Fun-Washing Fascism

The standout neologism* from this year is Fun-Washing (after Nigel Farage joined I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here).

But ‘Fun-Washing’ – the idea of cleansing toxic or repellent individuals or ideas by re-locating them into the heart of light entertainment – is not as recent as we might think. Cultural historians will debate its origins for years to come but there’s a strong argument it started back in the 1987 Alton-Towers based medieval themed celebrity tournament Its A Royal Knockout featuring ‘the Royals’, Meatloaf, John Cleese, Toya, Christopher Reeve, Chris de Burgh and Anneka Rice.

In some classic foreshadowing Prince Andrew – then known warmly as ‘Randy Andy’ by the red-tops was key to the pageant. Let’s look at some milestones in the development of the idea.

Fast-forward to the fourth series of the Celebrity Big Brother franchise in 2006 and George Galloway defined the Fun-Washing genre with an appearance on all fours in a red lyotard, purring and pretending to lick cream from actress Rula Lenska’s hands, as part of a task set on the Channel 4 show.

But Celebrity TV is only a sideshow in the genre – with ‘serious’ programmes like Question Time arguably pulling more than their weight with the normalising / mainstreaming of fascists starting with the 2009 invitation of the BNP leader Nick Griffin. To a lesser degree they frame politics by normalising far-right wing politics by inviting random unknown and unelected pundits and representatives of dark-money think-tanks onto the show. Examples of the uncritical normalisation of the far-right closer to home can also be seen in such as the Holyrood magazine soft interview with Steve Bannon in 2018.

Today (30/11/23) former Health Secretary Matt Hancock starts his testimony to the Covid Inquiry. Hancock famously said he’d thrown a ‘protective ring’ around Care Homes, then had to resign, wrote ‘Pandemic Diaries’ and appeared on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. Here is faking-crying on Good Morning Britain. 

Watching these clips is like watching popular culture slowly degenerate, as ‘reality TV’ shapes and reflects the bizarre descent and your mind turns to jelly. For a long time now we have been in a bizarre loop where shows are made up not just of D-list slebs but people whose only fame is derived from being on reality TV. We are now in the second phase of this, so where, after Farage do we go next? Could we expect Andrew Tate on Celebrity Bakeoff, chided by Noel Fielding and Alison Hammond for an under-cooked bundt? Or Tommy Robinson doing a foxtrot on Strictly?

Actually Fun-Washing and (sur) reality tv had a role in projecting Anne Widdecombe as a ‘national treasure’.

In 2018 she appeared in Celebrity Big Brother.

At the time Iain Dale, the Conservatives favourite blogger-turned radio star is celebrating Ann Widdecombe, urging his readers: “Ann Widdecombe needs your vote. For those of you who don’t watch Celebrity Big Brother, she’s in the final and voting finishes this evening. It would be great to see her win it, and confound her critics.”

On reminding him that, whilst Ann might be hilarious in Celebrity big Brother, her track record whilst Prisoners Minister included advocating shackling pregnant women in chains in the run-up to childbirth. A confused Dale denied this had ever happened, so here’s a reminder…

As Prisoners Minister Widdecombe told MPs they had to be chained and handcuffed to stop them escaping.

The Mirror revealed how mother-of-three Kathleen Mackay, 27, was handcuffed to a warder on a 10ft chain and Channel 4 News secretly-filmed footage of Annette Walker shackled during the early stages of a 12-hour labour.

The policy of shackling pregnant women with handcuffs and chains was introduced during Derek Lewis’s tenure as director-general of the Prison Service and was revealed when Channel 4 News showed secretly-filmed footage of Ms Walker in chains at the Whittington Hospital in Archway, north London. It was Ann Widdecombe who defended the policy in a Commons debate of January 1996.

At the time the Independent reported:

“While prison officers allegedly agreed to remove the cuffs during an abdominal examination, the officers remained in the room. The chains were re-applied afterwards and she was chained to a bed in a 12-bed ward. The next morning she took breakfast in the dining room chained to an officer in the view of other patients.”

[see Beech BAL. Shackled prisoner wins compensation. AIMS J 1998. 10.13, cited in Legal Aspects of Midwifery].

The Apprentice proved a lucrative career-building ground for Donald Trump, and maybe that’s what Nigel Farage thinks he’s doing in I’m a Celebrity? But the shows are very different, in The Apprentice the ‘boss’ (Trump or Alan Sugar) get to project power to a cartoon-level (“Thank you Lord Sugar”) whereas Farage is surrounded by people who can challenge and ridicule him. Plus The Apprentice is based around an idea of basically venerating wealthy business people, whereas I’m a Celebrity has an air of the ‘already-desperate’ about it.

So what is Farage doing?

It’s not really for the exposure, is it? I mean as Marina Hyde reminds us “he has essentially been on transmit since the 1990s. The period after that date has pretty much been one long media interview/speech/piece-to-camera…”

Like most of the failed politicians he’s in it for the money. He has reportedly received £1.5m to appear on ITV’s I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! with Ant and Dec but the hope is perhaps also (as for the minor Royals and proto-fascists) to –  ‘normalise the abhorrent’ – by placing himself in this weird tv pantomime. You don’t need to ‘win’ or even be liked for these processes to be successful, the point is to be just part of the cultural landscape of ‘Saturday night tv’.


* see also 2016 a Dictionary, and 2018, a Dictionary

Comments (7)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. SleepingDog says:

    I suspect fun-washing was old when Julius Caesar was doing it:

  2. Satan says:

    Given the prominence of the trully far-right wing normalised and in government across a lot of Europe, including the whole of Scandanavia and Finland, perhaps Farage was something of a blessing.

    1. John says:

      Labour Party is in power in Norway which was in Scandinavia last time I looked at a map.
      Your geography is about as accurate as the rest of the nonsense you spout.
      Tory party is shit scared of Farage (a typical English public school boy establishment type bully from Tom Brown’s School-days) and has been led by his so called populist nonsense abetted by an aggressive right wing press. There is a fair chance he will end up Tory party leader in next 10 years.
      Farage is no fool and an extremely nasty individual. Those that follow and support him are fools who the rest of us have to suffer.

  3. Gercon says:

    Watched the guests on HIGNFY ridiculing the corrupt , lying , dysfunctional government with Ruth Davidson giggling and chuckling along as if detached from the rotteness of her nasty little Party.

    1. Niemand says:

      And we had Boris Johnson hosting it before becoming London mayor. I remember when he did become mayor, Hislop did a funny incredulous spiel about Johnson being an ‘actual mayor of actual London’. Little did they know then what the future held. Some of my friends thought Johnson was ‘okay’ for a Tory all based on his supposedly jovial and ‘humorous’ hosting of the show. This surprised me but it goes to show how people can be duped.

  4. Jimmock says:

    Yes. Politics Live has regular appearances by reps of so-called “Think Tanks “ pushing right wing neo-liberal economic ideas.

    1. John says:

      The think tank’s representatives appear on this programme and some others far more regularly than elected representatives of other parties other than Labour or Conservative.
      No explanation or accountability as to who the think tanks represent and how they are funded either.
      Similarly the review next days press programmes are basically advertising for press and allow the papers to set agenda for public debate.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.