Friday, November 21, 2008

The Daily Stereotype

Whenever a stand-up comedian or sitcom needs a shortcut for describing a ranting, railing, angry and usually Right Wing person, they will frequently use Daily Mail Reader. Have you ever stopped to wonder why?

Stereotypes have always been used in joke-telling; 'Irish' or 'Polish' are used (not so much these days) to indicate stupidity, just as 'Scottish' or 'Jewish' depicts parsimonious skinflintery. However, we all know that Irish people are no dafter than any other ethnic group just as Scots are not particularly tight-fisted. These verbal shortcuts - rightly or wrongly - are simply handy comic stereotypes that allow the telling of a joke. Without them, gags simply don't work. For example:

A very stupid astronaut decided to try and land on the Sun. When asked if this wasn't ridiculously dangerous, they said, "It's okay. I'm going at night".

Did you hear about the miserly pervert who asked children, "Do you want to buy some sweeties?"

See? It's arguable that they were funny gags to begin with but now they're not funny at all. By not having the shortcuts, we may be culturally sensitive and politically correct, but we are also forced to describe the character traits of the person involved and, as the result, our punchline becomes weakened. It becomes more of a feeble slapline.

But lest you think that this is some pro-racist rant (no, I'm not on the leaked BNP members' list), please do bear in mind that as a Westcountry boy I've been subjected to more 'sheep shagger' or 'six toes' jokes than I care to remember. But do they offend me? Hell no. Do I think that the tellers believe that all Cornishman are inbred or habitually have sex with animals? Of course not. All of which noodling brings me back to the stereotype of Daily Mail readers. Are they really the rabid, slavering, letter-writing NIMBYs* that comedians would have us believe they are? Is the stereotype valid? I'd like to think not, but I'm starting to have my doubts ...

I saw the paper on the newsstands this morning and was struck by the lead story. Yes, they gave over the front page to the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand story yet again. The Mail is still shaking it like a pitbull with a dead squirrel. Here's how it began (lifted from the online edition):

BBC chiefs spark further outrage as Ross gets to keep £6m-a-year job despite 'deplorable' prank call.

'The BBC faced growing anger today after Jonathan Ross was cleared to return to his £6million-a-year job. The disgraced presenter, 48, will face no further action for his part in making obscene telephone calls to actor Andrew Sachs, despite the BBC Trust condemning his conduct as 'deplorable' and 'unjustifiably offensive'. '

I took some issue with this. Firstly, is there really 'further outrage'? And this 'growing anger' they mention ... where is it? I'm not seeing it on the streets, or in other newspapers, or hearing it from the lips of people I meet. I'm also interested in the use of the word 'obscene'. As I understand it - as someone with 29 years of police service under my belt - 'obscene' usually means the use of certain very strong swear words, or pornographic or graphically violent imagery. None of these were present in Ross and Brand's silly stunt. I can't argue with 'deplorable', 'unjustifiable' or 'offensive'. But 'obscene'? I'm afraid not.

The front page continued in much the same vein, decrying the amount that Ross earns per year. Never once was his wage compared to that of Premiership footballers or supermodels or pop stars or captains of industry. The feature then ended with a comment from BBC Trust Chair Sir Michael Lyons who said that Ross (who has 'a three-year £18million contract' - in case you'd forgotten), had been 'held to account' by being suspended for three months. It was pretty obvious from the overall tone of the piece that the Mail wholeheartedly believed that he should have been sacked.

Now, to my mind, Ross has been punished. Regardless of how much he earns, he's been publicly villified and suspended without pay for three months. That's pretty harsh for a prank phonecall. And you must take into account the fact that he is someone who thrives on public adoration and fame. Media stars are so hungry for the limelight that they will often present any old piece of TV garbage just to stay on air. I'm sure that he takes tremendous glee from his pay packet, but it's the fame and adulation that Wossy craves most. And he's had that all of that taken away from him ... and I'd suggest that he's also seriously damaged his future career prospects. That's enough surely?

Apparently not, according to Mail readers. Here's just a small sample of some of the comments added to the Daily Mail website today:

I will not renew my licence when it runs out. I will stop watching all TV.

What is most offensive is that this disgusting man gets £6 million a year. This puerile idiot in no way justified getting this kind of money even before the abusive messages he left to Andrew Sachs. I would like my licence fee back. I am sick of paying for BBC rubbish. LET'S HAVE A SERIOUS CAMPAIGN AND GET THE LICENCE FEE SCRAPPED.

Well......the BBC have just saved me £140 per year........! Cancelled my direct debit when Dross was suspended......will NOT be reinstating now he is 'staying'. the BBC still catagorise malicious and obscene telephone messages to an elderly man as a 'PRANK'

It is Sir Michael and Mark Thompson who need to learn a lesson. They clearly do not understand the breadth of the outrage that this transmission caused.

I am so angry that those yellow-bellies at the BBC have not had the guts to sack Ross. What sort of message is this "forgiveness" going to send out to youngsters who watch and listen to this dreadful person. It is my money that is wasted on Ross and I object very strongly. He must GO!

Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, together with entire editorial crew on duty that night should have been sacked immediately. As it is, Ross remains an ignorant fool who is unlikely ever to recover. I for one will never watch him or listen to him again.

I do not intend to buy another TV licence all the while this obscene filth stays with the BBC. Still him and the BBC are made for one another.

I would like to know why the Police have not taken action for abusive telephone call. I have never had Ross on my wireless and as we don't have TV I do not look at him either. It is up to the you, the public, to vote with your on/off switch.

Having heard the CEO on the wireless this morning I expected this result, the management of the BBC are do not want to know, they know best its about time the airwaves were cleaned up.

So Mr Ross keeps his job and his highly overpaid salary. He will not change, he got away with it once, so he will keep on keeping on. Where do I sign up for the "Ground swell" of not paying my TV licence. WHY is it that we the public have to pay for foul mouthed overgrown schoolboys and the obvious Left Wing side of the BEEB?

I hope by now, that the BBC has finally run out of whitewash! I have never in my 76 years ever heard such an outrageous piece of blindness to morality. A lot of hot air has been unleashed over this issue but this "BBC Trust" must have lost its senses and its sense of shame!

How dare they fly in the face of public opinion this way? Is the BBC stupid as well as morally bankrupt?

This is the end of the BBC. And they have brought it upon themselves because they have stubbornly refused to take notice of the majority of viewers.

It's extraordinary isn't it? So much vitriol and hatred. And all directed at Ross and the BBC by people who undoubtedly never even heard the broadcast on their 'wireless' (many seemed to think it had been televised) and, in the case of one extremely offended person, from a man who doesn't own a TV. I was genuinely stunned by the arrogance of it all. Do these people really believe that this incident means 'the end of the BBC' or that they represent the majority of public opinion?

I'm sorry people, but you're wrong, so wrong. Even among your own ranks, there is dissent. Hidden among the acrimonious rhetoric and foaming disdain, there were Daily Mail readers who happily support Ross. They are a minority, I'll admit, with maybe one supporting comment for every 15 calls for Ross's sacking. But they are there all the same and here are some of their slightly more reasoned comments:

For gods sake give it a rest. Mr Sachs and family have moved on from it and its about time you lot did. Its old news taking up too much paper. Oh and personally i never found the incident funny but i find the fake uproar after it most amusing especially as 99% of you complainers didnt even listen to the broadcast

This is ridiculous now. There was no mention that Ross would lose his job completely and even Sachs himself said he didn't want anyone punished...just an apology! When all's said and done, why was it broadcast in the first place?! There are more 'obscene' things going on in the world at the moment!

Common sense prevails. Yes it was a nasty prank, but the BBC must not allow itself to be dictated to by a howling minority whipped up into a frenzied state by a newspaper with its own political agenda. Only TWO people complained when it was broadcast. The rest were reacting to a media story days later. There are far more people who heard the broadcast and who didn't complain. I pay my licence fee and I want to see and hear Russell Brand, Jonathan Ross and all the other edgy comedians on my television. On the other hand, I object to funding 'EastEnders', Radio 4 and all the daytime television I don't watch.

Put it in perspective, these are just people, after all - in a normal workplace people don't usually get sacked for doing one thing wrong (unless it's a criminal act), they usually get a warning or disciplinary procedure. Back to normality please.

Good, I'm glad he gets to keep his job. I think there are probably more than 42,000 people who find Jonathan Ross funny.

And the deliciously sarcastic:

Oh my what a surprise. I wonder how many of those outraged people who complained will now refuse to pay their licence fee and refuse to watch the BBC Blah ...

There are more obscene things going on in the world. There were virtually no complaints at the time the broadcast went out. And 99% of those people who complained didn't even hear it.

So, sadly, I can't see the Daily Mail Reader stereotype disappearing in a hurry, can you? It's become self-perpetuating now. It's become such an embedded stereotype that there's even an online Daily Mail 'Headlineator' for you to create your own front page with (I created my own as seen above).

Needless to say, I haven't taken out a subscription. I prefer my news with just a little more objectivity and a lot less bile.

*NIMBY - 'Not in my back yard!' - a catchall nickname for people who protest about new roads, prisons, social housing, airport runways or, indeed, anything else that may be builot near to where they live.


chris hale said...

Six toes?

In Lead Balloon last night, Rick Spleen (Jack Dee) was trying to drum up some interest in his family history for a forthcoming TV show by pointing out that his grandmother had six toes.

Spleen's daughter's boyfriend Ben asked, 'But don't most people have ten?'

Stuart Peel said...

The 'growing anger' may only be discernible in the Daily Mail offices. Oh, and those of the 'Express' too.

chris hale said...

Stuart's right. How often have we seen the words, 'Pressure was growing last night...'? Newspapers do have this innate ability to press on with a campaign, be it 'scrap the 1p coin' or 'ban the chihuahua', regardless of the fact that bigger stories are breaking and the world is falling about their ears!

Debby said...

Has the Daily Mail heard about the Congo? Or the sad state of the American economy? Maybe they just haven't heard about the other stuff happening in the world.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Chris, Stu, Debby - All very true. Here's what I want - a newspaper that states the facts without opinion. Oh, and I want those facts to actually have some bearing on a story of some significance. Two overgrown schoolboys doing a radio prank that went a bit sour is hardly front page news, no matter what they earn.

Stuart Peel said...

Ah yes but don't you see that those two overgrown schoolboys are getting more sex/earning more money than us and we just can't have that !!

And to Hell with the Congo, it doesn't affect the price of my house so who cares !?

Lisa said...

I just can't read the Daily Mail. One of my colleagues takes it and if it's left on the table, and I pick it up, I'm swearing like a trooper within five seconds. I think the thing is a vast majority of those who do read it want to believe that there is a hoodie on every corner, all teenagers are knife wielding maniacs and Johnny Foreigner is on the make - look at the witch hunt with that poor woman who was given a luxury home to live in when she came seeking asylum, like she strolled in the benefit office and demanded it. It panders to their ideas and makes them feel safe in the knowledge that this country is going to hell in a handcart. Not that they'd actually do anything about it but post their ignorant outrage on the DM web page.

I'd love to read a non-biased newspaper but, I suppose, we aren't impartial by nature and that's what they play too.

John Soanes said...

If you crave a summary of similar posts from the BBC website, you might want to check out Speak You're Branes, but be aware it can be rather depressing!

Stevyn Colgan said...

Stu - True words never so sarcastically well spoken.

Lisa - Where have you been, hmmm? Hmmm? Lovely to have you back.I couldn't agree more with what you've written. The one that's bugging me most at the moment is the campaign to name the mother of Baby P. Why? What possible good can it do anyone? It's a horrible, tragic story ... but what good can ever come of naming and shaming? It'll result in a lynch mob and, if the mother survives, honest taxpayers' money will be spent paying for her to remain in hiding forever. Still, that'll give the old duffers something else to moan about I suppose ...

Johnners - I shall go and look almost instantaneously. Wasn't 'Speak your brains' a segment on The Day Today?

John Soanes said...

That's the one!

Lisa said...

Sorry Stevyn, been cultivating the new romance *wink*. Eldest daughter got hitched. It's exhausting...but hoping to get back on track after the 6th December when daughter #1 has big party for wedding and everything should calm back down to a semi-managable pace.


Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa said...

Okay, I think my original post may have been eaten...

I've been tied up with all sorts of things...eldest daughter getting hitched - buggered off to Scotland to do it.

Nursing new romance through the early weeks.


But am hoping to be back on full form after the 6th December when daughter #1 has her beleted wedding reception.