It’s been a while since I wrote, but recently the Daily Mail has made one of its regular forays into being an absolute shit, and I’m moved to write a blog again. It’s quicker, easier and less painful than the alternative, which is furiously grinding my teeth into a fine powder and making extended roaring noises until the neighbours complain.
It’s pretty easy to be angry with the Mail, and it’s ugly-sister paper the Mail on Sunday: in fact one of the most depressing things about the paper is that it’s likely its writers and contributors (I hesitate to call them journalists) probably aren’t angry at all – they’re the Typhoid Mary of angry, passing it on to everyone around them, but not suffering at all. In fact, I’m relatively convinced that most people only read it to hate it more. It’s as though Paul Dacre has shares in “diffuse fury”, and is trying to generate as much as it as possible.
He’s been quite successful this week, hasn’t he?
I do get angered by the Mail, but largely just by its existence. For some time I’ve refused to even follow links to its pages, and most of what I know about its content comes from reading enraged tweets about it from similarly-minded lefty (and, to be fair, a good number of righty) folks. Sadly, I occasionally get to see it when I visit my mum, who, for reasons best known to herself, still buys it daily so she can do the crossword. I’ve bought her an iPad and got her a crossword app, but she still gets the Daily Mail delivered.
Maybe it’s softer, stronger and very very longer than I’d imagined, and she uses it cos it’s cheaper than loo-roll. It’s a fine use for it, possibly the best.
(Actually, it’s not especially absorbent, and so, if used for that purpose, it literally performs the function that it’s metaphorically designed to do – spreads shit. Avoid wiping your arse on the Daily Mail. It may seem like a good idea, but you’re playing right in to their hands, as well as pooing right into your own).
But the thing that angers me isn’t having poo smeared around the place like an involuntary dirty-protest. It isn’t even the obvious stuff that almost certainly angers you: the implicit homophobia, NHS-bashing, racism, sexism, manipulation, BBC-hatred, and small-minded, petite bourgeoise, little-Englander, sub-Jeremy-Clarkson bile that appears in the Mail every day. I can even, mostly, overlook the hypocrisy of its endless horror-story campaign to make everybody who smiles at a kid feel like a paedophile, whilst referring to 14 year old girls as “hot” and “leggy beauties” (not a word of a lie). It’s there constantly, but is extraordinarily easy to spot and ignore.
The thing that angers me is one small, common, utterly innocuous word: It’s the Daily Mail’s use of the word “now”.
The Daily Mail employs “now” like a biological weapon. You can’t smell it. You can’t see it. You don’t know what’s happening to you, but suddenly everything has gone wrong, you’re nauseated, and your skin and teeth itch with a impossible to define sense that the world is off it’s axis.
You see, the Daily Mail is expert at weaving a narrative. Most news media is. Of course, the world isn’t actually a narrative – that’s soap operas, and you’re welcome to them. In reality, the world is incredibly complicated, and requires actual brains, rationality and attention to understand. If you read quality newspapers and do a little of your own research, it’s possible to get to the bottom of some things. But a lot of it will probably always be confusing to most of us, especially to me. The more you know, the more you realise how much there is left to know, and how few years you have to learn it all.
So newspapers don’t even bother to tell you the truth. They don’t even try. They prefer to focus on things that are outside of the norm, rather than pointing out that the norm is, in fact, fucking awful.
The Guardian sells the narrative that lower bank bonuses would help, but that we’re broadly fucked until all money is abolished.
The Telegraph likes to sell you the idea that not much matters now you’re 83 and can’t shoot the natives any more, so you should just sit back and enjoy the cricket.
The Sun believes shorter, louder words and more tits make us feel better, and what the hell, it’s just a bit of fun, and your daughter probably won’t be the one to get raped as a result.
And the Express thinks higher house-prices for people living in Esher are the single most important thing in the universe. (Well, that, plus the immediate prosecution of the Duke of Edinburgh for the murder of saintly, Sloaney shagger Diana Spencer).
But the Daily Mail is more fundamentally dangerous. It wants to use an ur-narrative, the primal narrative, the one we’re all somehow aware of even though we’ve never seen it written down. In this narrative, like Eden, the world was perfect when you were younger, and then… well… something happened. That “something” is usually socialism; or the BBC; or a sexual revolution you weren’t invited to, dagnabbit; or somebody swarthy-looking with an unusual name owning your local shop. Before all of those things, life was just peachy (they seem to say). If only you’d vote against Miliband, and privatise the BBC, and sell your grandmother’s medical records to a private health company, everything in this complicated world would once again seem simple: beer would be colder, chips wouldn’t make you fat, music would have proper tunes and lyrics you understood, and you wouldn’t have to worry any more.
Of course, they can’t just come out and say that. They’d be a laughing stock, and grandmothers across the nation would suddenly be redundant. So instead, they imply it with the subtle use of the word “now”. Headlines begin thusly:
- Now the BBC allows lesbians to …
- Now the NHS wants to kill you with …
- Now Labour let French people shag your…
- Now the EU wants to stop you from hitting your children with a…
Each use of “now” subliminally sells us the concept that the world is on a downward spiral, that one thing leads to another and the whole charabanc is out of control and heading for a cliff.
There are only two rational responses to going over a cliff. The first – the one I believe the Daily Mail truly wants to engender in you – is to give up, stop asking questions, and accept your lot. There’s no point in panicking or questioning Driver Cameron about what he’s doing to change course. You may as well just let the people up-front carry on doing what they’re doing, and blame the people at the back for landing on you when the crash happens.
The other response is to start thinking the only way to avert disaster fix it is to vote for the Daily Mail’s own brand of Toryism (which is rarely the Heseltine brand, it’s always the IDS brand, with a bit of Farage thrown in).
And that’s why, as a result of reading this blog, you should immediately start an online campaign to ban the use of the word “now” from newspapers. Of course not. Frankly, there’s nothing we can do, except be aware, stop reading or linking to the Daily Mail, and start doing more original thinking. Opting out of the whole process isn’t an option: it’s a sure way to be a passenger on the bus, and even if it’s not going over a cliff you really need to have a say over where it does go. Ignore the driver, and it will inevitably keep on drifting to the right.