As a homeschooled, pop-culture-obsessed, 17-year-old, Caitlin Moran landed a gig writing columns for the Times in the U.K. Twenty-odd years later, she’s racked up a ton of awards for her frank and funny columns which tackle massively important phenomena like Brexit and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Before using her quick wit to solve our listeners’ etiquette problems, she talked to us about how the banking crisis inspired her to make the leap in political writing and explained her argument for turning the house of commons into one big sauna.
Rico Gagliano: So, the columns in this collection come from the time in your career when you expanded your beat from pop culture mainly to more serious topics: politics, wealth, and equality. What prompted that shift?
Caitlin Moran: Well, I think that’s what you do when you grow up, don’t you? But not many writers seem to follow that path. You either start off as a political journalist and you stay a political journalist, or you start off as a comedy writer and you stay a comedy writer.
But that’s not what happens in real life. You start off being all kind of like, “Oh, I only really care about pop stars.” And then you get into your 40s and you’re like, “Oh my God! Some kind of tragic apocalypse is coming upon us. I need to like clue up and start fighting this thing!”
Rico Gagliano: Was there a moment where you realized that you kind of had to do that?
Caitlin Moran: Well, yeah, the 2008 banking crash was the big one. You were watching all the serious news shows and like, the BBC has very serious news shows. And they reel people on, you know, Chancellors of the Exchequer and governors of the bank of England. And everyone was going, “So what are we gonna do now?” And all these citizens of power and stuff just went, “We don’t know!” And they all looked very, very scared.
And at that point I was like, “Hang on. These guys are my age and they don’t know. I’ve got a couple of ideas that actually might be more useful here. I reckon I’m gonna learn a little bit more about human psychology and history and economics and just have a go at it myself.”
Brendan Francis Newnam: And some of your methods for improving the world are practical, like espousing publicly funded elections, and then others not so much. Like your contention that the house of commons be, “fully insulated, lined with pine, and turned into a sauna.”
First off, do you wanna explain your reasoning behind the latter for those who haven’t read the book?
Caitlin Moran: Well, without being a bro-crusher, as I am a lady and you are gentlemen, a lot of what we see being problems in the world is what we would call “toxic masculinity.” You know, there’s just a lot of guys in a room together, that very rarely works out well. Particularly if you guys are like all kind of hyped up and pumped up and there’s a lot of testosterone going on.
But you put men in a sauna, they get to have a sweat, they get to relax. That’s a better atmosphere to do business in. I mean, really, the suggestion that I really wanted to make was to just that everybody make sure that, you know, that they have sex before they start legislating. But I was like, “That might be a bit too graphic, let’s just make it a sauna instead.”
Brendan Francis Newnam: But if you’re in a sauna, you’re seeing each other naked. How is that gonna reduce aggression levels? Like I feel like that could make-
Caitlin Moran: To remind you of mortality.
Rico Gagliano: Oh.
Caitlin Moran: Exactly. You need to be surrounded by naked people. We’re all gonna be dead in 40 years’ time, let’s try and leave the world in a better place than it was before.
Rico Gagliano: Particularly, the older among us, it’s like you begin to realize more and more, “Yep, we’re on our way out.”
Caitlin Moran: Oh God, yeah. I look like a melting candle at the moment. Kind of, you know, physically that is. All slowly dripping down to the ground. That’s what it is. I am the candle. I’m burning myself at both ends [laughs].
Rico Gagliano: My God, that’s hardly true. There is an underlying optimism, maybe we can even sense it in kind of the joy with which you talk about these things in a lot of your columns, this idea that collectively we can make the world a better place. How has your outlook shifted with these recent moves that we’ve seen towards nationalism and xenophobia in Europe and in the U.S.?
Caitlin Moran: Well, these are tiny blips. I mean, once you got a sense of kind of like how long history is and how many times we’ve been here before — you know, we’ve gone through these phases of civilization going into a very decadent, excessive phase, and then an autocrat coming along, you know, or a plutocrat. These are cycles that happen over and over again.
I mean, the main thing about optimism is — particularly if you come from a working class background, a very poor background as I do and the majority of people do in my country, at least –you can’t afford to be pessimistic. If you really have looked over the abyss in your existence, then you have to be optimistic.
I’ve always believed that if you started complaining about something three minutes ago, two minutes ago you should’ve started doing something about it. And that is the history of our species. Whenever the world has been great, it’s because people got together and put lots of tiny ideas about how the world would be better into one big kind of blanket and we made the world a better place.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Isn’t that also how the world’s gotten awful? Because lots of people got together and put their tiny ideas of how things, they think could make them better.
Caitlin Moran: Oh, totally. But, at the moment, [the] huge thing among optimists is kind of [a] depression apocalypse where everyone’s like, “No this is it. It really is too screwed up now. We’re going to give in. We’re going to cocoon. It’s game over.”
But when we get into 2017, we need to burst out those doors and be like, “No! Nihilism is not acceptable.” If we don’t have any actual ideas or power for what we could do, the best thing we can do is to not give in to nihilism. Not make sure that we’re not spreading depressive news.
There’s a Britain piece on Medium at the moment, there’s 99 reasons why 2016 was actually fantastic. And they’ve gone around the world collecting all these facts about, you know, sort of like environmental issues we’ve got and diseases that have been eradicated. There’s a lot of world out there. A lot of good things have been happening.
Rico Gagliano: Don’t forget, though, that David Bowie died and that pretty much trumps everything that you just said, sorry.
Caitlin Moran: I am working on the theory which someone posted on the internet that Bowie was the stuff that held the universe together. And when he died, that’s why it’s all gone so wrong.
Brendan Francis Newnam: I think also in one of your columns you talk about the idea that Bowie might still be alive.
Caitlin Moran: Well, I mean, he’s the kind of cunning sod that would, wouldn’t he? Like, if there was one last trick up his sleeve, it would be immortality. If anybody could never, never die and be made of impermeable stardust, it would be Bowie. So, I’m working on that theory. It’s keeping me going.