Apparently the world was meant to end on 23 September. Well, if it did, then it must have done so very quietly, as I didn’t notice it. Disappointingly, things have just carried on as before. So, what have the nut jobs predicting the apocalypse have to say about it not happening? Obviously, it’s all a mistake. They didn’t mean that the world was going to end on 23 September. They were misrepresented. Apparently, it was all going to kick off in October. A series of ‘events’ – which could include natural disasters, nuclear exchanges, plagues, all the old favourites, in fact – which will presage the actual end of the world. Well, October was certainly strange, the beginning of the end of the world announcing itself with extreme weather, a red sun, yellow sky and Crystal Palace finally winning a league match. Just when we thought that we’d survived that unscathed, the world found itself hit by a new cataclysm: Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct. Something that started as just another sordid Hollywood sexual scandal has gradually expanded to pull in not just Hollywood actors and directors, but also UK politicians, as more and more victims have become emboldened enough to reveal their stories. As I write this, the UK’s Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon has been forced to resign over allegations of past sexual misconduct, (although the only incident so far made public involved him touching a female reporter’s knee, so we’re all left pondering what else he was up to).
But what has befuddled me from the start over this whole groping apocalypse is the way in which much of the media professes mystification as to what fuels such attitudes to women. Really? Have you seen your own content of late? One of the main uses my tablet has is using the news aggregator app to ‘read’ the papers before I get up. A wide variety of news outlets are represented on the app and the ‘Entertainment’ section is a real eye opener as the UK sources (mainly tabloid newspapers) present a never ending stream of ‘stories’ focusing upon the amount of cleavage being shown by various female celebrities, or whether they’ve suffered a ‘nip slip’. Best of all, as far as they are concerned, are those features consisting of voyeuristic photographs of bikini clad female celebrities and reality TV ‘stars’ cavorting on the beach.
If this objectification of women on an industrial scale doesn’t play some part in the normalisation of the sort of misogynistic attitudes lie behind the sexual misconduct that the likes of Harvey Weinstein find themselves accused, I’d be very surprised. After all, it is a short step from the sort of breast groping these papers ‘tsk tsk’ about on one page to clandestinely taken photos of women in their underwear that they have on a subsequent page. These newspapers’ obsession with certain female celebrities is truly creepy – Rachel Riley, for instance, is a favourite for the attentions of the Mail, which gives virtually daily updates on what she was wearing on Countdown and how much leg or cleavage was on display. If I was doing this with regard to a female neighbour -giving online updates of their attire and so on – it would undoubtedly be classified as stalking. Again, I can’t help but feel that this another case of the media effectively ‘normalising’ an aberrant behaviour. Overall, their message seems clear: these women are public property, to be ogled over by men at will. Is it any wonder that some men consequently think that it is OK to routinely sexually abuse women for real?
But, I hear some of you say, how can you condemn the tabloids for the objectification of women when you spend so much time here discussing exploitation films which frequently do the same thing? Well, the answer there is, I feel, quite straightforward. Such movies make no bones about what they are doing: they don’t pretend to be art (some do pretend to be documentaries, granted) or ‘news’. The people involved in making them fully understood what was going on and willingly participated in their production. My problem with the media is their hypocrisy on the issue. They want to have their cake and eat it too – condemning the antics of sex offenders on the one hand while effectively encouraging their attitudes and behaviour on the other.
But we shouldn’t be surprised at the UK media’s reluctance to admit its complicity in encouraging sex offenders. After all, it is still in denial over its role in creating so called ‘fake news’: nothing to do with the tabloids, it is all the fault of the internet. But, in reality, if you want to see ‘fake news’ then just look on the back pages of most British tabloids. They call it ‘football news’ or ‘transfer speculation’ but, in truth, it is fake news in its purest form. Day in, day out, the sports pages of the likes of the Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Star are just chock full of completely made up stories about how this player or that is going to move from club A to club B for a huge transfer fee. All presented as fact. As someone who follows the Spurs, (I can’t in all honesty describe myself as a Tottenham ‘fan’ in the trues sense, as these days my support is confined to the armchair), I’m very familiar with this sort of fake news: these newspapers seem to be trying to sell our best players on a daily basis. Most frequently, of course, it is Harry Kane they are linking with big money moves to Manchester United or, since the Champions League match with them, Real Madrid. But, of late, they’ve also been busy selling Deli Alli and Danny Rose (even though he’s still recovering from a long term injury) to every leading club in Europe. They never let the facts get in the way of their stories: how many times does Harry Kane have to say that he wants to be a ‘one club player’ and isn’t looking for a move, how many times do Mauricco Pochettino and Daniel Levy have to say that their best players aren’t for sale?
But it is all to no avail, because these kinds of stories aren’t based upon ‘facts’ in any established understanding of what the term means. Sometimes they take their cue from articles in Spanish or Italian newspapers – which they then cite as ‘sources’. The trouble is that these ‘sources’ are themselves notorious for completely making up stories. Sometimes they are ‘extrapolated’ from comments someone in the game has made. Hence, Real manager Zinidane Zidane praising Harry Kane before and after the Champions League fixture the other week is spun into the ‘fact’ that Real are going to make a bid for Kane that Spurs can’t possibly turn down. Indeed, some of the more creative back page hacks brought in the ‘fact’ that former Spur Gareth Bale’s days at Real are numbered to report that the Spanish club were prepared to offer him to Spurs as part of cash plus player exchange for Kane. All completely baseless. Many stories, though, have even less foundation in fact, seemingly constructed off of the back of some rumour someone ‘In the Know’ tweeted on Twitter. They always turn out to be fantasy, though.
The point of all this is that press commentators always go on about ‘fake news’ as if it is some new phenomena, unique to the internet age. The reality is that it has been going on for as long as anyone can remember on the back pages of our tabloids. And, let’s face it, if they are happy to make up sports stories, then they aren’t going to have any qualms about making stuff up for their front pages, as well. It’s no coincidence that these self same tabloids which keep making up football transfer stores – complete with sensational headlines – are simultaneously running breathlessly pro-Brexit stories on their front pages – complete with sensational headlines. These front page stories, upon examination, are as bereft of actual facts as those on the back pages. So, let’s stop blaming the web for ‘fake news’ and place the blame where it belongs: the back pages of right wing tabloids.
Well, I’ve ranted on even longer than usual, so, until next time, keep it sleazy – provided the world hasn’t ended before then.