When “good” people read “bad” things

I am having a moral dilemma. Well, to be honest, it’s not much of a dilemma. I know I am doing something morally unacceptable. I’m just trying to work out how prepared I am to do something about it.

I do try to be good. Whatever else I might think about myself – that I’m unattractive, stupid, lazy – I would like to think I try to do the right thing. For years, however, I have attempted to convince myself that part of doing the right thing involves getting over-familiar those who do the wrong thing. And thus I’ve sought to justify endless hours spent reading hateful nonsense, both online and in hard copy.

By this I don’t mean anything that’s actually illegal (I wouldn’t know where to start). What I mean is the material that all good Guardianistas know to be bad and wrong: The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, Glamour, Grazia etc. I read these things knowing that they will annoy and offend me. Perhaps in some sense I want to be annoyed and offended. I tell myself that the anger vivifies me, gives me a sense of righteous purpose. On the whole, though, it doesn’t. If I’m honest it distorts things. It convinces me the world is more terrible than it is and that I am more intelligent and morally aware than I am.

Yesterday I wrote a post on how totally bloody frustrating and manipulative Glamour is. This led, quite reasonably, to comments asking me what I was doing reading it in the first place. What indeed? I could claim it’s a kind of Stockholm Syndrome – and it is, a bit – but that’s not the whole story. After all, Glamour is just the tip of the reading rubbish iceberg.

Five days ago the Guardian featured a piece by Ellie Mae O’Hagan entitled “The best way to get angry with the Daily Mail? Don’t buy it”. O’Hagan is right, of course. I often wonder how much of the advertising revenue that flows to the Mail Online comes, indirectly, from lefties like me logging on for that frisson of moral outrage. I’d worry it’s a pretty high percentage. Still, as you’d expect, the comments that follow O’Hagan’s piece raise objections, with one accusing the author of having “just written a piece denouncing the Mail and listing stories in the Mail that Guardian readers might like to take a quick look at”. I find this unduly harsh – would it be possible to denounce the Mail without referring to what it actually does? – but I can understand the point being made. Why should O’Hagan get to read the Mail on behalf of the rest of us, deciding what’s fit for our consumption? Shouldn’t we all get a go?

There is a peculiar kind of pleasure to be found in looking at stories which are obviously offensive. Your own moral world-view is endorsed by the sheer wrongness of it all; you can score intellectual points by picking apart the arguments of your enemies; best of all, you get to indulge in “bad” feelings – anger, aggression – but for supposedly “good” reasons. Perhaps it’s just me who does this, but I don’t think so. I don’t even think it’s exclusive to people of a left-wing bent. I suspect the same impulse drives those who hang around the Guardian Comment is Free site, waiting for the next vaguely feminist thread upon which to vent their men’s rights spleen (another comment following O’Hagan’s piece claims that “the Daily Mail is basically a right wing version of the Guardian”. I wouldn’t agree – although this makes me wish there was a left-wing version of the Mail, raking in millions due to regular visits from outraged Melanie Phillips fans).

As a very weak defence, I’d say there is sometimes a value in critiquing the Mail and similar publications. After all, how else can they be held to account? Sometimes – for instance with Jan Moir’s response to the death of Stephen Gately, or Rick Dewsbury’s racist response to the Olympic Opening Ceremony – universal outrage does provoke some form of retraction. Nevertheless, these days, far from wearing sackcloth and ashes, Jan Moir is more notorious than ever. I doubt Paul Dacre loses sleep over the intermittent scandals. On the contrary, I bet he loves them.

I can’t promise I’m never going to read the Mail Online again. Or rather, I can, but last time I pledged not to do something in this blog I gave in a couple of weeks later. So I don’t want to claim the glory for committing not to do something before sneaking off to do it anyhow once I suspect everyone’s forgotten. I have, however, removed the Mail app from my phone. And I’m not going to buy rubbish magazines any more (not unless the freebies are really, really ace). I think, after thirty years of glossy-induced self-flagellation, I’m pretty convinced they’re crap (I reserve the right to continue to slag off the covers).

Naturally, if there is a job out there that involves reading the Mail, Glamour et al and being outraged in a way that actually makes a difference, I would be totally up for it. If I could be a superhero, it’d be Rent-a-Rant, destroying all bilious columnists with my righteous fury. Since such a job doesn’t exist, I suppose I’ll have to make do with trying to be good in the real (and more boring) sense of the word. I only wish that, without Samantha Brick as a counterfoil, it wasn’t so bloody difficult.


15 thoughts on “When “good” people read “bad” things

  1. If Rent-a-Rant ever needs a sidekick, i’m the woman for the job! I could be ‘Opinion-on-everything-Woman’. I have my checking the Daily Mail Online habit down to about 5 times a day now. So I am making small steps.. It’s a shame you can’t get patches for it.

  2. I am doing quite well at not reading things, but then I can only get angry about hearsay, and it’s wrong to be angry about something you haven’t properly looked at.

  3. I am doing quite well at not reading the DM and similar, but that means that I can’t get properly angry about things because it’s wrong to get angry when you’ve only read about something on Twitter.

  4. I know what u mean. I get like that with twitter. If I see a lot of tweets ranting about something I HAVE to go check it out for myself knowing it’s going to wind me up & knowing I will then HAVE to have my own rant. I am trying 2 give myself a break by not following twitter 2 much at the mo.

    1. Damn. I’ve been thinking “okay, if I don’t actively go to the Mail myself, it’d be okay to look at stuff someone else tweets, right?” But no, you’re right. That pathetic loophole must be duly closed!

  5. I’m with you on this. I stopped buying any magazines described as ‘women’s lifestyle’ a number of years ago. I don’t have them in the house and I don’t allow my 9yo to view them either. I think it has helped my self esteem and decision making, I no longer feel obliged to fit into societal norms and I am more comfortable with myself as I result. I cannot recall a time when I’ve missed them.
    As for the Daily Mail, I found myself re-tweeting numerous homophobic/racist/sexist articles with increasing outrage. I then noticed that MailOnline was recorded as making a profit, something the other online news agencies could only dream about. Part of this profit is due to the indignant ‘clicks’ from other outraged tweeters. So I set myself a goal – I wouldn’t look at MailOnline, I would not RT Daily Mail links. And, I feel much better for it. I notice ‘good news’, positive stories that I may have missed previously, while I was apoplectic with rage against the Mail. I encourage others to do the same. We know the magazines targeted to women are no good for us – if not only for the high level of unattainable beauty, then the frankly rubbish advice on relationships and work issues. We know that we don’t agree with the Mail. The only way to hit them is in the pocket. Power to the spenders, rather than those dictating what our ‘lifestyle’ should look like.

    1. Great comment – and an excellent example! I am still worried I’ll be bereft without my daily outrages, but the DM app is now gone and it’s the start of a whole new me…

  6. I’ve given up the Daily Mail about five times, now, with that Tea and Kittens blocker. And yet, still, I slide back on there like a weasel into a sack. I suppose all we can do (realistically, as opposed to actually!) is stop buying the horrid magazines/papers and stop linking to them. No revenue comes from people logging on, so surely we can sneak a horrified glimpse now and then?

    Surely…? Right?

    1. “No revenue comes from people logging on” – sadly a lot of their revenue is probably from adverts that pay on a cost-per-view basis. The advertisers pay based on the number of eyes that see the page, so even if you don’t click on any adverts you are still making them money.

  7. Haha, I read the headline of this post and totally guessed the topic 😉 You’re not alone.

    I’ve never had too much of a problem with a MailOnline habit – if I end up there for some reason, I’ll stay longer than I intend to, but that really is only once a month or so. My version of this habit used to be Jezebel – I discovered it just after it was launched, and I remember being delighted at finding a gossip/lifestyle/sex + relationships thingy with a vaguely feminist bent – but over the years it has gotten progressively less feminist/crapper at feminism (and maybe I’ve got a bit better), and about a month ago I decided I HAD to kick the habit. So I re-set my home page so as to up my hits on other sites, until good feminist blogs (and the BBC weather) had got so many hits from me that they chased Jezebel out of my ‘top ten most visited sites’ list, which becomes self-sustaining, of course. Basically: HURRAH. I am so relieved! I’ve barely felt the urge to visit it at all. I’d totally recommend a detox, not because you ‘should’, but because post-detox life is nicer.

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