News & Commentary

The Daily Mail’s winning formula of finding nothing in absolutely nothing

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A good deal has been written about the bad deal the world is delivered by the Daily Mail. As you may know, the UK publication, the local online version of which was launched in 2014, is both very poorly written and very widely read. Decent journalists are probably right to reveal the wrongs of the Daily Fail, which is not just bad in a failing-standard-of-journalism way, but actually doesn’t seem to have shelled out for a spell-checker.

There are those who consider such criticism “elite”. This can only be true if you consider the production of standard sentences that make some sort of sense to most people undemocratic. Of course, faults of grammar, spelling and, just a little more rarely, of facts become more likely in all publications as print revenues recede. Like all content providers, Mail journalists of the present were born to lose.

One of the interesting things about the Mail, though, is that it can be quite slow, or sometimes entirely unconcerned, with correction. This, I was thinking this morning as I “read” an “article” about a Kardashian’s costume, is because it is entirely unconcerned with anything. This is most explicit in its vertical for women, Femail. This is nothing.

And, no, to call something nothing is not an “elite” criticism. Nothing certainly has its function. I do not despise those who wish to view Kendall in skin-tight sportswear or Kim in a skin-tight dress or Kylie in either a skin-tight jumpsuit or skin-tight leggings (raiment is not my strong suit, but I’d have thought that “skin-tight leggings” was tautology). I do not despise those who wish to escape into nothing. The working day is long and among the oblivion that can deliver us fastest from that hard reality, the image of a Kardashian in fashion bondage seems pretty harmless.

If you would like to learn nothing at all about Women In Society while feeling that you have, read Femail.

Sometimes, we need a little nothing. I, for example, must have watched Sex and the City seven, possibly eighteen, times. I have tried to produce a feminist, ethical or intellectual rationale for this poor habit, but I just keep coming up snake-eyes. SatC is nothing. Or, at most, it is thinspiration candy floss with an after-whiff of neoliberal sick. The pleasure that I take in it reminds me of the brief taste I took of amateur bulimia circa 1994.

Since the dawn of mass culture, writers have made good effort to describe our tendency to consume rot. My preferred explanation is that the choice to eat shit at home offsets the obligation to eat it at work. (I’m paraphrasing, here.) This account remains reliable but, in my view, is now incomplete. Because, we, especially female consumers, are no longer content to simply swallow then spit. Now, we seem to feel the need to keep our nothing down, and even feel nourished by it. We need to believe that nothing is good for us.

Femail and its daddy-site do a pretty good job of nothing. If you want nothing, the Mail, which has largely given up even having a conservative bias, is where you’ll get the most of it. Its “analysis” rivals an Instagram caption for depth and its wordplay makes Kathy Lette seem Joycean. If you would like to learn nothing at all about Brexit while feeing that you have, read the Mail. If you would like to learn nothing at all about Women In Society while feeling that you have, read Femail.

Again, despairing for the spectacle of Kardashiesque “curves” “poured into” “skin-tight” couture is silly. You can say that this is evidence of people’s stupidity if you wish, or you can be a boring old commie like me and say that it is largely evidence of the stupid world in which we people are doomed to live. Either way, what you cannot say is that there was some golden time when all persons were engaged in more honourable pursuits than gawping at an arse. We do dumb stuff, perhaps inside any form of social organisation.

What we are now doing—and this is most particularly true for female consumers—is more dumb stuff while deluding ourselves that it is not dumb.

Across the last few years, Femail is offering content openly labelled as “feminist”, which, being an “-ism”, offers a wholesome promise. A bit like “vitamin-fortified” or “Paleo-friendly” on a snack food.

There’s still a lot of unapologetic gossip, but much of it is now falsely enriched with the promise of “Feminism”.

Here’s a piece about a young male twit whose sole credential is that he is a young male twit that said something dumb about feminism.  Here’s another piece by the same author about what a few dozen male twits said on Facebook about a picture of a woman in a feminist t-shirt. There’s a reliable stream of stories about rape and attempted rape, which, save for the use of the terms “feminism” and “empowerment”, seem indistinguishable from old tabloid fare that serves to make women fear rape. And, nearly every day, we meet an inspiring transwoman or gender-fluid teen. These seem to me indistinguishable from old tabloid fare that serves to remind readers to be kind to Those Less Fortunate.

We have spite and celebration or fear and hope. What we do not have is any explanation of what feminism might mean. And, of course, I’m not expecting a Butler and Spivak: Who Wore it Best pictorial cage-match anytime soon. (It was definitely Spivak.) But, nor am I in the slightest bit optimistic that this putatively “feminist” content will create anything but more nothing.

The frustration is that Femail perpetually promises the very thing it perpetually denies.

Like everything that appears in the Mail, the appearance of feminism has begun to signify nothing. It guarantees a certain number of page-views, perhaps somewhere south of the woman they persist in calling “Kate Middleton” (maybe it’s “feminist” of the Mail to insist she keep her own name, despite having surrendered it to royalty) and it gives readers the impression that nothing is something. It tastes good, but it’s also good for you!

Rape is bad. Women are inspiring. This is what the Mail says. This is not feminism, but a message identical to that which has long been conveyed by sexist media.

I am not particularly frustrated here that readers are misunderstanding what is meant by feminism. I am a feminist reader in her forties and I am now quite used to feminism being misunderstood. The frustration is that Femail perpetually promises the very thing it perpetually denies. Now With 20% More Nothing.

Whether feminism is practiced in universities or in the workplace, it demands great thought. There are enormous, unresolved and fascinating questions posed by the existence of gender and these tend to change along with gender itself. This doesn’t mean one must read—although I do always think that’s a good idea when you can tear yourself away from Carrie. But, it does mean one must think, and, when things change a little, think again.

Railing at “misogynists” (gee, that word is folate-enriched) and cheering “role-models”, many of whom seem to have done nothing more imitable than wear a size 16 bikini, is not thought. It’s nothing. But this time, it’s a mildly more harmful nothing, dressed up as it is in the “empowering” package of vitamin-water feminism.

Anything that promises miracles on the label has little use value. Like a lot of empowering media, Femail would be a lot less offensive if it were honest about its contents.

[box]Featured image: The Daily Mail clock, on the Young Street side of the Barkers building just off Kensington High Street. Wikimedia Commons[/box]

13 responses to “The Daily Mail’s winning formula of finding nothing in absolutely nothing

  1. I’ve not hitherto registered the existence of The Daily Fail/Mail – but thanks for the introduction – I certainly know what to avoid in the future unless wishing to inject “light” with an “~ism”! And via your description I suspect that the current incarnation of Fairfax Press – having divested itself of most of the best journalists – and spell-checker/structural (grammar) oversight, too – has already passed through the gates into “click-bait” driven headlines!

    1. Jim! Now I feel bad for alerting you to a terrible thing you had not preciously seen. Please accept my apologies 🙂

    1. Helen, I’m not one to usually point out spelling errors (particularly since they are so common these days!), but I was surprised to see the use of “practiced” by someone who states that another publication “doesn’t seem to have shelled out for a spell-checker.”

        1. I mean Muphry’s Law! To misspell a misspelling is surely to perform the act of hypocrisy twice over.

          1. Too funny Helen! I’m glad you didn’t take offence, as that was not my intention – it was just a tongue-in-cheek comment. Seriously though, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a misspelling in your writing before, and that’s why it stood out. It must have been the subject matter influence! 🙂

  2. The Daily Mail is sadly very typical of the world’s newspapers. The English Daily Telegraph is well written and presented but so prejudiced towards one political party that it fails miserably for the ideal of a newspaper to be fare and objective. Virtually every Australia newspaper comes into this category of bias. That is surely why journalists come at the bottom of any list of the professions with the oldest profession in the world.

  3. Not to sound trite, or to bag Daily Life (which I do like to do), but it seems this Femail suffers from the same problem afflicting DL and Rendezview (which is, apparently, still a thing). They purport to be feminist spaces, but are conceived, packaged and sold in a very non-feminist, capitalist (and dare I say it, patriarchal) format/institution.

    To borrow your analogy, or as my nan might have bought from Queens to add to her icing sugar mix, its just ‘imitation Feminist extract’ and not the real deal. But I suspect like the imitation extract, the short term fix belies a longer term harm / damage.

  4. Oh, has the ‘Fail’ given up on its blatant Tory bias? That’s like being the “News of the World’ without the ‘news’ bit! It seems to be symptomatic of giving up the will to live, much like any half-sentient reader after falling for its click-bait honey-trap.

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