Johnson, Corbyn and Keys all fear our hero of the week

Date published: Friday 13th December 2019 5:30 - Matthew Stead

Who’s this week’s hero, Johnny?
This week’s hero has been writing for The Guardian for nearly 20 years and won the Comment Journalism award as the British Press Journalism Awards this week. She writes three pieces a week covering politics, celebrity/entertainment and of course sport and is one of the most distinctive, acerbic, witty and insightful writers working in any of these fields.

One of her great talents is in allowing these three apparently separate aspects of society to bleed into each other. In a time when it is easy to feel as if the lunatics have not only taken over the asylum but they have outlawed sanity, made lying absolutely compulsory, turned all facts into pure fiction and all fiction into a shit new movie of Brave New World featuring someone from EastEnders who you thought had died in 1989, she remains a rebellious truth-teller. We cling onto her work like a rubber ring in the deep end of the swimming pool of existence, albeit a pool that someone has violently and persistently shat in. She also has Elaine Benes as the header on her Twitter page and this alone makes anyone a hero in my book.

That’ll be Marina Hyde, then.


What have they done to deserve this then?
Writing three different pieces per week is really difficult. It really is. The volume of writing simply has to be challenging. Just getting the words out of your brain in anything like a coherent sentence week after week after week is tough enough, but making them as artful, incisive and strewn with references from the arts and beyond as Marina’s work does takes a special talent indeed.

We do live in a time where completely absurd things seem to be said and done every hour. At times it feels as though we are living in a never-ending showing of Confessions of a Milkman and are metaphorically being rogered over the kitchen table every day. So having someone to cut through the noise with perspective and humour has never been more valuable.

It’s the breadth of her work that stuns. Sometimes an outright scream of disbelief, sometimes a sideways disparaging glance, she fearlessly takes a stand and sticks to it. Admittedly, this stand is really just to be a nice, decent person with a few basic morals and principles, but in a world where many of our most venal and amoral politicians are quite literally gargoyles, not being an absolute twat seems to now have real currency in a way it was once taken for granted as entry-level human behaviour.

She pricks the balloon of corporate blowharding in football and is unafraid to nail her colours not only to the mast but, when needed, to the face of her targets, calling Richard Keys, for example, the Lord Haw-Haw of Qatar. She’s been a fierce critic of football’s organisational bodies and the many sins they have so blatantly committed.

I could fill up our servers with quotes of Marina’s work but two will have to illustrate all of them. The first, writing about how footballers might use social media this season, is brilliant for many different reasons. It’s laugh out loud funny, incredible densely written with so many observations and much satire packed into just 198 words. Her selection of expressions is creative but terse. The ‘gut you like a pig’ line is so perfect; a punch in the face to make the point. By using quotes from, in this case, Richard Arnold, she shines a bright light on them to make the sheer absurdity inescapable.

‘Identify the real social media enemy. I know at times it will feel like your enemy is an anonymous man with a motorbike avatar and a mention of F1 in his bio who has tweeted to tell you “your shit”. Or, and these are the worst, the men who identify as a “proud dad”. Those guys would literally gut you like a pig. In fact, though, the enemy are executives such as Manchester United’s managing director Richard Arnold, who spend so much time lining up official mattress partners and official wine partners that they omit to engage with what we might call the club’s official football partner. Earlier this year, Richard inked a deal with Remington, about which he had this to say: “Our partnership is not only about bringing our fans high-end styling products, it aims to inspire and encourage individuality through powerful activations and campaigns with both Manchester United’s men’s and women’s team.” So there you go, United players – and perhaps beyond: even if it’s just as simple an act as going out late, waking up looking like rubbish, and posting a no-filter selfie with the hashtag #remington, understand one thing. YOU ARE THE RESISTANCE.’

The second is pure, 100% Hyde: just 201 words that are witheringly critical and yet always amusing in the act of tearing her subjects to shreds. To deliver such depthful, thoughtful and provocative prose in so few words is the work of a fine mind.

‘The truly hideous scenes during England’s twice‑halted 6-0 win over Bulgaria on Monday apparently marked a coming of age, with various outlets and pundits now turning on Uefa for the sort of inactivity of which they were guilty or supportive of about 10 minutes ago. I am sure Sterling and others will raise a wry eyebrow at the spectacle of some of the same hacks who lacerated him for buying a house or something now pontificating that the England side should actually have walked off in Sofia. They can never get it QUITE right, can they, these players?

‘As for sections of the media – a small minority, as sections always are – it certainly helps when they can behold people literally making Nazi salutes. That, they can all agree, is racist. Also monkey noises. Definitely racist. Even the Daily Express put “England Stand Up To Racist Fans'” on their front page on Tuesday. Unfortunately, it’s all the many other notorious Express front pages that will end up having had rather more influence on our own shores, where racism has not been kicked out, and is not yet a distant dream. Still, other countries are worse, so what does it matter?’

There are many other uses of the English language that catch the eye. This week’s description of Boris Johnson was pure poetry and 100% spot on in its observation, managing to articulate something we’ve all noticed but never brought into such sharp focus.

‘Yet despite the relish with which Johnson embraces cosplaying as a working man, he always seems oversized and grotesquely out of place in these scenes, as though a vast unlicensed buttock implant has just been cast in Camberwick Green.’

Being rude and insulting is easy: anyone can do it and beyond the occasional shallow thrill, it’s not very interesting. But drawing the veil back to reveal that which is innately grotesque and to do it in a way which offers a deeper understanding is priceless and the reason so many of us are Marina acolytes.


Anyone grumpy about it?
Marina is bound to rub a lot of people up the wrong way, which is of course why so many of the rest of us love her. There are those who think the snark has little point to it other than to make fun out of her targets, but I’d suggest those targets are well-chosen for their crimes against various types of decency and sense. She is always punching up and never down. The idea that she’s posh and thus hates the working class – a criticism I have seen more than once – is patent nonsense and not something you could derive from her actual writing. Her rapier is reserved for the idiotic and mendacious, from whichever social strata they might hale.

As ever in 2019, there are always those simply waiting to jump on any writer for perceived hypocrisy, no matter which side of the fence you might sit politically or socially. Occasionally, someone has a go at Marina but it’s always out of ignorance. I saw some dude claiming she was anti-Labour because she took the royal piss out of Corbyn, but anyone who reads her pieces on Johnson (“how many children do you have?”) and the principles behind them knows she is an equal opportunity eviscerator, not a mere cheerleader. And that’s actually a good thing.

I also wouldn’t mind betting that Marina has had to put up with a lot of Jekyll &… ‘jokes’ for many years by people who think they’re being clever and pointed. The sort of people, I imagine, whose voice is like a bad impression of John Major: a weasely nasal E.L. Wisty who refers to his spouse as “the good lady wife” and makes a repulsive sniggering noise at his own supposed wit.

And I’m sure she is loathed by the best misogynists the internet has to offer, obviously – especially the variety that feels the need to lecture women about sport.


What the people say
The feeling that she (and John Crace of the same publication) are somehow the last sane voices in a world of Insanity Beasts is a common one, so plenty of people had plenty of love for Marina and her work in football and elsewhere.

We start with our traditional 4_4_haiku:

‘She is just magnificent, everyone should be made read her columns each week.’

‘She’s brilliant, she’s kept me sane over the last three years. One of the funniest, most insightful writers out there with an incredibly diverse range of cultural references ranging from Stephen Segal to classic literature. Amazing!’

‘Consistently witty drawing on a vast range of cultural references. Simply the best commentator around.’

‘To write Craig Dawson into a political take down takes a skill that none can match.’

‘The funniest and most insightful writers about sport and politics, every one of her columns is a delight to read.’

‘Her Richard Keys take downs are a thing of beauty.’

‘Think it’s time to rename that park in London – Marina Hyde Park.’

‘Marina is one of only two people whose tweets are notified to me as I do not want to miss her regular comments. She is total class!’

‘Oh gosh, where to start? Not only does she have the best turn-of-phrase in the whole industry, but she’s one of a very few who can be consistently relied on to cut through the bullshit. A model for all sports writers (and a welcome ray of light to sports writing readers too!)’

‘Routinely comes out with some of the most brilliantly withering descriptions of people in power.’

‘I always think a good way to judge a person is by who hates them. Marina is a brilliant example of this. Hated by the very worst people. Ergo, a good egg.’

‘Somehow, every single column she ever writes is bloody brilliant, funny and insightful, she is a national treasure.’

‘One of the greatest writers ever. You really wonder how she always comes up with it.’

‘She’s incredible.’

‘Probably the best purveyor of “hilarious lines within articles about important things” I’ve ever seen.’

‘Absolutely love her columns. She’s right about politics and football and manages more Spinal Tap references than any other columnist on a national paper.’

‘”Boris Johnson is the kind of guy who’d don Spider-Man pyjamas and scale a building in order to see less of his kids. Sorry, fewer.” Brilliant.’


What does the future hold?
For someone who is clearly at the loftiest of lofty peaks of her profession and has a gig that uniquely bestrides three very different aspects of society, we can only hope for more of the same in the coming years. Personally, I’d love her to write a football book, utilising her wonderful prose to paint a picture of Where We Are Now, but three columns a week probably negates that as a possibility, work wise.

The fact we’ve never (I think) seen her on TV as a talking head, or in any other context except in the newspaper suggests an admirable dedication to her art before anything else. Given recent events on the sporting and political stage, we’re going to need her literary torchlight to guide us through the darkness for a while longer yet. Every cloud has a silver lining.

John Nicholson


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