Thursday 23 June 2016

On the Referendum, sort of

More than 40,000 people have signed a petition calling for Daily Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre to be sacked over the newspaper’s coverage of migration and the EU referendum. I've signed it and perhaps you will too. But the Daily Mail print edition, nauseating as it is, takes second place to the website.

If you tell me you've never once visited the Daily Mail website I shan't believe you. It's reportedly the world's most popular - perfectly horrible, of course, and highly addictive. It's an amalgam of medical horror stories, xenophobia, misogyny, prurience, philistinism and witless jocularity. Here's a brief checklist of what makes it what it is, whatever it is:

a) WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT is a no-doubt legal requirement when it comes to the website's relentless depiction of medical anomalies and catastrophes - exploding cysts, for instance, or facial trauma. Likewise dead people. Likewise birth deformities, traumatic injuries, ghastly accidents and the aftermath of acid attacks. A typical headline:

Watch the revolting moment doctor drags a huge cyst from a man's nose - after burning a hole in his face with a LASER

If you want a vision of the future forget Orwell's boot stamping on a face. It's medical videos.

b) Punctuating such disgusting footage there's always something 'heartwarming' that involves 'adorable' animals or small children, although pensioners getting married or long-lost siblings reunited or US soldiers coming home to their dog/wife/daughter are all good. Mail readers are, one assumes, in a constant state of arousal but veering between states of abject horror, speechless fury, disgust and sentimental consolation.

c) When it comes to art. Daily Mail journalists assume their readers have no time at all for anything at all unless it is:

          - produced by somebody with arresting disabilities, physical or mental
          - any kind of photorealism, which is simply astonishing
          - anything produced by a small child, or ape, that is 'as good as anything by Picasso'
          - anything forged (especially when it fools 'so-called experts')
          - anything stolen in a heist (worth millions)
          - anything discovered in a skip or boot fair which turns out to be worth 'a small fortune'

The Turner Prize? Well it really isn't art, is it? All that?  It's a  classic case of 'Emperor's New Clothes' if you ask me. A child of five could do it. They're fooling nobody except the so-called experts.

d) Attractive young women (or 'starlets', in the Mail's quaint lexicon) are prone to 'putting on a busty display', flaunting their assets, or curves, often to show some ex-boyfriend exactly what it is he's missing. These young women often sport (yes, 'sport) VERY low cut dresses, which are invariably 'eye-popping' and 'leave little to the imagination'.

Samantha Barks flashes her ample cleavage in a skimpy black swimsuit as she enjoys a quick dip; Peek-a-boob;

Kim Kardashian flaunts sizable cleavage in a low-cut vest but keeps her post-baby body hidden under bulky coat;

e) Hacks leap upon any occasion on which 'the air turns blue' thanks to an actor (invariably a left wing 'luvvie') swearing in a live telly broadcast;

f) Politics. The Daily Mail infamously ran an editorial by its proprietor Lord Rothermere in January 1934 under the headline Hurrah for the Blackshirts. But that was a long time ago and you can't continue to score easy points by reminding the world of the Fascist allegiances of a former Mail owner, who was a close friends of Hiter, Mussolini and the British Fascist leader Oswald Mosely. That would be grossly unfair. Just as it was unfair of The Spectator magazine to claim at the time that "… the Blackshirts, like the Daily Mail, appeal to people unaccustomed to thinking. The average Daily Mail reader is a potential Blackshirt ready made. When Lord Rothermere tells his clientele to go and join the Fascists some of them pretty certainly will." (The Spectator 19 January 1934 p.6). All water under the bridge. Forgive and forget.

g) There's a particular form of smug mockery reserved for anything complex, nuanced, challenging or worthwhile that is beyond their understanding and doesn't meet with the Editor's approval;

h) Respect though, for the inexplicable and supernatural , because scientists don't know everything. Look at these unexplained lights / proof of temples on Mars / pyramids / startling evidence of cro-magnon cell phones;

i) Respect also for the ineffable. Christ's face appears on a  tortilla in Mexico; a coma victim wakes up speaking fluent Russian (having had no knowledge of the language beforehand). Such 'miracles' are reported though never critiqued;

j) Who could keep a straight face when presented with the simply hilarious? Brides falling over / attacked by swans / blown over by whirlwinds etc. Key words are 'adorable', 'fury', 'horrifying', 'reckless'. The Mail has an unwavering commitment to slapstick.

k) Animals can be so human! (Heartbreaking video shows a mother sea lion crying as she mourns the loss of her baby) And humans can behave like animals  when drunk, or when scrounging benefits, or when being 'neighbours from hell';

l) The trivial slip that becomes on closer inspection the tragic. 'Doctors thought cancer was whitlow'. If this can be a covert attack on NHS negligence so much the better;

m) The National Enquirer story, which combines the exotic, the grotesque and the off-beat detail: 'Husband, 69, 'blocked his toilet as he tried to flush away pieces of his wife's head after decapitating her with a kitchen knife because she flashed her breasts at other men on Skype'.  The husband was called Dempsey Nibbs.

Or how about Ex-wife 'tried to kill her ex-husband with a pepper grinder before stabbing him with a carving knife and attempting to pull out his intestines after they had sex' (the inverted commas working hard there);

n) Foreigners. Nearly half of university jobs go to Europeans: Proportion of lecturers from abroad doubles over ten years as numbers of Britons falls; 

o) Craven deference to all Royals disguised as a chummy familiarity.

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh are happiest in Balmoral where there is 'room to breathe and run', says Eugenie as she describes Prince Philip as 'the rock for all of us;

p) A gratingly bonhomous saloon bar jocularity of a kind embraced and relentlessly exemplified by the UKIP leader Nigel Farage; a leaning towards the chortling infantilism of such 'internet phenomena' as

Here we go again! Can YOU find the potato in this sea of adorable hamsters?

q) A bilious loathing of all things metropolitan, non-suburban, sophisticated, aspirational and (by definition) 'pretentious': 

The children who NEVER watch TV: And why not having a screen in the house has become the latest status symbol for pushy, middle class parents;

Mail hacks hate, really hate, anyone smarter or more successful than they are.

r) Uncritical approval of oligarch values expressed through ostentatious luxury commodities - yachts and super cars and palatial residences;

s) A low tolerance for paedophiles (which, to be sure, is perfectly reasonable), and a particular fascination in their well-earned comeuppance;

Michael Jackson's twisted pornography collection is revealed: The images of bondage and bizarre erotica that were found in his secret underage sex closet (images the Daily Mail website helpfully reproduces)

t) A bandwagon-jumping approval of whatever seems to appeal to a Mail demographic, and this occasionally requires an uneasy admission that the BBC has an enduring role in public life;

u) A common-sense loathing of 'so-called political correctness' which, in the hands of a mysterious 'brigade', has 'gone mad'. The Mail has a particular hatred of those it dubs 'celebrity luvvies' - actors who support liberal causes;

v) A giddy celebration of property values (as well as paranoid fear that any change to the status quo will lead directly to a fall in same), and especially the kind of properties that Mail readers would buy but for the footling issue of cost: 'Want to be king of your own haunted castle? Medieval property on sale for £925,000 complete with an orchard and a PHANTOM'; 

w) A throwback adherence to the type of poignant 'human interest' stories nailed by Evelyn Waugh in Scoop with the Daily Beast headline 'Ex-Beauty Queen's Pauper Funeral';

x) A vicious prurience coupled with a cowardly reluctance to break the law when it comes to being downright nasty about (e.g) gay marriages, transgender issues and racial matters;

y) A howlingly sexist and ageist treatment of women's appearances, and especially of women 'of a certain age' coupled with an elaborate and deferential courtliness when it comes to Dame Helen Mirren;

z) A corrosively nihilistic view of British society as it is currently constituted, with its hard-won freedoms and tolerances. Of course, the selfsame hard-won tolerances and freedoms are exactly what the terrorists are hell-bent on destroying;

What Daily Mail hacks especially despise is intelligence, equivocation, insight and reflection. They are presumably not born this way but appear to arrive at the state in stages. They are  prone to a creeping tendency towards the blimpish and thoughtlessly prejudicial. Perhaps they are, in private, decent and charming bien-pensants with liberal democratic values and a high-minded commitment to the truth. But I doubt it.

There is one thing, however, that the Daily Mail website does extremely well: photojournalism: Grace of the giants of the deep: Stunning pictures show 40-tonne humpback whales gliding through the ocean.) I suppose this stuff is bought in from agencies - but the mail has a budget for this sort of thing, damn it.

All headlines © Associated Newspapers

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