The Freak Show business model of modern journalism

I attended a blogging event over the weekend which I want to write up at some point – I’m still gathering my thoughts somewhat – and I had the chance to get across my basic disgust at the disinformation printed as a matter of course by the tabloid media. What I didn’t get round to saying was how a substantial amount of journalism had become simply sticking a few pictures of a women in a bikini and writing about how she looks. Every day on the Mail website you will see articles like this one: ‘Wild Thing no more: A fuller figured Neve Campbell emerges from the Hawaii sea in bikini’. You all know the drill:

  1. Said celebrity is a bit too fat for the Daily Mail.
  2. What is worse is that they used to look incredible – here, have some photos of said celebrity 12 years ago so you can all shake your heads in disgust at how she has let herself go.
  3. You will notice that the old photos of said celebrity feature naked breasts, we have pixelated the nipples because we think that might offend you. We do not think this kind of ‘journalism’ could offend you.
  4. The celebrity happens to have a new movie out. We’ll list the names of all the main actors, along with the name of the film as many times as possible. This helps our website get as many hits as possible.
  5. You’ll notice we have also put photos of said celebrity over the years looking nice at film premieres. This is because we have lots of these photos on file, it is effortless for us to print them and we know how many of our visitors prefer pictures to real journalism.
  6. Please enjoy the film trailer. Again, we are just making sure we hoover up as many Google searches as possible. It also helps to bulk up an article that essentially could be reduced to ‘woman goes to beach’.

This kind of article forms the bulk of Mail Online content and it is not journalism. Furthermore, it is creating the atmosphere in which women are reduced to objects that can fit into three main categories*:

  1. A women with a ‘fuller figure’, meaning that they used to look really slender and have let themselves go; or that they have always ‘bucked the trend’ by seeming happy to have a fuller figure. These women are bad because with a bit of effort they could conform to the Mail’s exacting standards of womanhood.
  2. A women who is too skinny. The Mail will inform you of the ‘shocking’ diets these women follow in order to maintain an unhealthy figure – they will accompany this information with photos of said ‘bony’ body in a bikini if possible. This celebrity should in theory gain weight (which would also be covered as they would then enter the unacceptable territory of category 1) but the Mail will sometimes let their approval of category 2 slip by referring to such women as ‘slender’, or having a small frame. This implies that they are not unhealthy and that weight is natural. This category is therefore bad in some ways – in that strict diets are shocking and skinny women look all bony; but at the same time because categories 1 & 3 are even more unacceptable we can only conclude that all women should strive to be in category 2, even if the Mail will still criticise both the end result (whilst also happily ogling the end result) and the way it was achieved (even if they admire their self-control and discipline whilst on such diets, discipline sadly lacking from categories 1 & 3).
  3. A women who is grossly overweight. These women are clearly really fat and as such the Daily Mail will delight in taking photos of them and giving their readers free reign to abuse said women in the comments. Often the worst thing about category 3 women is that they seem proud of their weight, or at the very least they look ‘unconcerned’ when wondering around in public. Generally these women need to be shamed into taking the ‘shocking diets’ which will then lead them into the criticism faced by category 2, along with photographs showing protruding bones and so forth. However, category 2 is infinitely preferable to the Daily Mail.

The same website that criticises Neve Campbell for daring to age and having a ‘fuller figure’ (which appears to be to the untrained eye** a very nice figure) can happily feature an article not far away criticising (ostensibly) a different female celebrity for being ‘skinny’: ‘”I ate 1,000 calories a day”: Skinny Whitney Port reveals her punishing diet secrets’. Yet the Daily Mail only refers to her as skinny in the headline, they use the much more positive ‘slender’ throughout the article to describe her. Women cannot win. The best they can hope for is to be a category 2, which is to be dangerously obsessive about their weight and diet at the expense of their long-term health.

The Daily Mail website is a modern freakshow in which women and men are paraded in order to be mocked by the visiting reader. It is also an unintended freakshow in which the sorry business model of modern journalism is revealed: pack in the reader by appealing to their basest instincts. It seems that body fascism along with a large dose of patronising misogyny sells. Sadly, because it sells it is also here to stay.


* I think you can also put male celebrities into the same categories, except replace really skinny in category 2 with really muscular.
** I am aware after my exposure to proper journalists on the weekend that I am not a real journalist as I haven’t had the formal training which makes real journalists the very elite of ‘writing stuff down’. Presumably real journalists will be mocking my perception of Neve Campbell because they can see her figure in a proper journalistic context, i.e. they will be sat there going: ‘Sure, I mean a casual non-journalist would think she looks OK, but put a photo of her with her tits out taken 12 years ago next to a photo of her now and you can see just how wrong she is.’

6 Comments

  • Jon says:

    Cracking post. I think that, in your ‘category 2′, you’ve captured the hypocrisy/confusion/double standards/opportunism of the Mail’s approach to body image.

    Example: Paris Hilton is really thin! But now she’s put on a dress (whose designer we happen to have just namechecked) she looks great!

    Another point I’d like to make is the Mail’s approach to tits. Sometimes (e.g., Leona Lewis) they will criticise someone for wearing ‘revealing’ clothing, while publishing pictures of, say, Paris Hilton’s tits. It is *ridiculous*.

  • As a fellow unreal journalist, I would like to support your assessment of Neve Campbell’s figure. I say I would like to, but I can’t because I lack the training to make skilled judgements on such matters.

    I am also a woman, and, as such, would be best kept in the kitchen, in a pretty dress, cooking low calorie food for a punishing diet regime for myself whilst providing my family with wholesome, healthy food, if The Mail is to be believed.

  • Thje other two classic Mail stories are ‘celebrity goes to local shop without bothering to put make up on’ and ‘Why does this celebrity look so grumpy when a photographer tries to take a picture of them doing the weekly shop at the supermarket?’

  • Anton Vowl says:

    Stories saying “Ooh, isn’t she fat/thin/fat again/maybe a bit thin all of a sudden” is the reason why the profession of journalism is held in such esteem throughout the land.

  • Matt says:

    Solution: Kitten Blocker

    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/235801/

    No more nasty Daily Mail!

  • Charlie says:

    Happily all the highest rated comments are basically saying “WTF Daily Mail? You is shit.” They suck.

    But the real story, hinted at in you post, is that they use articles like this to drive traffic to their website, to increase the number of visitors so they can charge more for their advertising. This isn’t reporting news that people want to know or (hopefully no one seriously believes this) is important, but just so they can stuff coins into their pockets.

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