an Outsider”) and gardening (“Weeding Out Horticulture’s Race Problem”). In fact, racism is presumably to be found in any activity involving white people – because, as the headline above another Guardian column explained back in 2002: “Of Course All White People Are Racist.”
Guardian columnists are able to detect sexism everywhere, too, from our choice of bedside reading (“You Might Not Think You’re Sexist – Until You Take a Look at Your Bookshelf”) to the language we speak (“Eight Words That Reveal the Sexism at the Heart of the English Language”). Among the innumerable other scourges of our neoliberal age are space travel (“What if the Mega-Rich Just Want Rocket Ships to Escape the Earth They Destroy?”), dancing (“School Proms Uphold Straight Privilege”), and humour (“Is There a Single Comedian Out There Who Isn’t Fatphobic?”).
Even the way we celebrate Christmas is problematic. First, because it’s capitalist (“The Real War on Christmas is Our Corporate-Driven Material Culture”). Second, it causes climate change (“Warning: Your Festive Meal Could Be More Damaging Than a Long-Haul Flight”). And third, it reinforces the patriarchy (“No, I Will NOT Wrap All the Presents. Why Are Women Still Responsible for the Holiday Joy?”).
Each of these headlines appeared above a genuine article by a genuine writer. I hope this thought brings some comfort to the staff of the Irish Times. When real Left-wing opinions are indistinguishable from spoof ones, an editor can hardly be blamed for failing to spot the difference.
Anyway, the people who should be most worried about this story are Left-wing opinion columnists. If AI can be programmed to generate hard-hitting think-pieces about why absolutely everything on Earth is racist, they’ll soon be out of a job.
Growing up in the 1980s, I was a keen fan of the Transformers. So I’m pleased that they’re still popular, 40 years on. Then again, it seems there have been a few changes since my day. In the latest series of the children’s TV cartoon, one of the Transformers has just come out as non-binary: that is, neither male nor female. The Transformer in question, Nightshade, takes the pronouns “they/them”, because “‘he’ or ‘she’ just doesn’t fit who I am”.
These days, of course, there’s nothing remotely unusual about children’s entertainment reflecting progressive beliefs about gender identity. In this particular case, though, there’s a problem that the writers appear to have overlooked.
Transformers are robots. Therefore, none of them are male or female. They don’t have chromosomes, or genitals. Nor does their society assign them rigid gender roles. There are no Transformers who wear dresses and make-up, or Transformers who prefer football and beer. Nor are there mummy Transformers who are expected to stay at home and look after the baby Transformers, while the daddy Transformers go out to work and earn money. In Transformer society, questions of sex and gender are entirely moot.
All of which means that it’s not just Nightshade who’s non-binary. Surely all the Transformers are. Optimus Prime is non-binary. Megatron is non-binary. As are Ultra Magnus, Starscream, Galvatron and Bumblebee. “He or she” doesn’t “fit” any of them.
I hope someone points this out to the writers of the children’s TV series. Otherwise, I fear that an awful lot of intergalactic killer robots will find themselves being misgendered.
Way of the World is a twice-weekly satirical look at the headlines aiming to mock the absurdities of the modern world. It is published at 7am every Tuesday and Saturday