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Boris truthers are the real giant babies

Carrie Symonds and Boris Johnson with their son Wilfred ( Downing Street )

July 20, 2020 - 11:44am

The internet outdid itself this weekend with a brand-new conspiracy theory: Boris Johnson’s baby is a fake.

An official photo was released, showing Boris Johnson alongside Carrie Symonds and their newborn baby. On cue, the more barmy of those internet-dwellers who automatically suspect anything Boris-related of foul play took to Twitter to cancel Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson.

Or, more accurately perhaps, to unperson him, on the grounds of not being a real baby but a Photoshop edit. Or being real, but actually a rented toddler. Or a real baby, but much older than claimed, and possibly the child of one of Boris’ other lovers. Or perhaps being a fake baby and also a Russian asset.

To help understand what happened, here’s a photo of my own giant baby:

At first glance the picture seems to show a six-foot toddler on a pub bench. In fact she’s a normal-sized child, 18 months old in that photo, and that’s a miniature picnic bench.

Anyone actually standing in my back garden looking at a toddler on a child-sized table would see both the illusion and also how absurd it is, because the rest of the scene provides scale and context. Adrift from its setting, though, the idea that I might have a six-foot toddler becomes almost plausible, and the image almost disturbing.

Our politics increasingly comprises such images, shorn of their context and released into the wild to accrue ever more unhinged re-interpretations, in no small part because we don’t do politics – or anything much – face to face any more.

Politics was first relentlessly centralised by successive governments of both left and right, eroding local civic engagement in favour of politics-as-spectator-sport conducted with growing peevishness at national level. This has been compounded by the virtualisation of nearly everything under lockdown, which has stripped us almost completely of opportunities to reality-check our increasingly hyper-mediated debate.

What’s emerging in the smoking ruins of the public square is a political discourse in which facts are largely beside the point. Despite their name, the aim of truthers – of the Boris baby variety, or any other variety – is not to establish truth at all, but rather to frolic in the intoxicating waters of speculation and counter-narrative that now comprise the majority of our politics. The closest analogy I can think of is children’s play, in which the storyline is understood as factually pretend but also deeply serious, and at an emotional level deeply real.

If this mindset replaces our existing rationalist one as the principal register for politics (and I think it will) this will have profound implications. Those leaders who flourish will be the ones most adept at shaping the narrative of a game with no outside, and an internal logic more mythic than fact-based, in a world where truth is increasingly of secondary importance.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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A Spetzari
A Spetzari
4 years ago

I worry we are only a few short steps away from descending to the cess-pool that is the political media dialogue in the US. As noted by an article here a few weeks back. This latest nonsense about Boris’ baby is just the latest isn’t it.

Like the left and right in the US, our partisan commentators and journalists are no longer caring about what is correct, they are just hell bent on smearing the bogeymen nemesis of their own tribal viewpoint.

I finally got tired of the Guardian after some 15 years of readership for this very reason. They are pandering to an increasingly shrill minority who are out to smear Boris/Tories and anything non-conforming to their viewpoint.

People in these publications on both sides must see this car crash in slow motion as they lose more and more readership. There is an utter failure of leadership all round in trying to address this.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Yes, i gave up on the Guardian about 10 years ago, the Independent about 18 years ago, and the BBC 20 years ago, for the same reason.

david bewick
david bewick
4 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

I’ve finally come to the opinion that our media is based on gotcha and has little interest in the facts in context. I no longer buy any paper for the reasons you say. The Guardian readership is 1/10th that of the Daily Mail and is surely heading for on line only. Channel 4 news inhabits a similar space to the Guardian and has suffered falling audience numbers for many years. Looking at the last few elections and 2019 in particular it seems we have a shrill and noisy minority largely disregarded by a quiet majority. It remains to be seen as the latest generational shift happens as GenZ come more to the fore. They are recognised as being much more conservative than their millenial predecessors.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
4 years ago
Reply to  david bewick

Interesting really. Thought i’d look up the figures for online

Online guardian (23m monthly) isn’t far behind Mail online (c.25m monthly) which surprised me but tallies. They have actively tapped into the US market with NYT and others disappearing behind paywalls. You can tell that by the increasingly US-centric aspect in the articles, and would also explain the deeper descent into full blooded identity politics of its articles and readership. The comments these days are a mirror image of the looniest comments on any Mail or Telegraph article.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

That’s very worrying: the Guardian depending on and pandering to American wokism, and at the same time being the ‘paper of record’ for the BBC etc.

david bewick
david bewick
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

In print form the Mail is 10x the circulation of the Guardian.

steve dutch
steve dutch
3 years ago
Reply to  david bewick

Yeah, by comparison the Dailies Mail and Express, and the Sun are so obviously paragons of journalistic virtue, I suppose, exemplifying an undying respect for the truth and operating in accordance with the most stringent ethical values.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago

‘Those leaders who flourish will be the ones most adept at shaping the narrative of a game with no outside, and an internal logic more mythic than fact-based, in a world where truth is increasingly of secondary importance.’

I was going to say that surely this has always been the case. But perhaps not, perhaps it has only become prevalent in recent decades. Either way, I hold the media largely responsible for narrative that eschews facts.

Andrew D
Andrew D
4 years ago

I think you’ll find (Mr Icke told me) that this is no baby, just a giant reptile biding its time…

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
4 years ago

Your lawn looks in very good condition, Mary. Well done.

chrisjwmartin
chrisjwmartin
4 years ago

The closest analogy I can think of is children’s play, in which the storyline is understood as factually pretend but also deeply serious, and at an emotional level deeply real.

If you’ve not already started reading it, you’re really going to enjoy the Kendall Walton book.

Joss Wynne Evans
Joss Wynne Evans
4 years ago

In a world where decades of conspiracy theory are becoming conspiracy practice before our very eyes, I suppose that there is a market opening. Fake babies doesn’t have the tinfoil hat imprimatur very obvious but, who knows, it may catch on with a new generation of people seeking truth with their comment!

John Stone
John Stone
4 years ago

What I see is a normal sized toddler on a piece of children’s garden furniture – I suspect most people will without even thinking about it. But there will be a high price for handing over the power to government about what we may or may not read on the internet rather than letting people make up their own minds. It might, in fact, be babyish to be bothered about people making up nonsense about Boris’s baby.

Governments lie all the time if not held to account and we should not get into a fury about trivia, as an excuse for ramping up censorship. Of course, you could end up banning the picture of a child crouching on a piece of garden furniture as misleading. And perhaps that is where we will end up.

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
4 years ago
Reply to  John Stone

You are absolutely correct. That’s the most frustrating thing about this Corona business, the blatant lying, what would happen if there was an Ebola or smallpox outbreak in Britain and nobody believed the govt?

ianw1234567
ianw1234567
4 years ago

“What’s emerging in the smoking ruins of the public square is a political discourse in which facts are largely beside the point.”

I think that’s to confuse public discourse with the small number of monomaniacs and tin-foil wearers who make such a noise on social media, and the journalists who take them seriously.

terry.tastard
terry.tastard
4 years ago

Another case of history repeating itself as farce. It was said that the baby of James II and Mary of Modena wasn’t really theirs but smuggled into the palace in a warming pan.

mike otter
mike otter
4 years ago

Thanks Julie Bindell – again a voice of reason on a cruel sea navigated
by many a ship of fools*. I don’t agree with the case against safe zones
as its made here, because the Leeds experiment is not really a safe
zone for sex workers, its more a safe zone for pimps and drug dealers,
plus their natural allies in the police. What seems to work better is a
safe zone with regulation and health care facilities and visible police
presence – women officers included, this scares seems away the rogue
pimps and traffickers. When combined with assisting sex workers who want
to leave this is probably as good as it gets. Germany, Finland,
Switzerland and Austria seem to fare well on this. Spain also has areas
where harm minimization appears to work well – ie cops and locals look
out for sex workers as much as they do for the rest of the community. *
To add spice to an otherwise pretty dry commentariat perhaps there
should be a contest for the most metaphors mixed per sentence? or most
Grateful Dead lyrics?

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
4 years ago

What makes the writer so certain the Boris baby is real? There’s evidence Barak Obama rented his kids, I’d only believe Harry is a father if there was a DNA test (and maybe then we could find out who Harry’s real dad is).

Bob Bobberson
Bob Bobberson
3 years ago

Ah, so that’s just a miniature Carrie Symonds. Seems legit.

steve dutch
steve dutch
3 years ago

Johnson is infamously mendacious; unless, of course, he’s been, hideously misrepresented by the fake news MSM. Perhaps, he never lied to the Monarch, Parliament and the country and it was all a left-wing conspiracy. To try, naturally, to stop a Brexit in which the facts of the matter were never in doubt and signs on buses of absolutely no consequence: any hint to the contrary perpetrated by so-called ‘experts’, who the public didn’t trust anyway.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
4 years ago

Julie writes that “the women of Leeds deserve better than a strip of industrial wasteland and a few condoms. They deserve jobs and a future. ” But how many of the women who engage in the sex trade are from Leeds, or even from the UK? Daria Pionko, the woman murdered, was a recent Polish immigrant. Three young Romanian women living in the same flat, all apparently prostitutes, are also referenced. Well-paying jobs for young women in Leeds don’t appear just by magic, but even if they did, wouldn’t the prostitutes who took them just be replaced by women from the Continent, given the demand for their services would still be there? Are the same big crime organizations that the Amsterdam mayor talks about that prostitutes work for there also working in Leeds? Julie writes as is this were a problem for Leeds, but her own report rather makes one think it is a European problem, or some might say, an open borders problem.
From the newspaper report, it seems that everyone liked Daria Pionko. Perhaps she should have stayed in Poland. If she didn’t have a better life there, she would likely have had a longer one.

Brian Burnell
Brian Burnell
4 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Baldwin

Not an open borders problem Andrew. The oldest profession was active long before our current borders existed. Indeed I recollect the Derby Rd area in Southampton where I still live was blessed with these same issues in the 1970s and earlier, when Britain was a newbie in the then Common Market, and decades before Poland and other eastern European countries were free from the Soviet yoke and free to travel here.
Not that I’m unsympathetic to your argument. However, if the eastern Europeans were sent packing there would doubtless be others from elsewhere or a home-grown variety to rising meet the need.
Myself I’m drawn more to the Nordic solution of criminalising the punters. Ruthlessly remove the demand and the supply end will be fxed by the market.