Investigating Squalor

I’ve never visited a prostitute, but I’ve had coffee with one or two and I’ve listened to their stories. They are desperately sad, and I have never been able to make the imaginative leap to understand the people who make use of the services that prostitutes offer. How could you be that exploitative and selfish? How could you cope with the sense of inescapable moral degradation you must – if you are self-aware at all – experience afterwards? How could you meet your own eye in the mirror? I don’t understand it. Although I now believe I may have the first inklings of awareness, because I have found an equivalent experience.

If you want to feel the same moral squalor, crawling self-loathing, squirming hypocrisy, and even the tawdriness of exchanging money for goods and services unacceptable in civilised society, the answer is very simple: buy a copy of The Daily Mail.

It’s all very straightforward. If you want to experience the visceral thrill of doing something you know to be absolutely indefensible, you are hard-pressed to beat reading The Daily Mail. There’s the delicious transgressive shame of either purchasing it at a newsagent (and the attempt not to meet the vendor’s eye); or you can look it up online having first ensured that you have put Firefox on to the ‘private browsing’ setting that will not subsequently damn you with your reprehensible browsing history.

There are so many things to feel bad about when you read The Daily Mail. The reporters, for instance. If at any point you become bored with the asinine posturing of Christopher Tookey, a man who understands ‘film critic’ to mean ‘moral guardian’ and who fails in both capacities, you can refresh yourself in the deep and ever-flowing wells of poison that fuel Jan Moir, restaurant critic and homophobe extraordinaire. If the attraction of professional bile palls, there is always – at least in the online version – amateur commentary available beneath the articles. Tookey’s columns offer particularly good mileage on this. There is, in fact, a clash-of-the-titans -style debate between the aforementioned Tookey & Moir on the subject of the film ‘Bridesmaids’ that offers exactly this. Maldwyn, of Carmarthen (and can I just say how much I love the name ‘Maldwyn’?) says

The last time I attended a cinema was to see Raiders Of The Lost Ark and do you know something, it had a story. No exploding cars, no depositing of stomach contents and other fluids…

I am a huge fan of the Indiana Jones films, and particularly Raiders Of The Lost Ark. And so I say to you with some confidence that that film features two exploding lorries and an exploding aeroplane (not to mention several vehicles run off the road in an excellent chase sequence), and that while there are no visible stomach contents there are certainly other fluids on display as Belloq’s head explodes and the heads of Major Toht and Colonel Dietrich melt like wax (which isn’t surprising, since that is exactly how that special effect was accomplished).You can depend on The Daily Mail and its readers to steer you clear of all efforts towards accuracy. (Incidentally, do we know when the paper’s self-imposed mission to categorise everything in the universe as either carcinogenic or cancer-preventing is ever likely to finish? It’s just that this is one case – among many, the Mail not having a good track record on medical stories – where accuracy would seem to be somewhat important.)

In addition to specialising in a very particular mission of disinformation, The Daily Mail also has a mission of manipulation. Consider the phrasing of these online poll questions:

“Can parenting lessons reverse Britain’s ‘moral decline’?”

“Does the creation of jobs justify wrecking the countryside?”

And my favourite:

“After its success during the riots, are you in favour of CCTV?”

What I love about these are the presumptions they bring to the framing of the question. In order for you to engage with the first question, for example, you have to accept that there has been a ‘moral decline’ in the first place – a position with which I strenuously disagree. The second uses the nuanced and non-inflammatory word ‘wrecking’; and as for the third…well, what can you say? You would be hard pressed to dig up a more loaded question anywhere online.

Then there’s the hypocrisy in which The Daily Mail so readily indulges. Are young children becoming more sexualised? Why don’t you look at all these pictures we’ve provided ‘in order for you to decide’? Is Britain ‘dumbing down’? Probably – but we’re still going to talk at tedious length about reality television.

Of course, none of these criticisms address the big and obvious problems with the paper: its parochialism, its rampant xenophobia, the Middle England sensibilities that enable it to include, as yet another online poll, the question “Are you in favour of independence for England?” But in a sense these don’t matter. They’re the window dressing designed to lure you in, to seduce you with the offer of giving you a place where the baser prejudices of your nature can be allowed to roam free.

Just so long as you’re not a gay muslim out to lower house prices, obviously.

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About Gavin

I am a 32-year-old PhD student in Aberdeen, Scotland. I work in QC at an e-learning company. I'm originally Northern Irish, though I've lived here in Aberdeen for several years. I am, essentially, somebody who is very normal, yet to whom very strange things keep happening...
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8 Responses to Investigating Squalor

  1. Eruntane says:

    Philippians 4 v.8 – possibly a Biblical exhortation against reading the Daily Mail?

    • starlingford says:

      This is a verse that gets me into more debates with my father than any other, because neither of us can come up with a definition of ‘edifying’ with which we both agree…!

      • Eruntane says:

        It used to annoy me beyond measure – it was Mum’s school motto, and she used to quote it at me any time I wanted to read or watch something she disapproved of. But I’m getting to appreciate it more and more. How do you define ‘edifying’?

      • starlingford says:

        Essentially, I don’t. What I do try to do, however, is (in the case of works of literature, cinema, television) find out in advance if it possesses sufficient artistic merit to justify a) its existence, and b) my interest. So by those criteria (which are, I admit, highly subjective) a vampire film like ‘Nosferatu’ is fine by me, whereas (and with all due respect to Seraph) ’30 Days of Night’ is not (I found it deeply, deeply unpleasant and cynical).

      • Eruntane says:

        That is indeed very subjective, but I think this is a case where subjectivity is not only acceptable but necessary. Choice of literature, cinema and television has to come into the same category as eating meat offered to idols: it is a personal choice, and should be made with reference to one’s own conscience, while taking into consideration the need not to offend the weaker brother and being aware of what people may think of Christ if they see a Christian reading / watching whatever it is. Ideally, I suppose, the latter should be a built-in part of one’s conscience anyway – my decision to avoid the Daily Mail like a bad cliche is not because I think it’s inherently wrong for a Christian to read it, but because I would be concerned that if I were seen reading it by someone who knows I’m a Christian they might think that the Christian faith endorses the values expressed by the paper. (Also, it’s bad for my blood pressure.)

  2. seraphism says:

    Unfortunately my parents read (and – oh Discordia! – enjoy) the Daily Mail and so i have been subjected to it on numerous occasions. It also adorns the tables of our dining room at work along with other such illustrious publications as the Daily Record, the Sun (!) and the Press and Journal. The sad thing is I sometimes find it’s particular brand of opinion-disguised-as-news horrifically compelling. I find myself flicking through so that I might know what it is in this particular issue that will most appall me. Fortunately, I usually have a book of my own choosing in my possession with which to defend myself.

    Speaking of defending myself. I will say that whilst there were aspects of ’30 Days of Night’ which I did enjoy at the time, I was not really all that impressed by it and certainly have not been left with any lingering fond memories or a desire to ever see it again. I guess I just didn’t hate it outright at the cinema.

  3. Browne the Younger says:

    I well remember that the first newspaper headline that greeted me to the UK after a year abroad was the Daily Mail. What was it? What matter of grave importance did it approach with gravitas and balance? It said:
    WAVE OF KILLER PLASTIC BAGS RETURNS TO OUR SHORES!

    Welcome home, Browne the Younger, welcome home…

  4. Pingback: Per Mare, Per Terram…Ad Astra? « Starlingford Chronicles

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