11 December 2011

Nastiness and bullying: England special

Readers of this chapter are warned that it’s obviously based on generalisation. Which means, those with a tendency to hide beneath the fig leaf of “but we’re not all like that” can save themselves the trouble. And the same with the trite cloak of “but this happens in other countries too”. Yes. Of course. But nowhere near as bad.

I thought long and hard of ways to water down what I’m about to type. But quite simply, denial doesn’t take you far.

And so here it is: England has long turned into the nastiest, most malicious (as well as the angriest) place to be in. This is true on so many levels that it’s actually extremely difficult to knock together a coherent and orderly argument.

And almost every time I wonder about the underlying causes beneath each specific streak of nastiness and bullying, I’m afraid what pops up are the words “tabloids” and “press” and the increasingly poisonous job they’ve been carrying out.

Bringing out the crap

Somewhere, our innermost parts are already populated with an array of primeval, phobic, selfish, tribal, hysterical, prying, suspicious, ruthless, perverted, vulgar, hypochondriac, and above all, hypocritical, instincts.

That's already there. What the tabloid press does, however, is feast on each on them, bringing collective hysteria to the fore through a daily process of egging on of the masses.

"Shock. Horror. Outrage"

Let’s start from the relentless quest to shock, horrify and humiliate whoever happens to be on the receiving end for the sake of grabbing popularity, printing fatter headlines and, ultimately, making more money.

This is particular of Britain because no other country (at least in Europe) has witnessed the same metastatic levels of celebrity bingeing.

So, whereas most countries have gone through the same phenomenon of having their television schedules clogged up with various X-Factors, Big Brothers, I’m-A-Celebrity I’m-Gonna-Crap-In-Me-Pants and the rest, Britain is alone in having a colossal market of daily press (and weekly magazines) that also feeds off it, perpetuates it and magnifies it tenfold.

Say, for instance, no Spanish newspaper would report the fact that a Z-list celebrity shagged a dog live on Big Brother. The episode would remain confined to the programme itself. The UK, however, is the place where this would turn into obsessive national news for weeks, amongst tons of faux outraged headlines, EXCLUSIVE reports and tapped telephone calls aimed at digging up more dirt.

And in turn, to get talked about, make more money and rack up advertising venue, those British “talent shows” on the telly will have to make routine humiliation and put downs the lynchpin of their existence. For the circus to survive, each time the threshold of vulgarity, nothingness and artificially shocking behaviour has to be set an extra notch further to the bottom.

After having compared non-UK versions of Big Brother, the X Factor, and whatever other trash keeps the eternally bored entertained without getting the cogs into action, I can safely say that (for all their faults), they don’t rely on the constant belittling, mocking and demeaning of the contenders.

And when they do, they don’t have the same humongous media machine feeding off the same crap that comes out of its very own arsehole and magnifying every single “oh my god look at the fat thighs on that Big Brother contestant”. Which ultimately, is what turns all of the above into a more destructive, more vulgar – or for want of a better word - more shit exercise.

And when the concoction of attention-seeking, celebrity-bingeing and sixth-grade bullying takes such centre stage on a daily basis, it’s no wonder the priority-scale of an entire nation starts changing. Slowly, imperceptibly, but relentlessly.

The problem, however, takes a whole different dimension once you realise that such crap is not just confined to Big Brother contenders, Natalie Cassidy’s weight issues, or Jordan’s fourteenth boob job.

How myths seep into national consciousness

This type of “reporting” (also known as “churnalism”) turns into pure poison when more important things are at stake.

Let’s take the attitude towards the disabled for instance. Last week, a national survey asked a sample of Britons to estimate the number of incapacity benefit cheats. “Seven out of ten”, was the answer.

Except that the official statistics place the number at 0.5% which, if my maths are correct, means 0,05 out of ten.

And it’s telling, isn’t it. Perhaps at least fifteen years of fat, unrelenting tabloid headlines about benefit cheats, the undeserving poor, PC-gone-mad, Wayne and Wynetta Slob, people sitting on their arse on the lavish £67-50 a week and all the rest has finally seeped into the public consciousness.

Which is why the simplistic cop out that “you don’t have to read those headlines” is absolutely pathetic. And so is the assumption that for every copy of the Daily Mail there’s also a “loonie-leftie” column printed in the Guardian. Because, simply, the two don’t carry the same weight.

Remember that when you talk about UK tabloids, you’re talking over 5 million copies shifted everyday (the combined circulation of Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Star, Express and Mirror).

Hidden beneath the cloak of just ‘avin a larff and being “lairy” and “cheeky” and “fun” and “informal”, entire political agendas are forwarded.

It would be a lot easier to counter attack an anti-immigration witch hunt if it came from an openly pro-BNP newspaper. It’s a lot more slippery when it’s carried out by rags that lure you in through gossip, football, tits and bets and with no official party-political affiliation.

These are papers (and headlines) that you routinely spot while waiting to have your gnashers checked at the dentist, or your hair dyed at the hairdressers. Most people don’t read those DAILY MAIL REPORTER or SUN SAYS articles from top to bottom. They don’t look them up on Google or check them against official statistics to find out whether they’re making things up or bending truths.

When you get day after day, week after week, paper after paper headlines that THEY’RE TAKING OUR JOBS, IMMIGRANTS ARE BAKING OUR SWANS, KIDS ARE KICKED OFF BUSES FOR WEARING ENGLAND TOPS and THE EU WANTS THE UK TO MERGE WITH FRANCE and all the rest, this seeps into the national consciousness. Like. Nothing. Else.

Terrified of tabloids

Aside from exposing diabolical levels of churnalistic evil, the recent phone-hacking scandal revealed how terrified entire political classes are of tabloid journalists and media tycoons.

The last decades are full of people who've had their reputation literally destroyed by tabloid campaigns (often later proved as lies).

Look at how the Sun’s Rupert Murdoch enjoyed industrial amounts of courting and arse-licking at the hands (or shall I say the tongues) of Prime Ministers and senior politicians of all parties over the years. And understandably so, given how shit scared they are of typical tabloid hate campaigns.

Every time the tabloids (and the Sun, with its financial weight, especially) decide to whip up a witch hunt, Britain gets a little closer to a cross between the deepest Redneck Land and a real-life version of The Wicker Man.

The examples are too many to mention, but aside from the regular taunting of immigrants, public workers, people on the dole, as well as the EU, a quick roll call would include the pitchforks of BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS, the PAEDOS IN THE CLASSROOM hysteria (leading to a series of attacks against innocent people), the ARE WE GOVERNED BY A GAY MAFIA campaign, the ONE DOWN THREE TO GO that followed the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, and the hounding of Clare Short when she dared criticise Page Three (more here).

And that’s without dwelling too much on the vile phone hacking policies, something absolutely unique to Britain, unless you can name another country where dead teenage girls get their phones hacked. Or where it’s run-of-the-mill for police officers to receive bungs in exchange for confidential crap on celebrities and non-celebrities. Or, even, where there are still plenty of people queuing to defend such fucked-up practices.

I mean, if that isn’t evil, calculated and diabolical, then what is? After the Milly Dowler scandal, can anyone with more than three brain cells still play down the poisonous role that the tabloids play within British society?

Clarkson and the opinionators

But, the normalisation of nastiness and bullying stretches way further. Is there another country where a handful of millionaire TV presenters compete on a weekly basis for who can spurt out the most offensive and nasty remark (usually aimed at particularly vulnerable members of society) so that they can plug their forthcoming new book, programme, or comedy?

Consider Jeremy Clarkson, Jon Gaunt, Jimmy Carr or Chris Moyles. Professional bullies who’ve made a carrier out of picking on people.
British comedy is a case in point. Think of all the comedies churned out in the past ten years with an increasing number of public school boys netting easy laughs through the merciless mocking of “the underclass”, “single mums”, homosexuals and all the usual easy targets (Little Britain springs to mind).

Someone somewhere remarked that it says something when, in the space of a few years, a talent of the likes of Ricky Gervais went from mocking your typical self-obsessed office manager to laughing at “mongs” and dwarves. Not so long ago you didn’t have to insult anybody in order to entertain and be “groundbreaking”. Now England has turned into an ugly big playground where more and more people feel the need to bully others in order to add colour to their own existence. And of course “it’s only a larff, get a sense of humour, will ya”.

Of course the same applies to so called “columnists” and “opinionators”. In other countries, people writing for newspapers may come up with assorted shite, but they generally don’t feel the need to shout the loudest or throw the most outrageous insult so that they can get talked about. You don’t get Jan Moirs dancing on the grave of dead pop singers (Stephen Gately), Kelvin McKenzies upsetting the families of dead football supporters (Hillsborough) and virtually everyone else constantly vomiting bile on single mums, ethnic minorities, asylum seekers, the disabled and the unemployed. It just doesn’t happen. Maybe because the tabloid press is almost non existent outside the UK.

Other countries don’t have daily newspapers ranting against foreign people on such a regular and relentless scale, fabricating lies and myths for the sake of more hysterical headlines. And, in the process, spawning an offspring of thicker-then-pigshit racist ranting anti-foreign drivel on public transport.

And no, in Spain, or Germany, or Italy, you don’t hear the constant refrain that “political correctness has gone mad” (because weren’t the days of signs reading “no dogs, no blacks, no Irish” oh-so-glorious). You don’t hear it because people are not being constantly egged on into thinking that “everyone wants to come here” or that “the EU wants to turn your teenage daughter into a Muslim lesbian who is also a vegan”.

Playground bullies

Talking of teenage daughters…Can you think of anywhere else where daily newspapers join forces with weekly magazines to devote so many pages to bullying women into anorexia? How else would you describe the Daily Mail if nothing but the group of mean school bullies sniggering from the back of the classroom at overweight girls, pale ones, or whoever can provide relief to their boredom?

Perhaps this may be one of the reasons why people in other countries often describe English women as “overstyled” (to put it diplomatically). The pressure they’re under to look a certain way is simply mental. And it strikes from every newsagent’s magazine shelf.


And to top off this hopeless rant, England could also do with looking at the spectacular levels of tension and anger that reign supreme in every single English town centre on a Friday or Saturday night in a way that you simply don’t see anywhere in Europe. The people being glassed, the fights, the police vans, the multi-million council schemes to keep Broad Street safe, the bouncers dishing out and taking aggro in equal measure.

And that’s when all of the above isn’t transposed onto the warm shores of the Spanish Costas, the Algrave, the Greek islands and all the other places where the Brits vie for whoever can put their country to shame the most.

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