Daily Mail outraged at outrage

Have a look at the third paragraph of the Daily Mail’s article on Jeremy Clarkson’s comments about strikers:

In a day of extraordinary overreaction to what was clearly meant as a joke, one union official threatened to report him to police, while another said his comments were worthy of Colonel Gaddafi.

This is from the newspaper that has regularly given front page leads to its campaign against wheelie bins and just this week published Melanie Phillips’ article in which she claimed that two disturbing examples of criminal behaviour:

suggest a total absence of empathy for another person, which is the basic requirement of morality and, in turn, of a civilised society. They illustrate a brutalisation of humanity.

She continues:

Evidence of this sickening tendency has been accumulating for years. While violent crime has always been with us, elements of sadism, cruelty or total indifference to anyone else’s distress are becoming frighteningly commonplace.

And what does Phillips propose as the only solution? Well, the clue is in the title: ‘A sneering burglar, a callous mugging and why only faith can fill Britain’s moral vacuum’. Yes, we don’t read the bible enough:

it has long seemed obvious that this is intimately related to the breakdown of religious belief. It is the morality embedded in the Bible that expressly requires us to put the interests of others first.

Irrespective of what your opinion of Clarkson’s comments is, let’s just take a few seconds to giggle over the Daily Mail – who went to front page war over Ross and Brand’s answerphone ‘joke’ that they branded ‘Sachgate’ and demanded that they both be sacked – talking about a sense of humour failure or how ‘you can’t even make a joke these days without silly outrage’.

My thoughts on Clarkson’s comments are simple: make them on TV and you can expect to get lots of complaints and outrage; make them in a newspaper and you’d be handsomely rewarded as a ‘star’ columnist. If anything, Clarkson has just provided a perfect example of the kind of jokey hyperbole he gets away with in print without a whisper of outrage being deemed as the work of Satan just because he said it on TV.

There is a very interesting double standard in this country when it comes to what is acceptable on TV compared to what is acceptable in print. Just imagine – for example – a TV news broadcast flicking from a serious news story to an upskirt shot of some female celeb getting out of a taxi or a video report about what Suri Cruise has worn during the week or how ‘she looks all grown up’. It, of course, would probably crash the phone network as outraged masses call in their disgust and complaints.

Yet this is what we get in the tabloids. It seems to me that British Society finds the medium of TV inherently more offensive than the medium of print.

‘Outrage’

A favourite tabloid word, and rarely used in its proper context – for example, when over 24,000 people complained to the PCC about Jan Moir’s Gately article the word was not used by the Mail or any of the tabloid press. However, if the BBC has 7 complaints out of an audience of over 6 million for an episode of Top Gear then ‘outrage’ is inevitably used: ‘Jeremy Clarkson outrages viewers by announcing on Top Gear he’d seen saucy underwear beneath Muslim woman’s burka‘ – interestingly the URL shows that originally the over favourite word ‘fury’ was used originally.

Viewers is rightly plural, but rather than the hundreds or perhaps thousands that you would assume would make the story newsworthy it turns out that it was in fact just 7 complaints. The article soon turns towards the issue of the Burka, retreading old ground with the ‘debate’ about whether it should be banned or not – a debate that increasingly seems to be taking place only amongst the tabloid press and a few right-wing MPs. It is almost as if the Daily Mail are testing the waters, getting a feel as to whether they should launch a ‘Daily Mail campaign’ to ban the Burka.

Top Gear wasn’t the only show sparking ‘outrage’ today, ITV is also having to field the fury of a handful of puritanical viewers: ‘Emmerdale causes outrage over crude and offensive shopping list in the Dingles’ kitchen’. Not just ‘outrage’ but also ‘offensive’, which is a bit strange because when the tabloid press invents something that has been banned or criticised because it could ‘offend Muslims’ it is PC gone mad and ‘them’ taking over, yet here we have an offensive shopping list which causes people to be rightly ‘outraged’.

The offending items are: ‘jam rags’ and ‘piles cream’, they appeared on a black chalkboard in the background of a shot. Only a few people would have noticed it, most sane adults would have perhaps allowed themselves a wry smile. Sadly a few adults – assuming they haven’t simply been made up by the reporter, which is not unlikely – feel the need to complain (the only reason I can see why anyone could complain about this is that they lack the intelligence to distinguish between what will or will not harm them / their children or society and therefore complain about anything). One ‘outraged’ parent claimed:

‘I couldn’t believe my eyes when it appeared on screen – it’s not the kind of language you expect to appear in one of our oldest soaps.

‘I had to cover my young son’s eyes because I didn’t want to have to explain that kind of crass language to him at such a young age.

The whole story is really silly, and the irony is that hardly anyone knew about this supposedly offensive shopping list until the Mail published a story on it. What about the young children who read the article, who will cover their eyes? Those watching the show would have been unlikely to have seen the shopping list, now it has been screen-grabbed and repeated for them. It is utterly pathetic that the Daily Mail will give news space to any puritanical idiot just because they like using the word ‘outrage’ and pretending that every form of media is amoral apart from the Daily Mail.

This explains the hypocrisy of the Daily Mail writing about Jon Venables and his ‘1200 upskirt photos’, whilst featuring an upskirt photo of Alesha Dixon right next to the article. As the brilliant Charlie Brooker pointed out, TV – even the worst kind of reality / Victorian freak show exploitation TV – is a million times more sanitary than the tabloid press:

if TV broadcast the kind of material you see in the press – if it paid women in lingerie to recount graphic celebrity fuck’n’tell stories, or shoved its cameras up the skirts of girls exiting taxis so viewers could wank to the sight of their knickers, or routinely broadcast grossly misleading and openly one-sided news reports designed to perpetuate fear and bigotry – if the box in the corner smeared that shit on its screen for 10 seconds a night, it’d generate a pile of complaints high enough to scrape the crust from the underside of Mars.

But as we witnessed with Jan Moir and her Gately article, a record-breaking 24,000 complaints against a tabloid newspaper merits a wall of silence across all of the tabloids. Whereas 7 complaints about a presenter who purposely courts controversy (for which the Daily Mail loves him) just because he happens to be on TV generates an article; as does the words ‘jam rag’ and ‘piles cream’ when shown on TV. If the tabloid press wasn’t such a influential, toxic mess it would be funny.