Story time with Titania McGrath
Life in 2021 is a bit like the 17th century: the plague sweeps the country and loots Puritans who destroy statues, except the Puritans had cooler hats. Much of what is sometimes referred to as “the great awakening” reveals the same profoundly Protestant tendency to be so concerned about the strength of a belief that it must be constantly reclaimed from the rooftops. And there is no better chronicler of this new religion – where what you do is less important than what you believe – than Titania McGrath, a radical intersectional feminist and slam poet who perhaps fittingly doesn’t exist.
Titania is the work of British comedian Andrew Doyle and represents the second time that a Doyle creation has become more famous than its inventor. His first attempt – better known in the UK than the US – was the fake journalist Jonathan Pie. As a political correspondent, Pie appears in videos ranting and exploding with anger about the state of British politics. The videos are presented as if he were a real reporter speaking to the camera before or after filming a regular news segment. However, Pie was played by an actor, Tom Walker, from the start. Walker is an individual with considerable comedic talent of his own, and his magnetic stage presence made the character a YouTube and touring sensation. In the early days, Doyle often appeared as Pie’s understudy in Walker’s live performances without the audience appreciating the extent of the two men’s collaboration.
Titania, on the other hand, is not just made of whole material. It’s an extremely online phenomenon that is only possible because Twitter exists, and it doesn’t make sense in the absence of this most toxic and critical social media platform. As a background, Twitter always had parody accounts, especially from politicians. There are fake Boris Johnsons, Theresa Mays, Jeremy Corbyns, Keir Starmers and Donald Trumps. If Joe Biden and Kamala Harris don’t already have multiple fake homage / sendup accounts, they will soon.
Parody accounts that were so acutely structured that they could no longer be distinguished from reality were one of the reasons why Twitter developed its controversial verification system “Blue Check”. A few years ago, enterprising individuals – most of them British – went a step further. Their new method was to create mocking reports that mocked a personality type rather than an identifiable public figure. It was clear to Doyle that Titania McGrath was a composite and not aimed at a real person. It was by no means the first, and the fact that Twitter as a business unit disapproves of this type of humor ultimately boosted its popularity.
For reasons that remain unclear (Twitter’s internal procedures are extremely opaque), the “guy” accounts have almost always been banned. I think it’s telling that the comedian behind one of the banned accounts, “Godfrey Elfwick,” created Titania’s current Twitter profile picture. It almost seems like there can only be one, with Twitter forcibly beheading all copycats. At the time of writing, Titania has followers of six hundred thousand north and her two books have made Doyle a moderately wealthy man.
That these books (Woke: A Guide to Social Justice and my First Little Book on Intersectional Activism) are entirely written in character reflects Doyle’s original plan to keep his role in Titania’s output under wraps. “If people believed she was real,” he says, “the satirical effect would not be limited to what Titania said, but to how others reacted to her.” Their tweets are meant to ridicule the excesses of social justice, but their interactions tend to expose the folly of the right wing who see them at face value and lose their temper. “
Titania’s anonymity didn’t last, however, and as someone who once made a similar character-based attempt at literary pseudonymity when my first novel was published, I could have told Doyle that it would. Hoaxes almost inevitably won’t be discovered at some point chosen by the hoaxer, and neither will the people who played a prank thank you for stepping on them. One magazine exposed Doyle’s role in the creation of Titania when his publisher carelessly filed copyright notices at the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair, and something Doyle considered an amusing, if somewhat trivial, addition to his more conventional stand-up work and screenwriting for Jonathan Pie kept exploding all over him.
Like most social justice, Titania is an upper bourgeoisie. She lives in Kensington and her family owns an estate in the Cotswolds. Everything she wants (and she wants a lot) is paid for by the Bank of Mummy and Daddy. But you understand, she is a wretched victim too. She spends her time on Twitter and at slam poetry events that are about “male privileges” (even if the men in question are homeless, among other things).
Their apparent wealth and cultural capital shock Americans, but for the British, that’s part of the joke. One of the reasons Black Lives Matter was planted so spectacularly in the face on this side of the pond is prosaically Marxist: In Britain, demographic divisions with discriminatory effects have almost nothing to do with race and almost anything with class. And when racism emerges, it is entangled with socio-economic status. For example, the most recent (and egregious) manifestation of racism in this country has been against white Jews. It came from numbers on the Labor Left and has its roots in the Jews’ dislike of their status as a “model” or “dominant” minority.
… There is no ridiculously false idea that can be invented as a joke that some readers cannot take to be an honest expression of reality. Worse still, the idea of being too woken up to function often exists, typically in article form, but sometimes book length.
Just as Americans fail to grasp one of the most obvious and distinctive aspects of British society, and thus can be milked for comedic value, the opposite also arises. Doyle, wearing his Titania mask, gets this. “I’m going for a walk through my family’s estate today,” she tweeted at one point. “I am strongly reminded of how privileged white people are. If I inherit this country, I’ll be damn sure that I only employ people of color to preserve it. “Brits reading this get a picture of a posh bird who is a little clueless. In contrast, the Americans see a southern beauty in front of a Georgian “big house” with marble columns, while slaves pick cotton in the background.
Most of the time, however, Titania’s “joke” revolves around what has become an iron law. That said, there is no ridiculously false idea to invent as a joke that some readers cannot mistake for a sincere expression of reality. Worse still, the idea of being too woken up to function often exists, typically in article form, but sometimes book length.
In preparation for writing this piece, I read My first little book on intersectional activism. And I admit – when quoting Titania McGrath from several of the works mentioned – I assumed that Doyle was laughing and that both books and authors were about as real as a stack of three-dollar bills. Until, on a whim, I started looking up titles in Waterstones, Blackwell’s, and Amazon. It was there that I discovered that Anti-Racial Baby, Feminist Baby, C is for consent, and the little girl who didn’t fuck is all real. Meanwhile, the cover of Titania’s first little book on intersectional activism is faking good night stories for rebel girls. Go on, take a look. You want it too.
“And now, despite the patriarchal forces that would defeat me,” explains Titania, she has followed in her footsteps. “Of course my book is even better. In a series of groundbreaking and poignant chapters, I will take you on a journey with the most inspiring characters in history including Emmeline Pankhurst, Hillary Clinton, and Joseph Stalin. “
Doyle’s win on his bestsellers, once known as Titania, was not very toxic. “The extent of the abuse has often been unfathomable, and some have even gone so far as to send out direct threats of violence,” he says. Even so, he has been honest in multiple interviews that his Titania-based paycheck is taking the pain away.
Aside from abuse, comics he had known, and venues he had played in for decades, he has been shouldered differently, fired, attacked in the press, trolled on social media, or accused of taking Russian “dark money” . He’s also lost most of his friends, which might seem odd to Law & Liberty readers, but makes sense given that Doyle was always left-leaning and, until recently, never moved into conservative (or conservative) social circles. In 2017 he voted for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labor. Left-handed people drop people like hot stones because of political differences. Doyle may not have been naively aware of this.
Today there is a tendency to reformulate social media trolling and pile-ons as the legitimate anger of the disenfranchised and voiceless, a noble throwback to power. Last but not least, Doyle’s elaborate and beautifully executed joke suggests that people who engage in this type of behavior are moral dwarfs, the type my father described as “of bad character.” Whether they are victims or not is neither here nor there. After I finished the first little book, I remember not making you Rosa Parks when I told a woman suffering from domestic violence to “suck your ladycock.” This happened (repeatedly) to JK Rowling when the transcult took a sentence against them.
And of course that happens in the middle of a pandemic. Andrew Doyle really keeps us amused during the plague time. He has competition, but mostly from Boris Johnson. Of all the politicians who wanted to issue a stay-at-home order, it had to be the least serious man that Britain’s political system has produced in recent decades. It’s like being drafted by Groucho Marx. You halfway expect to hear a Ba-Dum-Tss at the end of each sentence.