Thursday, March 03, 2011


The Jan 17 column about the Clifton murder becomes much more intelligible when approached from this angle. What could be more ridiculous than thinking that the bank should infinitely extend your overdraft because the cat likes organic prawns? What could be more absurdly Daily Mail than complaining that fascist bird-watchers are persecuting the indigenous hedgehog community?

I know. Let's imagine that Daily Mail Woman went to the scene of some really horrible murder. Let's pretend that even this failed to penetrate her consumerist narcissisms.  

That'll be a laff.

Imagine that Daily Mail Woman visited the pub where the murder victim is believed to have eaten her last meal. We know what a real journalist would have done. Talked to the drinkers. Talked to the staff. Got some quotes. Written a vox pop. Maybe tracked down someone who knew the deceased and got some new facts, a new angle, a minor scoop. That kind of "what local people are saying one month on" stuff isn't the highest form of reporting, but there's nothing terribly wrong with it.

But this is not a proper journalist. This is Daily Mail Woman, "Me, Me, Me, Me, Me" has replaced "Who? What? Where? When? Why?" as the reporter's mantra. Instead of trying to find out what happened on the night in question, she reviews the food. It's essentially the same joke that Drop the Dead Donkey made in 1998: the one where Sally droolingly describes the buffet at her hotel, but can only say that the conference she is meant to be covering is "very interesting." (To be fair, Daily Mail woman does get a couple of quotes from the bar staff. Since the murder of one of their customers, they have  apparently become "more nervous.")

Not that Daily Mail Woman can even review a pub meal properly. How could she? A reviewer might be highly subjective ("the violinist affected me profoundly, bringing tears to my eyes") or she might try to be objective ("the violinist played the second bar slightly flat, and took the middle section too quickly") but she has to be interested in the thing she is reviewing. That is, she has to be interested in something apart from herself. And this is something which Daily Mail Woman is, by definition, unable to do. "I ask for a veggie burger and it comes without the burger and without the bun", she tells us. Does she mean that they lost her order? Or merely that she left before it arrived? A normal person would have caught the waiter's eye or gone to the bar and said "Excuse me, is my burger on the way?" 

But this is not a normal person; this is Daily Mail Woman.

When judging a piece of writing, a good rule of thumb is to try to work out what the opposite would be. If you can't; or if the opposite would obviously be nonsense, then almost certainly the original was nonsense as well. David Cameron, like his role model Tony, routinely fails this test: "This is a moment when history turns a page: the next page is not yet written."  he said of the Libyan crisis. As opposed to the more normal kind of moment where history stays on the same page and the next page which we're not on yet is already written. (Local papers often report vicious attacks and brutal murders: I wonder why all the gentle murders and virtuous attacks are going unreported.) 

I supposed it is just possible that, if I were to drop dead at the age of 103 straight after watching A New Hope for the 750th time, you might say "Well, at least he died happy." But if I were blown up at the Bristol Odeon by a Gay-Communist-Muslim suicide bomber, you would hardly remark: "And what made it so much worse was that Tron is a rather lacklustre movie." Daily Mail Woman sums up her visit to the Ram thus: "I wish Jo could have spent what were probably her last hours on earth somewhere lovelier." Your daughter has been brutally murdered, but, on the plus side, but you'll be relieved to know that her veggie burger was nicely cooked and efficiently served.

Aside from that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Having established the comic structure, all that remains is to repeat the joke, over and over. Presumably, each new solecism is supposed to raise us to new raptures of horror -- like Jimmy Carr (a very clever man) progressing from a clever obesity joke to an ingenious disability joke to a brilliantly constructed rape joke. In fact, a sense of diminishing returns rapidly sets in. 

Daily Mail Woman walks past past a supermarket. The lady who was murdered might possibly have walked past the same supermarket. The supermarket is "full of young women rushing round after work, leaving with carriers bags and expectation". (Whereas supermarkets which are not connected with murders would be full of what, exactly, on a weekday evening?)

Daily Mail Woman walks into the supermarket that the lady who was murdered actually visited. At one point, it was reported that the police were interested in the fact that on the night in question, the lady who was murdered bought a pizza in this shop. They presumably thought that if they could find the pizza box, it might provide a clue to her final movements. Even in real life crime dramas, tiny details do sometimes provide clues to the identity of the killer. But Daily Mail Woman -- brilliantly -- doesn't understand what is meant by a "clue". Experts deal in facts. Daily Mail Woman believe only in feelings. So she finds a pizza of the same brand and, devastatingly, tells us how it makes her feel.

"I almost buy that upmarket Pizza; the choice tells me Jo wanted a lovely life, something above the ordinary."

It's a grotesquely brilliant image.

Woman goes into a shop.

Woman picks up a Tescos Finest Pizza (pesto and mozerella flavour).

Holds it. Caresses it

"Are you going to buy that Pizza?"

"No I merely want to look at it, in the belief that since it is the same brand of pizza that a person I never met may have purchased on the night she died I may be able to intuit some deep truth about the person I never met from the pizza."

The other night, I had pizza with olives and anchovies at Numero Uno, a modest little bistro on Blackboy Hill, maybe a mile from the place the murder happened. Does that tell you anything about my hopes and aspirations, Gypsy Rose Lee? Or merely that I quite like salty food?

She goes to the street where the murder victim lived.The residents are going to get better streets lighting put in. Quite sensible, you might think: but "people do sensible thing to make it slightly less likely that bad thing will happen again" is hardly consistent with the controlling narrative of the Daily Mail, that every day and in every way, everything is getting worse and worse. 

Can we incorporate "better street lighting" into the paper's "hell in a handcart" mythology? Yes, we can: 
"Residents are campaigning to get brighter street lamps installed. So the antique, lovely ones are to disappear to be replaced by ugly ones, because of something even uglier."

Old fashioned street lamps are "lovely". Pesto and mozzarella pizza are symbols of a "lovely" life". It's less bad to get murdered if you've just been for a drink in a "lovely" pub. Modern street lamps are not lovely enough. Murders are even less lovely. "Even uglier" is the term Daily Mail Woman uses. Even uglier. Even uglier than modern street lamps. Murder is even uglier than modern street lamps. The joke is starting to wear pretty damn thin.

That, I guess, is why posh frocks and expensive shoes are so important. If murder is ugly, then not being pretty is a crime. 

We might also note that the flowers placed outside the flat where the deceased lived are not, as you might expect, a sign of sympathy, but a sign of indifference: the person who left them "couldn't even be bothered to scrawl a note".  Someone laying a wreath can be incorporated into Daily Mail Woman's world view. Everything is horrible all the time, and even when someone does something kind, it really shows that they are horrible.

Daily Mail woman goes to the place where the murdered woman 's body was found. There is nothing to see there. 
"There was no ceremony here, no policeman, just that lovely face on a now dog-eared poster. I got the feeling the world is starting to forget Jo, that she’ll become just another thumbnail on the Avon and Somerset Police website, along with the faces of the other murder victims no one can recall."

That's the title of the piece; "Is lovely Jo becoming just another thumbanil on the police website."

Well, yes. Yes, of course she is. Of course she bloody well is...



Dwayne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dwayne said...


From the States and am not familiar with the paper you're slapping around.

It's an odd sensation to be laughing while simultaneously horrified, because I think I get your point here.

It's a really subtle slice of evil isn't it? That at casual glance seems harmless enough, and when actually considered is something that makes you wonder where Dante would put them.

It simply would have to be something special. (sorry about the duplicate post)

Kevin Cowtan said...

So what you are saying is that Melanie Philips is a post-modern reporter?