The Angry Mob

I’ve been meaning to write about the title of my blog for some time because it appears a few people just don’t understand it. The premise is simple: I took the title from the Kaiser Chief song ‘Angry Mob’ that included the lyrics:

We are the angry mob
We read the papers everyday day
We like who like
We hate who we hate
But we’re also easily swayed

Therefore the Angry Mob does not refer to me, the writer of this blog, nor does it mean that I am more than one person. Some people seem to think that Angry Mob was chosen because it refers to a group of people writing about the tabloids. No, it refers to the tabloid readers, the mob who read the tabloids solely to have their buttons pushed, to be fed who to like and who to hate.

I chose the title of the blog after working with an organisation that had the Daily Mail delivered everyday. I had never paid much attention to tabloid journalism before then, I thought it was all irrelevant, beyond a joke and that no-one could really take it seriously. However, seeing the same people crowd around each new copy of the Daily Mail at the start of the day really opens your eyes to the reality of what tabloid newspapers do.

Barely a day would start without the same people getting instantly angry about one minority group after another: ‘bloody immigrants’, ‘bloody gypsies’, ‘bloody gays’, ‘bloody fat cats’, ‘bloody young people’, ‘have you seen how much they get’… and so on.

Two things struck me:

  • 1, you don’t have to be an abhorrent person to repeat abhorrent views
  • 2, you can have a strong view of a group of people or issue about which you know nothing

I therefore began reading the Daily Mail with increasing disgust at the lies, hatred and just pure negativity that dripped from each story. Britain was broken, we need to return to a mythical vision of the 1950s seemed to the be the overarching ideology around which the newspaper was based. Attacks on women, gays, ethnic minorities, the disabled, the poor and the young were regularly wheeled out as evidence that things in Britain were really bad and getting worse.

Yet I just didn’t recognise the world being painted. It bore no relation to where I had lived, or where I currently live. It didn’t bear any relation to the world in which my colleagues lived, which in some senses shone light on the issue: if they don’t know any immigrants, how can they counter what they read in the paper? But that is perhaps missing the point: it seemed to me that they took a perverse pleasure in being angry. They enjoyed picking up the Daily Mail because they wanted to put the world to rights amongst friends at the start of the working day. They didn’t want to stop and think about whether they were rightfully angry, they just assumed that was the case.

In a strange way the Daily Mail provided them with some kind of comforting familiarity. No matter what was happening in their personal life – positive or negative – they could rest assured the good old Daily Mail would give them the chance to rant about something. And this happened every day, I would sit quietly at my desk and listen to the morning rant against whichever target the Daily Mail had picked that day.

I once made the mistake of trying to interject during one of these rants, only to immediately regret the futility of such action. I remember it so clearly, it was during the Mail scare stories on ‘increasing’ knife crime and the reader commented: ‘It’s awful, and it’s always them* doing the stabbing and committing the crime’ (meaning ethnic minorities). At this point I quietly pointed out that you can’t possibly say that all crime and knife crime is carried out by ethnic minorities, as we know recent cases for example have involved white offenders. ‘Oh I know they said.’ Followed by a reflective pause: ‘But it is though isn’t it?’.

At which point I sat stunned at the act of self-deception and the power of having no experience of a certain issue and allowing yourself to fully swallow the Daily Mail perception / deception. Instead of replying or arguing further, I created Angry Mob. A blog title not about me, but about the Angry Mob buying tabloid newspapers to give them an excuse to vent hatred towards other people.

And this brings me rambling to the point of talking about this now; the recent attacks on Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. People, including myself, are curious as to how this will pan out: will it destroy the Liberal Democrats’ election bid, or it will it boost it? Tabloids regularly change their targets of attack and readers are happy to go along with them. However, not many people outside of the hardened readers really take them seriously and a significant proportion of people see being the victim of a Daily Mail smear campaign as a badge of honour. If your values conflict with the values of the Daily Mail, then your values are obviously worth supporting.

I don’t believe the tabloids are a fraction as powerful as they used to be, and I believe that social media is starting to have a significant impact on people’s willingness to do what they want. Twitter for example, isn’t as much as a mob as is depicted. Rather it is a system that allows you to interact with people with whom you share common values, beliefs and opinions. Because it is easy to follow people who are like yourself gives you confidence that you’re not alone, you’re not necessarily wrong and that you shouldn’t be ashamed or afraid to stand up for what you believe in. You might be surrounded by tabloid reading racists, your parents could be die-hard Richard Littlejohn fans; but it doesn’t matter if you’re able to share ideas, opinions and arguments with people who don’t think this those that physically surround you.

A simple retort to this idealised view would be to point out that a collection of people agreeing with you does not mean your views are correct or even desirable (Facists can just as easily unite on Twitter as Liberals). But this ignores how Twitter works: generally you exchange evidence as much as opinion. If you write rubbish on Twitter it is easy to link to articles that demonstrate that you’re writing rubbish. If you use Twitter you often have a blog, again, blogging is evidence based, linked and sourced in order to avoid being destroyed by other bloggers. This makes Twitter a better barometer of informed opinion because the uninformed are easy to weed out or correct through the sharing of evidence.

It gives me great hope that Twitter seems to be disliked by the Daily Mail, precisely for the same reason that the Liberal Democrats should be pleased to be attacked by the Daily Mail: because neither shares the abhorrent values of the Daily Mail. Increasingly it seems people are prepared to choose hope over fear and evidence-based reasoning over stereotypes, conditioned irrationality and misplaced faith. The Daily Mail and the Conservative Party can continue to demand we be ever tougher on crime as a society; with longer sentences, more prison spaces and more people sent to prison. Yet we can see that such an approach just doesn’t work; it might please the Daily Mail (which is why Labour tried it) but it doesn’t reduce crime and upon release prisoners are highly likely to re-offend, so what exactly has been achieved?

It seems to me that people are fed up with the same tired old policies, wheeled out by politicians who are not ordinarily the right people to be making these decisions. Take for example the Labour government ignoring the evidence from drug experts when classifying cannabis, they ignored the experts and listened to the Daily Mail. They choose irrational fear over evidence.

If the Liberal Democrats get into power as a result fo this election there is one thing that we can be certain about: they will not need to pander to any of the tabloid press during their reign because their election would have nothing to do with them. When they have already had their leader treated as if he was the devil, what notice would they take of the Daily Mail and co on other issues?

It seems to me we will only have true democracy in this country when policies are selected and driven forward because they are in the best interests of the country, and drawn up by those in the best position to make those decisions. The current system allows any ray of hope or fairness to be crushed by newspaper smears; as politicians back down to appease the editors they have always needed to get elected or to serve another term.

Vote for the party whose policies you like*: the rest is just hype or smears.

* Incidentally, if people voted just based on policies the results would be as follows (according to 161,465 completed surveys):

  • Green Party 27%
  • Liberal Democrats 18.11%
  • Labour 17.70%
  • Conservatives 16.50%
  • UKIP 10.85%
  • BNP 9.84%

Now that result would really drive the Daily Mail mad…

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