Alessandro Tomé on the rank hypocrisy of British newspaper readers, the feral hostility of Ryanair staff and the sheer folly of those who marry not once but twice or even more
WHAT A SPECTACLE Britain has recently been. No, not the royal wedding with the beautiful pageantry and ‘that’ derrière; not Wimbledon and those glorious matches; not Glastonbury and the mini-mudfest (although that’s getting closer), or even no-longer-so-Royal ‘Ascot Week’ where fist-fights and bottle-throwing have replaced horse racing and elegance as the order of the day. Perhaps one should consider sacking whoever is in charge of the guest list or renaming it ‘Prescott Week’ in honour of the precedent set by the former deputy prime minister when it comes to punch-throwing in public.
The same Lord Prescott is leading the charge for the real spectacle I am referring to: the overnight conversion of this nation from smut journalism lovers to righteous moralists. We have rarely witnessed such a bare-faced overnight volte face in politicians, although that’s more to be expected, but now it’s the whole country, too.
For years, certain newspapers have lived off the money happily handed over to them by huge swathes of the population who couldn’t wait to read the smut they published. An even bigger swathe was doubly smutty in reading them without actually paying for them. This lot loved the dirt and grime but wouldn’t want to be formally associated with it, lest some of the mud stick. And the more money was handed over, the more stories they wanted, the more destruction of people’s lives, the more intrusion in none of their business, the more revelations of no public interest whatsoever.
How many lives were destroyed for no other purpose than the paying public’s entertainment for every useful, meaningful revelation, one wonders. And we think the Romans were bad, throwing Christians to the lions.
This nation loved it all, gulped it all, paid for it all, like no other in the world. And now suddenly, these same people who enabled it, politicians and plebeians alike, decide to draw the line with their suddenly dusted-off morals. They never asked before how the information was obtained, as nobody really wanted to know. But none of them, however dumb, could have honestly thought it was all by legal, let alone moral, means.
But they loved the smut too much to want to risk ending it by asking too many questions. Many people know their partner cheats on them; they just don’t want someone else to tell them and ruin their comfortable self-denial. Same principle here, deniability and self-delusion.
Now that it is all exposed, we need to clean our conscience. We need that deniability. It wasn’t our fault these people were breaking the law at our behest and with our money. The standards we apply to others should not be applied to us. We either knew what they were up to or should have known, but unlike in finance that doesn’t make us guilty, or does it? Yes, it is the unscrupulous editors that were in charge, the amoral journalists and allegedly corrupt police officers that are guilty and may well go to jail. But what should be done to us who financed it all, empowered it all?
And don’t we love to see politicians now so appalled at the ‘revelations’ of how much control a single family has over a substantial amount of the public-opinion-swaying media — the same politicians who have for generations cosied up to such barons. This is not new — it has been around for ever. Even Churchill needed Beaverbrook and son. Can you imagine the financial value of the free advertising a politician can get by securing support from certain newspapers (and the media in general), with no cost other than to their morals?
We restrict political party donations in fear of the undue influence these donors may seek as a consequence, yet they pale in value-comparison to what a friendly editor or proprietor means. It’s the beast they created and refused to muzzle, for if they handled it right they could unleash its fearsome power to their benefit, if they fed it wrong it would kill them. The ultimate pact with the Devil.
Hence the Press Complaints Commission, which is that wonderful toothless thing called a ‘self-regulating body’. It’s made up of ‘friends and family’ from the same press, who have barely upheld a complaint since they exist in protection of ‘freedom’ of the press. So now it has been decided that ‘freedom’ has gone too far, as if it should come as a big surprise, that given all this power and influence and self-regulating approach, someone should overstep the inexistent, invisible, undefined mark.
Mud-flinging is now at full tilt and so entertaining to watch, were it not for the lives of innocent people being manipulated and indecently pored over. Labour, a paragon when it comes to conflicts of interest, with a leader elected not by a majority of its members but by subterfuge by the unions, is throwing mud at the Conservatives for partying too often with the media barons, with the Liberals morosely looking on as nobody of influence ever had any interest in them. The most guilty of the lot, the public at large, are throwing mud at everyone but themselves.
I think Britain should try a radically different system, rather than pretend to tinker with the current one as will undoubtedly be the case. One in particular has been tested in Italy for a while now — rather successfully, as it makes everything clear and transparent, if totally dysfunctional. Let one man control the vast majority of the press and television in this country and then elect him prime minister so he can also control state television and be done with the pretences once and for all.
Illustration by Jeremy Leasor
On the increasingly ‘prickly’ subject of Ryanair and its general abuse of basic human behaviour, someone sent me the following joke which I cannot help but publish, but only because it is very funny.
A guy is sitting in the bar in departures at a busy airport. A beautiful woman walks in and sits down at the table next to him. He decides that because she’s got a uniform on she’s probably an off-duty flight attendant. So he decides to have a go at picking her up by identifying the airline she flies for, thereby impressing her greatly.
He leans across to her and says the Delta Airlines motto, ‘We love to fly and it shows.’
The woman looks at him blankly. He sits back and thinks up another line. He leans forward again and delivers the Air France motto, ‘Winning the hearts of the world.’ Again she just stares at him with a slightly puzzled look on her face.
Undeterred, he tries again, this time saying the Malaysian Airlines motto, ‘Going beyond expectations.’
The woman looks at him sternly and says ‘What the fuck do you want?’
‘Ah!’ he says, sitting back with a smile on his face. ‘Ryanair.’
As I may have mentioned before, I usually have made it a rule not to attend second weddings of people I know when they are the result of choice. My argument goes along the lines that I somehow feel that it is the celebration of a previous failure in (possibly) effort, (probably) honesty, (certainly) communication and (finally) bad judgment mixed with a dose of bad luck, too. While in general we do not tend to celebrate recidivists, somehow when it comes to marriage we do.
By all means if you don’t know them well, go I say. But if you do and you are invited again, you were probably involved in the first attempt and share some responsibility. Also, you are likely to have suffered through endless conversations, debates, tantrums and tears as the previous marriage fell apart. So why would you sanely want to do it again? However, the reality is that, headaches and expense apart, they are still your friends and you cannot but help being taken in by the boundless hope of eternal happiness.
I would still maintain that third weddings are a must, for clearly reason has left the room and only madness mixed masochism remains, which is going to make for a hell of a good party! You’ve got to love a serial offender.