Satire really has left the building when we’re asked to be kind to Ghislaine Maxwell

In the long run-up to Ghislaine Maxwell’s now imminent trial on charges of procuring teenage girls for her late friend, Jeffrey Epstein, her lawyer has repeatedly objected to the accused’s living conditions.

Last week, Bobbi C Sternheim returned, again, to similarities between the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn and conditions invented by Thomas Harris for his imaginary psychopath. “The surveillance,” she wrote, in another bid for bail, “rivals scenes of Dr Hannibal Lecter’s incarceration as portrayed in the movie, Silence of the Lambs, despite the absence of the cage and the plastic face guard.”

No offence to Maxwell’s lawyer, but you wonder if Lecter’s made-up ordeal is the ideally telling comparator and not only because in Harris’s book we meet the affected cannibal lounging cell-side with “the Italian edition of Vogue”. Further equipped with a fabulous fictional brain, Lecter is able, regardless of glossies, to “amuse himself for years at a time”. The idea of some connection between Lecter and Maxwell could be, even for the purposes of outrage-generation, unhelpful to a campaign portraying her as a lovable innocent whose martyrdom has lessons for us all.

“Kindness is spreading sunshine in other people’s lives regardless of the weather,” her family, tweeting @RealGhislaine, volunteer. More prosaically: “Have a great family recipe that reminds you of Fall? Why not share that recipe with a friend or neighbor and spread some good? #SAK.” (SAK stands for Simple Acts of Kindness.) Also: “Expressing gratitude regularly is an easy way to bring kindness into play on a daily basis. Have you expressed gratitude to someone today?” And: “Be a friend. Be Thankful. Be Positive. Be Supportive. A #SAK comes in many forms.” Very true. Though this does seem to be the first time the invocation of kindness, a theme that has become a little threadbare since its emergence in the 1990s, has been urged by campaigners advancing, as Maxwell’s siblings are now doing, the interests of an alleged madam for whom Epstein was “a thoughtful, kind, generous loving man”.

Scattered between bits of legal argument and pointed references to miscarriages of justice, the many maxims of RealGhislaine might still, I suppose, be inspiring for anyone who knows little about Maxwell’s family and less about the sex offender. But given the rarity, as stressed earlier by her defence, of people unfamiliar with that association, and unaware of or unmoved by the photograph of Maxwell beaming as Prince Andrew rests his paw on a teenager’s bare midriff, the kindness homilies might be better saved for after her trial. Even a guilty verdict might not preclude a future narrative that combines the spiritual insights of De Profundis and twee sententiousness of The Water Babies with the wellbeing offer of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop. In fact, everything, if she’s cleared, points to a future Maxwell lifestyle site. Kindness, says @RealGhislaine, “eases anxiety, is good for your heart and reduces stress”. Something to bear in mind if you’re ever unexpectedly tracked down to an obscure New Hampshire address by federal agents. Offer them a favourite fall recipe?

But there’s still the question, with the Maxwell siblings reinvented as kindness missionaries, of what their involvement could do to a movement shortly to be celebrated in World Kindness Day. After all, David Cameron’s simple act of pocket-lining was enough to close down further consideration of the “big society” in which people better than himself were to run libraries for nothing. Outside the kindness cult, its extinction courtesy of the Maxwells might seem a conclusion yet more desirable than its rival appropriation by Simple, the Unilever-owned cosmetic business. Before watching Succession the other night, I was urged in a commercial that might have been scripted by team Ghislaine to select and perform a “Simple act of kindness”, thus virtuously internalising its brand.

Not unusually for these campaigns, the kindness bar is set low – so very low that you might find you’ve been inadvertently kind for years, banking enough credit after all the smiling, litter disposal, cooking meals, paying compliments or bringing others a “hot beverage” that you could probably live the rest of your life very kindly without further exertion. By, in this way, reducing acts of kindness to virtually the minimum of civic or neighbourly behaviour, Simple’s and @RealGhislaine’s campaigns cheapen the very quality they supposedly promote. If smiling is a noteworthy act of simple kindness, what does a more complicated one, such as volunteering in a charity shop, make you? Little Nell? Over at @RealGhislaine we discover it probably does: “Hold the door open for a stranger and wish them a kind day!” But well before Simple and @RealGhislaine adopted, unhappily for at least one of them, this identically unchallenging approach, kindness was in difficulties and not just because of the perceived success of “a kinder politics”. The popularity of #BeKind as a Twitter synonym for “shut the fuck up”, sometimes from individuals underlining this kindly message with, for instance, a raised baseball bat, confirms its meaning has become, at best, infinitely adaptable.

Returning to its old-fashioned sense, anyone who can persuade the authors of @RealGhislaine to cease lecturing people who have never personally hung out with a sex offender would, however, be entitled to claim this as a bona fide kindness, with appropriately spectacular health benefits. Edifying as it is to see Maxwells identifying the family name with kindness, rather than with their father’s unforgivable theft from UK pensioners, this philosophy has so far been, judging by their public interventions, only modestly translated into action. If the Maxwells aspire, as on @RealGhislaine, to make “kindness the norm”, the project should embrace Epstein’s underage victims, as Maxwell’s attorney did not want them called in the trial. Unkindly, she also wanted these victims named: also overruled. “A hint of a smile, a dash of warmth, a few kind words – the perfect recipe for a simple act of kindness,” we were recently advised on Ms Maxwell’s behalf. Her trial promises to be a moral education.

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