Monday, May 05, 2008 

Scum-watch: Women! Know your limits!

Man your moral panic stations! Some women in drinking nearly as much as some men shock! In a follow-up to the no shit Sherlock freedom of information request by Channel 4 News that revealed that, horror of horrors, more women are being arrested for being drunk and disorderly, the Sun has taken to the streets of major cities and found that, incredibly, there are women in them and that they seem to have imbibed intoxicating liquor. See and suffer:

A YOUNG woman vomits in the gutter in an ugly but momentary pause during a boozy night out.

On another street, in a different city, another woman who is too drunk to stand is helped into an ambulance.

She doesn’t know where she is, but she could be in any town in Binge Britain as the “fairer” sex go out to play.

You have to hand it to Martin Phillips, the apparent aggregator of this lowest form of "journalism": he's not even bothered to hide the hectoring, misogynistic tone beneath a veneer of faux concern. Women? Not at home? Drinking alcohol? Not knowing their limits? This cannot be allowed to pass muster!

Nearby, Gemma, 18, has lost her taxi fare and is trying to get some cash.

She does herself no favours as she tells passers-by: “If you give me a fiver I’ll show you my t*ts.”

Now, if the Sun really cared about Gemma's situation, it would have given her the money, said don't descend to that level, and left it at that. Instead it's a wonderful crystallisation of everything wrong with Binge Britain.

Wait, it gets even more pathetic:


Reveller Lauren McNiven and ten of her mates have hit the town to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

They started drinking at 7pm and usually stay out until 3.30am, she says.

Student Lauren, 21, who is about to qualify as a primary school teacher, adds that they never get into trouble but she admits she will have up to 11 glasses of wine or spirits on a night out.

At around midnight, barefoot teenagers in colourful dresses lurch from bar to nightclub along Sauchiehall Street and Queen Street, narrowly avoiding shards of glass strewn along the pavement.

Police flood into the area to head off trouble before it starts.

The Sun goes in search of drunk women in Glasgow, and it still didn't manage to find any! The best it can manage is someone who drinks a fair amount and a group of girls who avoid glass on the deck. Still, got to make up the word count somehow, haven't you?

And so it continues. Young women throwing up, flashing, with the Sun taking advantage of the situation by taking photographs of at least one such example. If there was some sort of comment in the article on exactly why so many spend their weekends getting out of their heads, there might just be some sort of justification for such puerile voyeurism; that however might result in some truths hitting too close to home for the Sun to take, having to consider that maybe our capitalist, consumerist society isn't the paradise that the newspaper makes it out to be.

There is of course also a hypocrisy here which is an inch thick: the newspaper which so worships the female form and the freedoms which go with it, yet which is repulsed when those self-same young women they endlessly feature then dare to exercise their freedom in a different way. Or indeed, how it adores publishing the photographs of celebrities falling out of clubs and the opportunity that presents for taking those special shots, the ones up their dresses, but which is disgusted when normal young people are seen doing the same thing. The showbiz pages also run a "Caner's League", and one of first acts of new Bizarre editor Gordon Smart was to celebrate Cheryl Cole's "liver punishment" while admiring her "bangers". That though is all so very different from others taking it too far. We could of course also remember an embarrassing incident involving the Sun's own editor when she had too much to drink, but that would be descending to their level. Still, it's nothing a night in the cells doesn't fix, right?

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Saturday, August 11, 2007 

The grief industry.

In today's Guardian, Ian Jack recalls the end of summer 10 years ago:

It is worth recalling that first week of September 10 years ago, when 10,000 tonnes of flowers were dumped outside the royal palaces and Gordon Brown was said to be seriously considering a proposal to rename August bank holiday "Diana Day". I knew few people who felt as the crowds did, but this minority (or perhaps majority) largely remained silent and invisible to the media: in the climate of those days, to be sceptical was to be labelled unfeeling. A few brave people wrote to the newspapers to say they were disturbed by the dominant mood. Later in September, writing a piece for Granta on reactions to the Diana's death, I tracked down and interviewed eight or nine of them. Ten years later, what they said bears repeating. Peter Ghosh, an Oxford historian: "We kept being told that the country was united, which it was in the sense that we were all watching the same television programme. But in any other sense - that divisions of class and race were being healed, for example - well, it's crap, obviously."

Maggie Winkworth, a psychologist in Chiswick: "I'd call it mass hysteria, a kind of mania. You saw the power of the crowd. To me, those pictures of mounds of flowers were quite repulsive ... It seemed a kind of floral fascism ... a country controlled by the grief police." How many people felt like this? I suspect many millions more than were apparent at the time.

Jack doesn't mention whether some of those who questioned the mass-mourning which occurred then came under the same opprobrium which poured down upon the head of Professor Anthony O'Hear when the Social Affairs Unit published a book which contained an essay of his on the public reaction to the death of Diana, but it's probably safe to assume that they were replied to voluminously in the press.

O'Hear's essay, which also considered the sentimentality and general mawkishness exhibited at the time, was in fact far less of an aggressive critique than that offered by Winkworth. As Francis Wheen noted at the time (reproduced in Hoo-Hahs and Passing Frenzies, pp 68-70) O'Hear only went so far as to suggest that the grieving had lacked a sense of proportion. Nevertheless, this didn't stop the Mirror from calling him a "rat-faced little loser" and Tony Blair describing him as an "old-fashioned snob." Even a Guardian editorial suggested that the Social Affairs Unit as a whole was a "slightly fogeyish bunch."

Even if the events of this week have suggested something of a backlash against the McCanns, you get the same sort of feeling reading today's press coverage of the 100th day since Madeleine has disappeared. After 3 months of an unending media campaign, it has come to precisely naught. The only thing we still know for certain is that Madeleine, on the evening of May the 3rd, disappeared from the McCanns' apartment of the Mark Warner Ocean Club complex in the Portuguese resort of
Praia da Luz. Everything else is still conjecture.

Not that this has stopped the press here at home pointing the finger variously at paedophiles and then the only declared suspect, Robert Murat, with gradually decreasing credibility. The Portuguese press, for its own part, has spent much of the last week speculating, along with police leaks reminiscent of those to the Sun in similar cases, that either the McCanns themselves or friends of theirs on holiday with them were now under suspicion. No one seems to have been able to strike the right balance; the British press and media being utterly craven, for which see this hagiographic account of the last 100 days in today's Sun, papers running front page splashes condemning a German reporter who dared to question whether the McCanns themselves might have been involved in some way, while the Portuguese press have been apparently happy to publish innuendo which appears to have absolutely no foundation. Even those sections of the media we usually depend upon to rise above the clamour and shrieks of the gutter press don't seem to have been immune to the image of a pretty missing white girl: the Grauniad running an interview with the McCanns which tells you absolutely nothing, and today's Telegraph, featuring another interview with the two.

It started with the equivalent of emotional pornography, coverage by turns both mawkish and pointless, urging the public to pray for "Maddie" and then to wear yellow, as if either could in any way possibly do anything to help the investigation, a display of fake empathy, or even possibly real, with hardened hacks going native in their refusal to even examine any alternative possibilities. The results of such coverage were displayed in comments on the Sun's own website: if they're to be believed, some seemed closer to a complete breakdown than the McCanns themselves have. After a couple of weeks, it mutated into something much more familiar: coverage for the sake of coverage, designed purely to try to boost sales, without offering any real support, while still indignant about anything negative directed towards the sainted couple. The Express, which was has probably featured Diana on the front page more since she died than before (see Daily Mail Watch), changed from the Diana Express into the Daily Maddie, the cynicism behind such blanket splashes being only too visible. Today's coverage has then come full circle: back to the Scum opening up "books of support" rather than books of condolence.

The main difference between the atmosphere of then and now is that in 1997 there was hardly no one who dared to raise their head above the parapet and suggest that this was all a little over the top. Private Eye's front cover jibe about the press coverage being revolting resulted in WHSmith temporarily removing it from their shelves. Major mass usage of the internet was also still in its infancy; while Usenet quickly started to buzz with conspiracy theories, debate and resistance to the rolling coverage was still mostly absent. This time round it's been very different: forums have been full of threads either critical of the McCanns or even suggesting that they have the most questions to answer. Whereas those nonplussed by Diana's untimely death and the reaction to it were underrepresented in the media then, with 44% apparently feeling alienated by the BBC's coverage of it according to their own research, the internet has now allowed those with a very different opinion to that dominating the mainstream to raise their own flags. It's not surprising that this change has left some of mainstream media both confused and angry by their failure to monopolise public opinion: the Sun describes the McCanns today as the victims of a "vicious smear campaign", something it ought to know about considering the number of ones that it itself has run in the past.

Responding back in April 1998 to O'Hear's essay, the Sun not only described grief as "a vital safety valve", it also told readers it was perfectly OK to "keep grieving". It shouldn't surprise you that the paper's leader now is full of similar sentiments, ending with:

As another day of torment passes, Sun readers will hope and pray for a new landmark. When Maddie is back with her loving parents.

It seems unlikely that the grief industry will be slowing down its production, online opposition or not, any time soon.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007 

We are all bourgeois, err, I mean McCanns now.

We share your pain claims the Scum. Except that they don't, and we don't, do we? Can any of us who haven't been in the same position as the McCanns claim, and this includes when children briefly wander off, as they are wont to do, actually know what they're going through? No, of course not. We can however to pretend to know what they feel, we can go through the motions and, when you're a newspaper, you can make as much out of it as possible by trying to surf the wave of sympathy.

Hence this pointless plea from the Sun:

THE Sun today urges Britain to show support for the anguished family of snatched tot Madeleine McCann — by wearing yellow clothing in her honour.

We want our army of readers to show they are shoulder-to-shoulder with Kate and Gerry McCann during the agonising wait for news of their missing four-year-old.

Why? What difference will it make? When we choose to wear something that either shows our support for a cause or in memory of something that's happened, whether it's a poppy, or even a white wrist-band during the Make Poverty History drive, we're make a statement about our beliefs, whether it's about never forgetting those who sacrificed their lives for freedom or otherwise. What's the point of wearing a yellow ribbon except to show that you've got too much of an emotional connection about something that you can do absolutely nothing about? The McCanns, however much they claim they're being buoyed by the support they're receiving, are only thinking about one thing, and that's getting their daughter back: wearing a small piece of cloth or a certain clothing isn't going to do that.

It's the same with the requests to pray for her. Presumably these calls are being made to the same God which let her be snatched in the first place. Or is this a challenge from that same source to test their faith?

There's also nothing quite like getting some publicity out of the misery of others. How else to explain the decision of Philip Green, Richard Branson and the News of the Screws, the cunts of capitalism, to put up a reward which has now reached £2.5 million? The flyers being produced by the Scum couldn't possibly miss off their logo, and as for the footballers going out with yellow wristbands, even if requested by Madeleine's aunt, well, words fail me. Alan Johnston, as Chicken Yoghurt points out, captured by Islamic militants from one of Gaza's clans or not, could only wish for such measures. Between a bald journalist and a pretty 4-year-old girl, there's no contest, as both Gordon Brown and David Cameron can both attest to.

Give it another week, and if she's still not been found, the press will probably begin to forget and move on. Pounds of flesh extracted, good deeds fulfilled, police from foreign country sniped, hatred of paedophiles brought to the boil, jobs a good'un. Then we'll see who feels whose pain.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007 

Emotional pornography continued.

It’s easy to criticise from afar, but their failure to act more promptly and efficiently is deplorable.

So the Sun informs us, in a sentence from its leader which sums up the whole hypocrisy of the newspaper in one easy line.

Not content with reprinting the mother's statement yesterday on the front page of the newspaper, as did the Daily Mail, when there's absolutely nothing that anyone here can do about the whole situation, Scum Online has now opened up a sort of guestbook of woe, where you can add your faux concern about the disappearance of the McCann's daughter, which is somehow meant to be giving them support, entitled "write a message for Maddie". Three footballers, for reasons similarly known only to themselves and possibly for good PR, have also appealed for anyone with information to come forward, as if being urged to do so by the PFA player of the year will make the difference to someone who otherwise wouldn't have done.

Unless the police get their act together, Madeleine’s traumatised parents may be condemned to spending the rest of their days wondering if their lovely daughter is dead.

Or living her own nightmare in the hands of inhuman monsters.

The Sun seems to have got it mixed up. Madeleine's traumatised parents already seem to be living their own nightmare in the hands of inhuman monsters. They're called the media, and they're more than extracting their pound of flesh.

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Monday, May 07, 2007 

Do we have to share in this voyeuristic misery?

There's something eminently distasteful in being forced to stare into the face of abject heartache. Since last Thursday, when Madeleine McCann was apparently snatched from the bedroom of the hotel where her parents were on holiday in Portugal, we've been deluged with the images and video of the worried parents, their anguish growing with every hour that their daughter isn't reunited with them, making increasingly desperate pleas for their child to be returned and for help. Yesterday Madeline's mother asked for everyone to pray for her, and today begged whomever's taken her to let her go.

It has to be questioned just what sort of role the media is playing in this, and about the whole morality of causing further discomfort to the parents when there is absolutely nothing that they can do to help. The parents' are between a rock and a hard place; if they refused to play the media's game, as it's unlikely that the police are involved in urging them to make public statements, then they could quickly find themselves accused of not being distressed enough, that somehow they could be involved in the kidnap. Instead, they're being backed into a trap where with each day that passes they're expected to be ever more upset, making increasingly futile gestures such as the ones today, begging the abductor to let her go when such pleas are almost certain to be ignored or go unheeded.

If the abduction had happened in this country, I might feel somewhat differently. As it is, there's nothing that anything of us here can do. We can't take part in any searches, we can't string up the nearest sex offender from a lamppost, all we can do is watch and indulge ourselves in seeing the misery of two people who have had their pride and joy taken from them.

The way the tabloids react to these sad cases is always a sight to behold. It's the worst nightmare which some of them scaremonger about, yet when it happens they almost wallow in the way the frightened individuals react, the Sun reporting every nuance about the service attended by Madeleine's parents yesterday, as if it mattered or gave any further insight into what they're going through. The current Sky News front page combines the mother's plea with a gallery offering "holiday snaps of youngster", so any aspiring paedo can at least jerk himself silly over the kidnapped girl's image.

This is in essence the monster that the 24 hour news culture has helped create. In the quest for ratings and constant updates, they demand every reaction be recorded, every uttering by a police officer be decrypted for any clues about the disappearance, and for the parents to edge themselves ever closer to complete emotional collapse. It's grief tourism, it's a voyeuristic desire to record the pain of someone else then throw it away once it's become old, and before we know it we're on to the next missing white woman or school shooting.

This model was perhaps set by Holly and Jessica, who've become so ingrained in the collective conscience that like the sites of massacres and battles they're now known by just those three words. We went from seeing the photographs of them in their Manchester United shirts and the CCTV of them going for their walk right up to their funerals. We shouldn't have perhaps been surprised that some people found themselves so involved in the disappearance that Soham itself became a popular ghoulish tourist attraction in the days and weeks afterwards. The Sun has helpfully this time provided us with a "Kidnapper's view" of the hotel, perhaps not seeing the sheer tastelessness of such a gesture.

The whole thing could not be more summed up by the mother's apparent request for the kidnapper "not to scare her", a plea so redundant considering that he would have terrified her in grabbing her in the first place that it ought to make everyone involved think about exactly what they are additionally putting the poor woman through. We're not gaining anything, they're not gaining anything, it's time that we knew when to pull the plug.

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Monday, April 02, 2007 

Facing death.

Suicide, despite the song, is most certainly not painless. When someone you know decides to take their own life, especially when it's completely unexpected, it's only natural to go through a period of soul-searching, trying to figure out if there was something you could have done or something you should have done that might of altered that person's state of mind. Even when a note is left, it can only go so far in explaining the real motives behind the person's actions. Hardly any taking of one's own life is down to one sole, simple reason: despite common perceptions, there are usually multiple reasons behind someone taking their own life, at least in the way that we most associate with someone committing suicide. If you want to get into the more sociological reasons and motives behind suicide, then Emile Durkheim, one of the founding fathers of modern sociology, wrote a seminal and still highly applicable study which is worth glancing over. (Although many would blanch at how suicide bombers would under his definition probably be understood as altruistic suicides.)

It's with this in mind that we ought to approach the plea from the family of Kevin Whitrick, who hung himself on his web cam in front of a chat-room of other people, to stop the distribution of the screen grab which shows Whitrick ending his own life:

Today his brother Malcolm said: “I would appeal to anybody not to circulate these awful images.

“I cannot understand what satisfaction anyone would get out of wanting to see them, edit them or pass them around.”

Well, this at least is pretty easy to answer. It's the same satisfaction which leads to drivers on a motorway slowing down when an accident's happened on the opposite side of the road, hoping to catch a glimpse of the carnage. It's the same inquisitive nature which explains the existence of websites such as Ogrish, or the front page of True, those two seem to delight in the ghoulish rather than simply peer into it, but they also serve a purpose other than to excite the gorehounds among us: they let us see and experience death without going near it ourselves.

A lot of the comment surrounding Whitrick's death was that some of the users of the chat room had encouraged him or goaded him on, even suggesting that some of those responsible could be tried as accessories. Assuming that the image I've seen is authentic, and which I also assume has now been passed around the internet 20 times over, it should be noted that the vast majority of the users who were still there as it happened appear to have been extremely distressed and sickened once they realised that Whitrick's talk was for real.

Additionally, it's worth pointing out the very nature of the chat room which Whitrick chose to broadcast his death to, named Kel's FRIENDLY insult chat for evryone (sic). It doesn't seem that Whitrick was a regular, although some in the room knew who he was. Whether he joined in order to psyche himself up to do it, or simply because he had every intention of committing suicide and broadcasting his death to a channel not noted for being the most welcoming and understanding we will probably never know. Looking at the comments that went before they realised that he was about to kill himself, they're not out of the ordinary with what often goes on in forums or chatrooms where people who are suicidal have discussed their feelings. What has to be understood is that the very nature of the anonymity of the internet means that a lot of people are instinctively either more combative, jaded or dismissive than they would be were the same events taking place in real life. There are so many trolls, downright liars or attention whores online that a similar response may well have taken place in any room, not just an "insult" channel.

We can't know what was going through Whitrick's mind, whether he had been depressed, or whether it was a spur of the moment thing, however crude that sounds. His family suggests that he had been involved in a car crash which he hadn't fully recovered from, and that he had separated from his wife and children. There is however everything to suggest that he had at least intended to make an attempt on his life, whether he was going to broadcast it potentially to the world or not. Bringing it back to the point of how or why anyone could get satisfaction out of distributing or searching for the images of the moment of death, for many there is always going to be the simple curiosity of wondering what happens when someone dies. It's an event which few of us are going to face at least until we're considerably older, if at all before we ourselves expire.

Our bodies and our minds are normally designed to resist death at absolutely all costs. What death feels like, or what happens when we die is the other great question alongside the meaning of life itself. It's one which no one can effectively describe, and there are very few that return as it were to tell the tale. Fear of death is just as much a part of this as being designed to resist it; it's only when suitably conditioned, or depressed enough that you are no longer afraid of ceasing to be. Having suffered from severe depression, there was a time when I wasn't afraid of death: in fact more in lust with it than terrified and horrified by it. You can go to sleep wishing, praying that you don't wake up in the morning, only to be disappointed and just as angry and frustrated when you do. The very nature of severe, suicidal depression is that there are moments when you can laugh like a drain, but still be wishing that you were dead at the same time. Rather like being constantly afraid of dying, you become constantly preoccupied with dying. It's only when you've recovered from feeling that way, restored to the equilibrium of once again fearing the reaper, that you can properly understand what it is that drives some to kill themselves, as well as appreciate just how special and precious this brief, turmoiled and occasionally oppressive but undeniably exhilirating thing called life can be.

This is why I find it hard to feel too angry or bemused by those who look, read or try to experience death without going through it themselves. Better that they see it that way than actually wanting to end it all. We are meant to be repulsed by death, we are meant to be curious about it, we are always going to want to see it and see the bloody mess left of those who lose their lives, whether through tragic suicide, in a car crash, beheadings by terrorists or through natural causes while asleep. We look at it, and then we put it away again, knowing it will happen to us one day but desperately hoping that it wont. If Kevin Whitrick's decision to end his life in a very public matter means that someone else who's suicidal seeks help, or if it helps prick the conscience of some of the worst offenders when it comes to being blase about life, especially online, then it will have served some sort of purpose. As for his family's appeal, hopefully with time, once their wounds have healed, as difficult as it is, they'll understand why it is that his final moments are likely to be distributed around the internet for a long time to come.

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