Thursday, February 23, 2012

Our Spiteful Press

One of the ways in which England differs from Spain is the extent to which the English are prepared to be told what to think by the media. Every time I visit England, which is usually for a week or so every summer, I have fun identifying the new groups that the media (in general, including the BBC and the Guardian. It must be general or it wouldn’t work) have given people permission to hate.

The hatred of anyone connected with banks is not part of this, by the way. That is a much bigger hate campaign successfully promoted by politicians around the free world to hide the fact that the recession is largely their fault. (Discuss).

No, I’m talking about minority pursuits, people who have interests which can’t seriously be thought to threaten anyone, but who have some reason have drawn the spiteful venom of the press. You can tell these things are not natural, not based on anything real, because they are usually given a convenient handle, everyone complains about exactly the same things, and they are unique to the UK, the same groups of people in other countries apparently never managing to annoy anyone.

In Spain, you either ride a bike or you don’t. Or you sometimes ride a bike, or you have one but don’t use it anymore, or you intend to buy one as soon as your son is old enough to ride. That sort of thing. In England it appears society is divided into Cyclists on the one hand, and the people who call them lycra louts on the other. (Yes, I know some riders can be inconsiderate to pedestrians but car drivers can be a menace on the roads and they don’t get vilified collectively. It’s an invention of the media. Really it is.)

Hands up anyone who has ever had a problem with a Google Street View car. Yes, as I thought. But mention the subject to an English person and they will immediately splutter about all the trouble they have caused for some indeterminate other people who no one seems to know.

Drivers, or cyclists, who use GPS navigators in their vehicles. Could someone explain to me why possession of a perfectly ordinary, and extremely useful piece of equipment, which has greatly simplified travelling and made it a lot safer at the same time, should come to be a diagnostic tool for finding people to look down your nose at and metaphorically spit upon?  A tough one, isn’t it? But in the land of my birth it was so, at least for a time.

Drinkers of bottled water suffered the same fate a few years ago. Now it is users of electronic cigarettes. I have seen references to ‘vapers’, clearly a code word for ‘someone to whom I am vastly superior’, being used in supposedly respectable newspapers to describe people who use this harmless, odourless, non-polluting device in order to adapt their customs to the convenience of those around them. Why are we being told to hate them? Perhaps the Guardian can tell us.

I am an Englishman, and shall always be rather proud of the chance that got me born there, but a lot of our journalists are petty, ignorant and provincial, and are lucky that in a free country they rarely have to answer for their words.


James Higham said...

divided into Cyclists on the one hand, and the people who call them lycra louts on the other

Who are you calling a lycra lout? I've never warn it in my life [except when I'm in drag].

Vincent said...

I think there is a flaw in your first sentence, dear CI. How can the behaviour of the media give you the insight that the English people are prepared to be told what to think?

Yes, they are certainly told what to think - by more or less everyone: teachers, doctors, politicians, advertisers, the BBC, newspapers, Health & safety - I shall not try to be comprehensive. None of this is really evidence that they take notice of any of it.

It is possibly evidence of tolerance, of which the British are justly proud. Yet I don't really want to tolerate it. I just don't see that there is a choice.

CIngram said...


I don't have the thighs for it myself. I wear a pair of baggy reinforced shorts with lots of foam padding in the right places. It probably looks as bad as it sounds but I don't go out on the bike to pull.


The thing is that these silly little media campaigns seem to be assimilated into the thoughts of the people. It seems to me that people are less likely to accept uncritically the dictates of doctors, politicians etc than the whimsical likes and dislikes of opinion writers. Maybe it's just the people I talk to. I hope so, and that your last remarks are correct.

Vincent said...

Reading your piece again, I see you are inveighing against people with prejudices. I admit to being prejudiced against cyclists in England, but if pressed I will admit that my views are based upon a minority who behave illegally or with arrogant assumption of greater virtue. I say this from a pedestrian's rather than a car-driver's viewpoint. The cyclist endangers me by riding on the pavement, frightens me by coming from behind without sounding a bell. There was a debate in Parliament (or perhaps a select committee of MPs) a couple of days ago. Many MPs are committed cyclists but one of them complained that too many do not obey the law.

As for GPS, I wouldn't look down on one, but I'm always glad to hear tales of them causing problems as it reinforces my own resistance to buying one.

And there, my dear CI, lies the source of all this "vastly superior" feeling. We all like confirmation that we are OK, and better than the other person, whom we might otherwise envy.

I have heard that the people who most appreciate ads for cars are not those who are planning to buy one - for clearly the ad is a hopeless guide for such a big purchase - but those who have just bought the model in question, and want external reassurance that it was not a mistake.

So I still reject the idea that Brits let themselves be told what to do by the media - which in any case have contradictory messages, We choose the one who supports our prejudices, and our prejudices are based on justifying the life-choices we have made, or the options we have to accept without any choice in the matter.

E.g. if I am poor, it is comforting to think that the rich are greedy bastards.

CIngram said...

I must agree with your general point, that it's mostly a matter of finding ways to feel that we are better than others. Perhaps the English press provide opportunities for this that the Spanish press doesn't, for some reason.

I have never heard before your suggestion about the purpose of car adverts. It has a great ring of truth about it. I have no car and more or less gave up driving years ago. I like to live, or my mind does, largely in the abstract, and there's something insescapably material about an oncoming lorry. Try to move it from your path by the idle manipulation of metaphysical lemmata and you are likely to lose badly. Thus I am able to feel vastly superior to all these lesser minds who allow themselves to be swayed by pictures of pretty girls sitting on the bonnet.