Wednesday 3 April 2013

A Vile Product

Could this be the most disgusting headline to have hit news stands since The Sun's coverage of Hillsborough? The dehumanising of the children ("bred 17 babies"), the welfare-baiting headline, the sideswipe at social workers; seldom has a tragedy been exploited so brazenly and cynically to score political points. And for the judgement to land at the very moment the government are actively impoverishing hundreds of thousands of low paid workers, unemployed people, and the disabled, it's enough to give those of us who aren't of a conspiratorial turn of mind pause.

There is no merit in The Mail's argument whatsoever. On this Owen Jones is absolutely right. The criminal ends Michael Philpott used to try and wrangle a larger council house out of Derby City Council says nothing about people who receive Child Benefit, live in social housing, or receive out-of-work support. If The Mail seriously believed their poisonous rubbish, and I'm not convinced they do (which, of course, makes it even worse) let's have pages of moral panics against market relationships. Don't they, after all, incentivise robbery and murder?

The press usually defend the foul ideas they promote by saying they give what their readers want. If people didn't like what they had to say, the democracy of the market would kick in and no one would buy it. And indeed, with one or two exceptions, newspapers are declining almost entirely across the board - including The Mail. They're definitely not giving people what the people want. And, with a bit of luck, this headline will cost another chunk of the paper's readership too.

Nevertheless, while the print format is declining, The Mail has got the website side of things all figured out. Mail Online is more than just a newspaper in digital format, it is a mega-blog that effortlessly combines the paper's usual, swivel-eyed fare and celebrity "news". Rare is the person who hasn't found themselves sidetracked by their sidebar of shame.

Part and parcel of this strategy is friction, and it's something they cottoned on to very early on. As the print edition shows, the core audience for unreconstructed bigotry is limited and declining. The same processes prising apart organised conservatism are slowly but surely snuffing out its base. To get the wider audience in, the affluent younger, the urbane and intelligent, you don't water the content down. You up the ante. You play on the paper's reputation as the most scurrilous of all Britain's right wing rags and publish ever more outrageous things. They seek to anger, shock and outrage as many moderate, liberal and left people to drive greater quantities of traffic to their site. As a case in point, this morning's headline was bandied about on Facebook by various lefties. In other words, hate and bile is what ensures stories go viral among the very people who detest the paper the most. It's a business model. As I wrote a couple of years ago, "It's a stroke of genius: exploit your opponents' right-on politics and they will market your putrefying product across their social media networks for you."

The Mail is stupid. But The Mail is not stupid.


Alex Dawson said...

When it comes to Phillpott, and the question over who is really responsible for it, I think the Daily Mail has more to answer for than the welfare state.

So too does Jeremy Kyle, Anne Widdecombe and all the idiots who made programmes about him and all the papers who printed reams about him and his life.

And everyone who bought the papers and watched the programmes are to blame too.

The mass media created Phillpott and the gullible who swallow and regurgitate the crap they are fed supported him along the way.

All pat yourselves on the back.

Anonymous said...

6 young lives were cut short because of a evil and stupid people who was involved in killing 6 kids of there family plz I give a lot of thought to all of the family of these children who was so innocent they didn't even have a chance of life plz judge pass down the most time for all who was involved never ever deserve to ever get out and should stay in prison till there end in life after taking 6 lives.

Phil said...

They won't be getting out any time soon.

But the question, as ever, is how do we reverse this situation? How do we help generate a culture where this kind of poison is considered beyond the pale?

Chris said...

So much for Leveson!

This headline tells you that the Daily Mail treats it's own readers with total contempt. They have put up this ill thought out and idiotic piece of propaganda in the belief that their readers are so stupid they won't question it in anyway.

A brief consideration is all it takes to tear this nonsense to pieces.

asquith said...

The other thing is, there must be people out there who agree with this shite. Maybe it goes too far even for them. But it goes too far in a direction that a lot of people would go a long way in, which is the fundamental reason why headlines like this happen.

The Mail is, as others have observed, not ideologically consistent and certainly not uniformly "right-wing". For example it expressed as much outrage over bankers as the rest of the media, because the lower middle class carry no torch for bankers even if they focus their hatred on poor and brown people more.

Did you read Brendan O'Neill's latest blog about why even people on benefits often agree with punitive policies on welfare? Turd though he is, there are actually a few home truths in there.

Mind you, polls count for very little imho. The majority of people like the idea of the scroungers no longer getting an easy ride. Then they discover that there aren't all these scroungers out there, that most people on disability are in fact not healthy lead-swingers, that it isn't an easy life on welfare, and they change their minds.

I have very much my own thoughts, being even more of a small-l liberal than ever, but also not particularly hostile to people on benefits (none of which I'm on btw, and I mean none at all). But that's for another day.

Phil said...

It is nonsense Chris, and I hope there will be a few regular readers who decide enough is enough and stop buying the paper. But as Asquith notes, there is a ready audience for this bilge. Media and politicians alike have worked together to destroy a sense of popular social conscience. The envelope has been pushed in baby steps consistently for the last 30 years, culminating in the awful policies we have and the dehumanising headline we have seen.

On Brendan O'Neill, I tend not to read him Asquith but there is a kernel of truth to his argument. But what he doesn't grasp is that low paid workers might not like the patronising condescension of do-gooders, but they like punitive attacks on their tax credit, housing benefit and council tax benefit even less.

asquith said...

Yes, but the thing is they never think it's them. So often the old granny in a 3-bedroom council house in which she lives alone (her kids, who grew up there, having moved out long ago) hates the workless family next door, and why some people in an overcrowded terrace a few streets away hate her. And they all hate Poles (it used to be asylum seekers, but for some reason they rarely get mentioned in the press now).

Depressing but it does happen. You could always try not hating anyone but who wants to do that?

Phil said...

I think hate is ultimately rooted in fear, and fear springs from insecurity. There is a general cultural anxiety whose flames are fanned by the press, but ultimately it's the insecure lives many millions of people lead that allow this crap to take root. As I've argued before, a step toward tackling this poisonous situation is to sort out security at work and do something to tackle the flexible exploitation that scars too much of our economy.

Anonymous said...

But, absent the welfare state, would the Philpott lifestyle be possible? I don't think it would, unless you were very rich, a Marquess of Bath type.

In that sense the headline's right. Prior to the welfare state no woman, let alone women, would have let him repeatedly impregnate them, because their children would starve.

The Old Labour sociologist Norman Dennis had it right :

' sexual conduct the cast of mind is that I please myself, but if anything goes wrong, you must be responsible that my children come to no harm. In effect such a biological father is saying, "You must be a socialist so that I can be an egoist. My baby is the hostage through which I, who will not do my duty, will hold you to your duty."'


Phil said...

But, absent lorry driving, would the Peter Sutcliffe lifestyle of going with prostitutes and occasionally killing them be possible?

Herbie Destroys the Environment said...

Before the welfare state, couples had more children, on average, than they do now and people were a lot poorer. The introduction of a welfare state brought a decline in the average number of children per couple. Not only does the lack of a welfare state mean people have more children, it makes it more necessary. And it makes the childs death much much more likely.

I suspect that many many more children will suffer as a result of the Condems, but the morality seems to be, as long as we don't have to pay for it!

This is a truly vile government, serving a truly vile civil society.

Anonymous said...

"Before the welfare state, couples had more children, on average, than they do now "

They certainly did in Victorian times. I wouldn't say that was true in the 20th century though. Inter-war fertility was very low, and leapt after WW2, in tandem with a huge expansion of the welfare state. Fertility in the mid-60s was higher than at any time since about 1908.

Google "UK fertility since 1901" and the relevant ONS pdf is at the top.

Then ... abortion (six million or so since 1967) and the contraceptive pill. But I don't think that's a complete reason for the drop - what Steve Sailer calls "Affordable Family Formation" - wages, low house prices and decent schools - is also key. For the post-70s Brit, all three were in increasingly short supply. In a post-contraceptive world, fertility will also to some extent be an indicator of confidence in the future - seemingly low among natives, but high among some incomers.


Laban said...

"As the print edition shows, the core audience for unreconstructed bigotry is limited and declining."

The print edition shows no such thing. ALL print editions are having a terrible time, irrespective of politics. Of all the old print titles, the Guardian and Mail have done best online - but the Mail, starting from nowhere, has overtaken the Guardian in the key US market.

a/c/t Alexa, the Mail now gets more traffic from the US than the UK - which explains why the sidebar of shame features people I've never heard of.

Herbie Destroys the Environment said...


I think your assertion , that the lifestyle of Philpott would not be possible without a welfare state, is such a lazy, cheap and ideological statement that it needed challenging. There are a whole number of factors involved here. Like the Daily Mail and the government you churn out shit for the masses to chew on.

In Austria, they have one of the lowest average children per households in the world and have one of the highest expenditure on family welfare benefits.

Chew on that you right wing scumbag.

Phil said...

Actually, it does Laban. If your core audience is bigoted right wing people, and your paper's circulation is declining, it's safe to assume the print market for bigoted right wing people is declining too.

Where online is concerned I've explained the Mail's non-core strategy above. I'm not going to repeat myself.

Interestingly, The I has recorded dramatic growth.