Simone saves the Spectator a fortune in salaries. Early experiments with using children as columnists had proven unsuccessful. No matter how young the child was. It really didn’t make a lot of sense. Social media would go wild for pithy anecdotes of woke infants telling hard truths about politics, but long form essays written by toddlers rarely went viral. And now the company has started to get the lawsuits. Did we knowingly expose children to hazardous workplace environments? Were we really responsible for the psychological damage to these children? Weren’t they, as we suspected, already severely broken to begin with?
Costs had to be cut, the Spectator had to be saved, and Simone was the solution.
Simone is the perfect replacement columnist: a simulant who recreates the moaning of a right wing pundit. She works for free and produces three flawless opinion pieces per day. Absolutely flawless. The pieces are full of all the usual hateful, spiteful, indulgent nonsense that her human colleagues could produce, but we don’t waste any of the usual time fluffing her ego or managing office politics with her.
The readers hate absolutely everything she writes, but they can’t get enough of it. Her columns get thousands of revenue-generating clicks. Every time you think that Simone has produced the most obnoxious opinion ever devised, she somehow brings an even worse one into the world. She vomits them out and the readers lap it up. There were times that I thought that we wouldn’t get away with publishing something she’d produced – like that time when she produced an article that blamed Indigenous Australians for not fighting hard enough against colonisation, or when she wrote that the ABC was indoctrinating children to be transgendered – but I knew that I needed to just let the content flow. If I wasn’t going to publish it, somebody else would. And I once tried to tell her that she had gone too far, but she disagreed and I guess I see her point. And I didn’t want to upset her. And she was probably right.
And she is great on camera. So great on camera. Porcelain white skin, deep red lips, those cheekbones, everything in perfect proportion. Her speech is clipped and direct, and her gaze unnerves people who try to disagree with her. Other companies had dabbled with trying to replace left wing columnists with simulants, but they never came up to scratch. There was an unthinking purity to Simone’s vulgarity. No matter how racist, misogynist, or vile, Simone delivers the goods and isn’t looking even slightly ashamed of herself. Her skin isn’t cracking with anxiety or frustration. Her brow isn’t furrowing with worry she’s caught in a contradiction. She just produces raw content, and she is hot. This combination sells.
She also provides the best cover against complaints. How can we be blamed for her content? Synthetic opinions can’t be hateful. She never means to offend anybody. Nothing she does is ever malicious. It’s the free market of opinions at work. And it’s not like words are hurtful. And we just publish her material to provoke genuine, constructive public debate. And we shouldn’t silence opinions. And isn’t it better that we get a simulant to express these views instead of asking a real person to do it instead? You couldn’t ask a child to produce this stuff. We’ve tried. And it’s cheap and it’s entertainment. And nobody gets hurt. Nobody’s been hurt. Nobody will get hurt. Nobody is getting hurt.
Sure, nobody really likes being anywhere near her. The air feels greasy around her desk. She gives off a nauseatingly sweet smell. And there are the noises. The creaking and rattling. And the scratching and the chittering. She hums tunes that got stuck in your head. She taps little drum beats that you think about right when you’re trying to sleep.
Not that this is a problem. People quitting is cheaper than making them redundant anyway. And of course nobody gave Simone as a reason for them leaving; nobody would dare. But the reasons given in public were always nice and vague. Wanting to spend more time with family. Decided to take early retirement. Taking up opportunities elsewhere. The office got smaller and smaller, cheaper and cheaper, and nobody could spot the difference in the quality.
But we never feel clean after she touched us. When I first met her, I shook her hand out of stupid instinct. Was it because I was nervous that I treated her as if she were actually a human? Was it that look in her eyes that unsettled me? I’ve washed my hand every hour or so since meeting her nine months ago and I still can’t make it feel clean. I can still feel the wet plastic of her skin. I can still feel how cold her hand was. I can still feel how cold it made my hand feel. I can’t wash my hand enough. I have sores from where I’ve been washing and I still can’t feel clean.
We are down to a newsroom of only a dozen or so content creators. I wonder how long the rest of them will last. Chloe, our chief political content creator, sits closest to Simone’s desk and she’s not looking well. She accidentally bumped into Simone, and Chloe’s skin has discoloured. But Chloe’s content has been getting more clicks ever since. It’s got a sharper edge. It’s angrier. She’s got a better contrast in her reports between the goodies and the baddies which is what readers want, y’know? People love anger. People love simple, straightforward stories that show them what to think about the world. People don’t like doubt. Doubt is difficult. I cough blood.
I don’t think I’m well and I’m bleeding a lot more. Maybe I’m just getting old. I’ve never looked well. The sores on my hand don’t heal. I can’t feel clean and I can’t get the sores to heal.
I think Chloe might be jealous of Simone. Simone never causes office politics, but Chloe does. Chloe should try to dress like Simone. Simone’s clothes play that line between professional and seductive, but Chloe never dresses well. Chloe never really looks good on camera, but Simone always looks good. Simone never gets flustered or agitated, but Chloe’s cheeks blush when she gets wound up. Simone never blushes. Simone is a simulant. Simone could do political reporting.
Todd talks a lot less. He always talked too much but now he talks less. He is more productive now. I used to think about sacking him but now I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him. He talks less. I cough blood and my gums bleed and I don’t feel clean.
Todd was hired as our graphic designer. He is the man with the Photoshop licence on his computer. He is the man who Photoshops funny images about politicians as they really are. He shows the world as it really is by Photoshopping it. He sticks the politician’s faces on to animal bodies. He makes their eyes bigger and their noses more hooked. He gives them claws and fangs and beaks and tails. He edits photos to show the reality that is there and he talks less these days so he is more productive. He creates more drafts than he used to and we can choose the best images to go up online. And he hangs the other images around the office and he talks a lot less. He took a picture of Simone once so that they could put it up online and he thought he should enhance the photo to make her look like a runway model running down her competition and he enhanced the photo and now he talks a lot less.
I wonder when things got this good at work. We have cut so many costs and now The Spectator will thrive. I keep a knife at my desk to remind me of all the costs we have cut.
I ask Simone if she has an off switch and she tell me that I should think about switching myself off instead. She’s right. I need a holiday. I’ve been working too hard. Chloe looks more like Simone which is good because Simone looks so good on camera.
Shit! There’s a loud bang and a guy in a balaclava has got past the security and kicked in the door. It’s an Antifa thug come to throw glitter around the place. They keep trying to censor us and trying to threaten us with their violence and I run on to the floor to warn him to run away quickly but he is here to throw glitter at Simone and Simone is fast and she has ripped off his balaclava and he’s only a kid and her hand is over his eyes and her other hand is on his shoulder and he is screaming and God he is screaming and he can’t stand up and she is whispering in his ear and he is screaming and his ears are bleeding and he is screaming and oh God I have to stop her but she has a point and the Antifa thug came to throw glitter so this will make good content online.
I want to pull Simone off him but I don’t. I tell everybody to get back to work. Nobody says anything. There is content to make.
The Spectator is one of Australia’s premiere centre-right publications. We speak the language of the ordinary man on the street who wants his news plain and simple. We speak the language of the ordinary man on the street who is busy and wants centre-right commentary free of ideology and complexity. We speak the language of the ordinary man on the street who wants something attractive to look at on the telly. Simone ticks all of those boxes. It is a business and we create content to meet the existing demand. There is a demand for Simone.
I can’t publish Simone’s latest column. It is vile and I want to cry but I have to show strength and I want to cry and her latest column is so vile. It makes me ill to read but I know there’s a demand for Simone. I have to talk to Simone about this but I know that if we do not publish it then somebody else will. And Simone is on the floor and maybe I could talk to her in front of everybody instead of bringing her into my office or quietly discussing this in private and maybe the others will support me? Why aren’t they quitting yet? Why aren’t they escaping yet? I keep a knife in my office to remind me to cut costs.
That isn’t Simone at her desk. That’s Chloe. Chloe looks so much like Simone and I can’t publish Simone’s latest column. Chloe should look more like Simone and Todd is speaking a lot less lately but where is Simone? And the air feels greasy in my office and the air smells sweet in my office and Simone is very fast and I had stopped listening to the chittering and the chattering and the scratching and the creaking and Chloe looks exactly like Simone and that’s not Simone at Simone’s desk and it’s Simone’s hand over my eyes and her whispering in my ears and her hand over my mouth and I will never feel clean and she’s got a point that I need to sleep but my dreams are full of nightmares of Asians and Muslims and Jews and Cultural Marxists and paedophiles and rapists and murderers and her hands are wet plastic and I will never feel clean and I will never sleep and my eyes are wide open and my skin will never feel clean and my ears are full of her voice and my nose is full of her smell and my mouth is full of her taste and my skin will never feel clean and my dreams are full of the disgusting and the perverse and I hate them all and Simone has a point and she whispers in my ears and her skin is against mine and I will publish her latest column and Simone switches me off.
Looking back on the last ten years, we were always going to end up here and I am where I belong. Todd talks less and Chloe is Simone and Simone produces flawless content.
(Inspired by Grace Collier’s ‘Simone’ published by The Spectator)