This got me a bit worked up recently. (As I’m sure you’ll be astonished to hear, in a post about the tabloids.)
A number of the things I blog about here are to do with journalism, and I think that number’s been increasing lately. The only mainstream news stuff that caught my eye used to be mainly bad science reporting, but recently I’ve also been getting exercised about the various kinds of furious, misleading, front-page sensationalism that’s almost never hard to find, perhaps most commonly in the Daily Mail and the Daily Express.
So, every so often I’ll visit the Daily Mail website, read something that makes me angry, and rant angrily about it, usually while swearing quite a lot about what complete bastards they all are.
Blogs like Tabloid Watch exist for this very purpose, but with reasoned analysis and eloquent criticism in place of therapeutic swearing. (Well, in place of some of the swearing.)
Of course, one commonly proposed solution to all the bitching and swearing that ensues tends to run along the lines of: “Just stop reading their shitty newspapers then, you prick”.
And this is certainly well worth considering.
It’s not usually phrased quite so bluntly, but it’s an argument I hear a lot. Some people on Twitter are really fed up with how much some other people bang on about the latest drivel from the Mail, and wish they’d stop giving the vile rag even more attention.
Sometimes they say that opposing them like this even helps them, by adding to their hit count and contributing to their ad revenue, but they’re getting nearly a million hits a day – or were this time last year – and most of that’s not from visitors being ironic or outraged. They don’t need our help; a whole lot of people read this stuff and take it seriously.
Millions of people read newspapers like the Mail and the Express, and have their opinions shaped by untruths and cruelty as a result. Day in, day out, a sizeable chunk of the population sees front-page ravings about how immigrants and gays and Muslims are stealing the country away from proper decent British people, and consider this to be The News. The narrative is repeated constantly over time, and the effect is often visible in the comments appearing below the latest callous, racist tirade. The papers seem trustworthy, stick to a narrative, and confirm in people the prejudices that they themselves have worked to instil. It’s no surprise that their readers are so often lacking in any visible compassion or perspective.
And when this sort of unkindness is so big a part of the political mindset of millions of people, it’s not just a matter of taste any more. There is actual harm occurring. Sometimes “if you don’t like it, don’t read it” isn’t enough, if the conversation is becoming dominated by prejudice and hate. It’s not just petty and cynical sniping to point out that what they’re saying is prejudiced and hateful, and to offer an alternative.
That last point is important, I’ll admit. The people who set me off on this tirade with their complaints seemed mostly to be annoyed by people who simply keep linking straight to Daily Mail articles, with no purpose beyond self-indulgent outrage. And yes, I can see how link after link of “GRRRR TABLOID SCUM” might get tiresome, and I’m sure some people have been very boring in this manner.
But based solely on my own experiences, this seems like almost a complete straw man. Yes, some people spend time reading the papers deliberately to get angry. But the ones I follow do this so that they can provide a positive, constructive counterpoint. Or at the very least a vocal and articulate voice of opposition.
And without an active and determined voice in opposition to the constant barrage of loud and well-funded lies, there’s only one way for the overall cultural mindset to slide.
There’s a comparison here with the Atheist Bus Campaign. Sure, we could have just ignored all the posters containing Bible quotes and calling for all non-Christians to burn in Hell. We could have chosen not to concern ourselves with things that just aren’t to our taste, but which other people are perfectly entitled to promote, after all. We could have let religious people be the only ones anywhere with any billboards or banners or posters or adverts or evidence that they exist.
But I’m glad we didn’t.
There are certainly plenty of tedious people on Twitter. If I’m honest, I know I’m not immune from banging on about some pet peeve of mine beyond the extent of anybody’s interest. (Oh god, I just glanced back at the length of this very post as I typed that.) And yes, the amount of bilge that turns up on the Daily Mail website can be agonising to have to be told about every few minutes, and it can be unproductive to drone on and on about how the right-wing fearmongers are still, unsurprisingly, spewing new right-wing fear.
See also Anton Vowl’s thoughts.