Yesterday we found out that David Cameron did — or did not — once put his personal member in a dead pig’s head. On hearing the news the Internet predictably broke. Memes like the one at the top of this blog appeared everywhere. People made pulled pork jokes. Twitter was just happy it got to coin another trending hashtag*. Google searches got to ‘Dav–‘ before they auto-finished with ‘–id Cameron Pig’. Ed Miliband’s infamous bacon sandwich resurfaced (not literally). Most of the UK’s national newspapers got the chance to pretend they’re still relevant. And everyone felt pretty pleased and self-satisfied and good about themselves. Except, presumably, David Cameron. And the pig.
But what will any of this achieve? Is it even trying to achieve anything? Is it just an excuse for the Internet to indulge its favourite past-times of shaming people and making Internet memes, or are there deeper, more political motives for the jokes and the memes?
Certainly there are political motives. People badly affected in recent years by harsh Conservative policies have more political motives than most to splice together pictures of David Cameron and some pigs. Maybe these people thought that finally here was a political scandal to rival the Clinton/Lewinsky affair; maybe they thought that unverified dead-pig-head scandals are enough to embarrass prime ministers out of Government. Which says more about hope than it does about anything else, because…
The people who do not like Cameron — those people most affected by austere Conservative policies, for example — don’t like him because he’s a privileged, out-of-touch toff. The truth of Cameron’s social status is neither here nor there; what’s important is that aristocratic university initiations involving pig’s heads do not seem unlikely things for privileged, out-of-touch toffs to be involved in. We’ve all seen the Bullingdon Club photographs; looking at them now it’s easy to imagine that putting personal members in dead pigs’ heads is exactly the sort of thing the people in this photograph were doing in university.
Meanwhile, people who support Cameron are unlikely to change their opinion of him just because of aristocratic university initiations that happened in the 1980s. Some Cameron supporters might even have indulged (if indulged is the right word) in similar initiations. Besides, the pig was not alive, Cameron didn’t have sex with a live pig. And anyway, boys will be boys. More to the point, the accusation was made in an unauthorised biography that was co-authored by Lord Ashcroft. When it comes to David Cameron, Lord Ashcroft is hardly the bastion of reasoned, impartial truth.
Which is all to say that nobody thinks any different of David Cameron than they did two days ago. If the incident has done anything, it’s to cause David Cameron a lot of personal embarrassment. But even this becomes less likely with every counter-claim that Conservative supporters throw back at Ashcroft. The story will likely go one of two ways: either Lord Ashcroft will be discredited, or the joke will wear thin (and the joke is already, at day two, wearing thin). Even if the story turns out to be true, and the country decides that we all need to have a very big debate about whether or not a politician putting his personal member in an animal head affects that politician’s ability to run the country, the weight of jokes and Internet memes has rendered the debate irrelevant. Reducing Cameron’s indiscretion — whether or not it happened — to the level of a joke renders it harmless. By turning it into a joke we have made it irrelevant. Even if we collectively decide that Cameron’s indiscretion with the pig is something to be angry with, we’re laughing too much to feel genuinely angry. This is something Jon Stewart, former presenter of The Daily Show, understands very well:
I think one of the things that goes without saying here is that what we do, if it had an agenda, would be considered a failure because it has no efficacy; it has no effect in the world, other than giving certain people a catharsis or a chuckle or some distraction or some pleasure.
Full interview available here
Right now everyone’s feeling cathartic, and we’re all having a chuckle at David Cameron’s expense. But assuming that Cameron even feels embarrassed, it suits him and the Conservative party very well to let everybody make Internet memes and jokes about pork. If everybody’s making memes and jokes about things that David Cameron did — or did not do — in the 1980s, it means that people aren’t paying attention to some of the other things that David Cameron and the Conservative party are doing now. Here, for example, is a headline from yesterday’s Huffington Post:
The truth of this story is contentious (as it stands it’s largely only hearsay); the wider point is that in November it could become truth. And if it becomes truth it will be more serious and wider-reaching than David Cameron’s university initiation. For obvious reasons it suits David Cameron that we’re more interested in pork jokes and Internet memes than we are in free school meals. It means we aren’t paying attention because we’re too busy slapping ourselves on the back and congratulating ourselves for (momentarily) taking down a politician a peg or two.