Thursday, 3 November 2016

The 1950s called. They want their vocabulary back.

You know that stuff I was saying in my last entry about everything feeling like it's lurching to the right, politically? I should, of course, have said that some pretty fundamental things have always been right wing. Before the EDL there was the National Front, before them the blackshirts, for example. The tide of xenophobia that the Brexit vote has uncorked mirrors the abuse suffered by black people who came to Britain after World War II, or the anti-Semitism experienced by Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century.

So I'm not claiming to be surprised by some new phenomenon. My main problem with things currently is the fact that so much of what sounds, to me, like extremist thinking has become mainstream, or at least unremarkable. Now I apologise for linking to the Daily Mail in this blog - more on them in a moment - but some of the comments made by readers of this article are genuinely appalling; shocking examples of what I'm talking about. Bad enough that the headline itself somehow suggests that Neo-Nazi thugs attacking immigrants is somehow Angela Merkel's fault. (And there's that phrase again - 'gains by the right-wing populist AfD party'.) The comments below are far, far worse. Any quick read through them exposes the same sort of thinking that has been exemplified by the abuse meted out to Polish people and Muslims in this country lately.

I wouldn't normally link to the Mail here on general bloody principle - it is possibly the most pernicious and regrettably influential exemplum of this political cancer that I can think of. It both amazes and appals me that this is one of the most-read websites in the world. I know a large number of people who read it for a laugh, who share none of its political sentiment. Reading it ironically, if you like. But their hits are still counted. They still help raise advertising revenue and perpetuate this thing.

Take a look at the 'sidebar of shame' down the right. This is a Mail staple, the subject of a type of bingo played by my workmates who look for certain phrases that they repeat in that sidebar - 'pixie-thin legs', 'pours her curves', 'slinky', 'revealing' etc. They cheerfully run this thing alongside articles screaming about 'Paedo filth', 'sex pests' and the like, without any apparent sense of irony or shame. This archaic content and tone informs and feeds back into the thinking of those same readers who left the comments on the main article, excusing the right-wing attackers on the grounds that, in the words of two separate commentators, they were 'protecting their womenfolk'.

Those poor, helpless, bikini-clad waifs, powerless before the rising tide of immigrants with nothing but a few brave Nazis (or 'concerned citizens' according to the comments) to defend them - is this how the Mail sees our future? Well that word 'womenfolk' typifies Mail-reader thinking, and most certainly belongs to the past. A graph tracking its use in English looks like this:

(Google's graph)
Anyway. This got me thinking about the portrayal of women in the media generally. It's a well-trodden path, I know, but worthy of comment here. The sidebar of shame is merely the most shameless of its type and I can't of course begin to understand the pressures women feel when they see how they're represented all over western media. But I do sometimes wonder if even outlets which purport to speak to them aren't complicit in undermining them at the same time. Glamour magazine today named Bono on its Women of the Year list, on the grounds that he does admirable work for the feminist cause. You read that correctly - Bono among the Women of the Year. Was it really beyond their wit to commend him some other way? And to quote one female response to the award, "To be fair, with only 3.7 billion women it must be tough to find a worthy one."

Some of Glamour's readers, appropriately
enough not all of them women, are not happy.
So - neo-Nazi thuggery and the archaic vocabulary of its British apologists, the sidebar of shame and Glamour magazine mistaking Bono for a woman. A depressing enough snapshot of a single day in the modern media landscape and Trump's not even President yet.

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