Entertainment

Piers Morgan Is the King of Faux Outrage

When you acknowledge how much of his shtick is pure performance, Morgan's Voice of Common Sense act loses a whole lot of legitimacy.

by Lauren O'Neill
09 January 2019, 9:39am

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How much do you think Piers Morgan actually cares about the Greggs vegan sausage roll?

Here is my guess: I think that if being professionally facially-red on the television was not his main source of income, he wouldn't care about which pastry products were being sold where, at all. I think, at most, he might have seen the news in the paper and scoffed, before going about his day. Maybe – because I do believe him to be fundamentally petty, regardless of his profession – he'd have gone out at lunchtime and, upon spying a selection of pork sausage rolls on a shop counter, glossy with egg wash, he'd have bought one and chortled to himself about putting a right royal two fingers up to the snowflake brigade while eating it. If he were honest, I think that's precisely how bothered Piers is about Greggs and their vegan sausage roll.

But Piers Morgan, obviously, is not honest. He will say anything if it keeps him in the general consciousness, on the Metro homepage and in Twitter UK's trending topics, regardless of how detrimental it might be to whoever he's talking about. He is, essentially, a right-wing Rent-a-Gob paid by ITV to get worked up about literally anything on Good Morning Britain before much of the public has even had its cornflakes. When he's not doing that, he's vibrating away on Twitter about how Little Mix should "cover up", and how everything was better in Churchill's day (I, for one, adore wartime).

His is a routine we know all too well: if something vaguely progressive happens, Piers Morgan bemoans it on television. If something backwards happens, he falls over himself – positively gambols – to defend it. Case in point: this Monday, when, on national TV, Piers inserted a Greggs vegan sausage roll into his mouth, chewed it and then made an extremely local am-dram show of spitting it into a specially provided bucket – almost as if the spitting bit were planned???

Observe:

Some context: Morgan did this because when, on the 2nd of January, Greggs announced that they were releasing a sausage roll suitable for vegans (above all else, just a very good business move, considering the current boom in UK veganism), he "took to Twitter" to call them "PC-ravaged clowns" (also on this day, the world span on its axis and the sky was blue). He was finishing on one platform what he had begun on another, though his outrage over a veg-based pastry product didn't exactly come as a surprise, because the Greggs tantrum is far from Piers Morgan's first rodeo.

Over recent years, Morgan has styled himself as a "straight-talking" voice of the people. In his view, he's a traditionalist, a moralist, a keeper of British values, and in our fast-moving, ever-more-liberated times, he’s just saying the things that other people supposedly feel they can't, using his considerable platform – beamed into millions of homes weekly – to do so. That's all!

In general, when it's day-to-day internet goings-on and sausage rolls we're talking about, Morgan's self-promotional faux-outrage is annoying, but ultimately unimportant. Who, after all, really cares about what a sacked Daily Mirror editor thinks of a bakery? Indeed, since 2019 began, Piers has "railed against": the Golden Globes, Veganuary, the FA Cup, Dry January, Remainers, Ellen DeGeneres, chips and Pizza Hut.

However, when his deliberately contrarian attitude is turned towards weightier issues – for example, whether racism in football is encouraged and worsened by the mainstream British press – he moves into murkier territory.

Let's look at that example: many would agree that black football players are singled out for criticism much more than white players, as pointed out recently by Raheem Sterling, who posted on Instagram about the disparity in coverage following racist abuse from fans during a Premier League game. Morgan, while sometimes objectionable, is clearly intelligent and media-literate – he should be able to recognise this. Instead, he took the issue between his teeth and argued that Sterling has been treated the same as high profile white footballers, despite the blatant differences. Nobody can say for certain that he was lying, but it feels at best like wilful ignorance.

Sure enough, his hot take made all the tabloids' home-pages.

Morgan invited Sterling onto Good Morning Britain to "debate" the issue with him; Sterling sensibly refused, because any GMB viewer knows that guests are often little more than a chew toy for Morgan, who tends to use the experience as an opportunity to practice his loudest yelling, in order to drown out any dissenting opinions. Either way, Morgan's contrarianism, and the legitimacy his platform gave it, highlighted the way in which he could – and can – be seen to be empowering regressive views.

After all, if Piers Morgan, the last bastion of Good Sense and Proper British Values, says it on TV, it must be fine to shout it at people in the street, or to get online and strap in for a big old harassment session (of course, this last part happens in all areas of politics, but don't Piers Morgan's opinions and fans seem to have a particularly nasty habit of punching down?).

For example, last September, Morgan made transphobic comments on Good Morning Britain during a debate about allowing trans girls into the Girl Guiding UK organisation. That was the same month he wrote a totally unsolicited "open letter" to plus-size model Tess Holliday, entitled "Stop lying to yourself Tess – you're morbidly obese and it’s going to kill you." Over and over, his diatribes focus on the marginalised, whose increased visibility he responds to negatively, seemingly wanting to get back to a time when the only people whose voices were heard were those of people like him.

It's true that articles like this massage Morgan's apparent "no publicity is bad publicity" agenda. It's also true that he'll probably tweet this article with some inventive caption calling VICE "a bunch of snowflakes" (excited!). To a degree, it plays right into his hands – his face is now on the VICE homepage.

But at the same time, it feels important to note that while nobody does faux – almost mock! – outrage in our culture quite as well as Piers Morgan, that's all it is. By calling out what he sees as a new over-sensitivity in popular culture, Morgan's public persona becomes the most over-sensitive of all, blowing up on the internet about pastry and other people's genders in what seems like a parody of the snowflakes who get him so riled up.

Problem is, while Piers is simply playing his role, acting up exactly when and wherever expected, his words unfortunately have clout. Though it might be all fun and games for him, he inevitably re-enforces damaging views; among his critics, there are also thousands of people in his Twitter replies telling him how right he is – and they seem to mean it, even if he doesn't.

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt for a minute: perhaps he really does believe everything he says. Even so, the level of performativity with which he peddles it is clearly designed to keep him in the public eye (which he seems to admit himself). He'll say whatever he needs to say to make headlines from his padded tower of privilege, where he's tucked away from the real world consequences of his never-ending spout of nonsense. It's both desperately predictable and, at times, actually harmful.

And really, there's not much of a solution – he'll continue to say whatever he wants, and people will keep talking about it, such are the high profile targets for his fire and brimstone. His skill is to constantly brush up against the very edge of acceptability, seeming to have an implicit sense of what he can actually get away with saying, avoiding the repercussions that have hit other public controversialists.

But when you consider how much of his ire is total performance, Piers' Voice of Common Sense act is that little bit less convincing; the fact that all this outrage is totally self-serving that little bit more transparent. You know, I bet that secretly, he even quite enjoyed that vegan sausage roll.