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The Dangers of Politainment: The Laurence Fox Affair

Otto English delves into the privileged actor’s descent into normalising hate and considers what purpose it may serve.

The Dangers of Politainment
The Laurence
Fox Affair

Otto English delves into the privileged actor’s descent into normalising hate and considers what purpose it may serve.

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There’s a peculiarly persistent assumption that fame somehow renders people interesting and their opinions worthwhile. This curious supposition keeps celebrity magazines in business and the Kardashians on our TV screens and turns the ill-informed rantings of actors into news.

Enter stage left, Laurence Fox.

Laurence is the son of actor James, who starred in Performance and Sexy Beast, and the nephew of Edward Fox, who left his mark in the title role of The Day of the Jackal. Actors Lydia and Jack are his siblings and Emilia and Freddie are cousins; he’s very much part of the acting establishment. 

After Harrow and RADA, Fox landed film roles in Gosford Park and World War One horror Deathwatch, before getting his big break as Detective Sergeant Hathaway in Lewis on ITV. He married and later divorced Billie Piper, with whom he has two children.

In recent years, Fox has tried to launch a parallel music career and, to that end, released two albums, the second of which, A Grief Observed, came out last year. These recent songs examine his marital breakdown and expound his political views.

Most artists creeping into their forties, with a debut album that has peaked at number 89 in the UK charts, wouldn’t expect or receive much publicity, but Fox clearly has good PR. In the last year, he has popped up on Gogglebox, played his tunes on the Jeremy Vine Show and, most recently, appeared on the BBC’s flagship current affairs show Question Time. It was there, finally, that he got the attention he so very obviously craves.

Following a discussion about Meghan Markle and her treatment by the British press, Rachel Boyle, a mixed-race academic seated in the audience, suggested that attitudes to the Duchess of Sussex had been informed by racism. Fox was having none of it.

“It’s not racism,” he told her. “We’re the most tolerant, lovely country in Europe. It’s so easy to throw the charge of racism at everybody. And it’s really starting to get boring now.”

Fox is a victim in the same way that a turnip is a martial art.

Ms Boyle was undeterred: “You are a white privileged male, who has never experienced [racism],” she shot back. To which the actor replied: “I can’t help what I am. I was born like this. It’s an immutable characteristic. So to call me a white privileged male is to be racist. You are being racist.”

In that moment, this Old Harrovian scion of one of Britain’s greatest acting dynasties became a self-identifying victim of racial oppression at the hands of a black woman.

Finding Meaning in Hate

Since then, the usual suspects have come out in support of this poor put-upon soul. Claiming that their latest pin-up is a victim, whose voice is being cruelly suppressed by cry-baby, woke snowflakes, has been a difficult tightrope for the libertarian right to tread. But somehow they’ve managed it.

Clearly, the idea that Fox is a victim of racism is utterly contemptuous.

The suggestion that he has somehow been marginalised, when he has been given a seat on the panel of the biggest current affairs show on British television and afforded countless rights of reply across the media, is laughable.

Fox is a product of every privilege this country can muster. Sent to one of its most exclusive and expensive schools, he was taught his craft at the most famous acting academy in the world and then shown an open door into the profession for which 99% of his thespian peers would kill.

He’s a victim in the same way that a turnip is a martial art.

But that hasn’t stopped the propagation of the myth of his martyrdom on behalf of disadvantaged white males everywhere. Since his Question Time appearance last Thursday, Fox has doubled down on his Twitter account, while a swarm of trolls have gathered to his cause. 

In the meantime, other opinions recently proffered by the actor have come to light.

In a recent podcast with James Delingpole, Fox lamented the appearance of a Sikh character, Sepoy Jondalar, played by Nabhaan Rizwan, in the World War One film 1917. From Fox’s perspective, this perceived bit of tokenism takes away from the joy of watching brave British Tommies suffering the Great War single-handedly. 

In the same interview, Fox also took on the curse of minorities expressing their opinions, saying: “The most annoying thing is the minute a black actor – it’s the same with working-class actors – the minute they’ve got five million quid in the bank, every interview they do is about how racism is rampant and rife in the industry.”

Brave stuff indeed. But why should we take any notice of this attention-seeking fool?

Unfortunately, the Fox affair is symptomatic of a greater sickness infecting modern British society.

Over the course of the past decade, the lines between the worlds of politics and showbiz have increasingly blurred. Question Time, once a flagship current affairs show, has turned into vaudevillian light entertainment with a weekly dose of outrage to fire up the Twitter commentators and to boost ratings. The news cycle itself more and more resembles an end of pier show with ridiculous diversions into colourful stories about bells and fireworks overshadowing the real issues of the day.  

In Fox, we see the propagation of political entertainment – or politainment – over reasoned and serious debate. But, something far more invidious is also afoot.

This ‘celebrity’ – familiar to millions of ITV viewers – has, through his words and deeds, just spent a week normalising hate. His views on women, race, history and the nature of Britain itself have been seized on, legitimised and bolstered and, because he is a famous face of a popular TV drama, those views are afforded greater weight and resonance. What we have seen is a further normalisation of views that just a few short years ago would have been deemed unacceptable. 

Fox himself seems to have changed in the last half decade. In a telling and sympathetic interview with The Mirror in September 2016, a vulnerable, chain-smoking Fox talked bluntly about his mental health problems, admitted to panic attacks and confessed that he had suffered chronic insomnia in the wake of his divorce. Here is a very different man: vulnerable, sore and derailed. 

Is it possible that this anti-woke crusader is the latest in a long line of men whose political outpourings are but an extension of their own personal inner demons?

Perhaps we’ll have to wait for his next album to find out.

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