Sunday, 1 August 2010
On Friday somebody genuinely asked me:
“What planet are you from?”
There was a valid reason for the question and it made me realise something about myself: I have changed.
Let me tell you a story. On Friday, a group of us hired a minibus and drove to Nottingham to watch day two of the test match between England and Pakistan. I usually try to take in at least one day’s cricket during the summer, heading to Nottingham, Birmingham or, of course, Manchester for a day of sun, cricket and beer (which sometimes involves just beer if the unpredictable British weather decides scupper our plans).
On Friday we enjoyed almost a full day’s cricket and one or two beers with it. In the minibus on the way back, I noticed that one of our fellow travellers had purchased a newspaper, so I thought I would pass the time by reading it.
The newspaper was The Sun.
I use the word “newspaper” when in reality I should use the word “comic”.
The Sun (or to give it the full title The Super Soaraway Sun) is one of three major tabloid newspapers that are driven by the cult of celebrity, strange sensationalist stories and perhaps one or two items of news.
If I had been totally sober I would have read the newspaper shaking my head in disbelief and tutting at the absurdity of the articles. Alas, my brain was under the influence of several pints of the finest ale in Nottinghamshire so the first thing I unleashed on my unsuspecting fellow passengers was my soapbox (which I always carry in my back pocket in case of emergency).
My eyes widened as I read the tales of woe – it took about thirty seconds for this newspaper to unlock the ranting box.
“Who the bloody hell are these people?” I yelled.
A couple of people who had dozed off were suddenly jarred awake by my outburst. A couple of my closest mates looked at each other and as their eyes met, a silent message passed between them:
“Right – get the popcorn out. This should be fun.”
There were absurd stories about celebrities who I had never heard of. I read outlandish headlines describing the antics of these unknown goons with tales that were about as interesting to me as the fly that was crawling on the window next to me:
Somebody from X Factor had snogged somebody else I had never heard of.
A Z-list nobody from the current series of Big Brother had apparently once been arrested for some minor offence.
An unknown wannabe had argued with another unknown wannabe in a night club.
“Who ARE these people?” I cried.
One guy in the minibus, the guy who had bought the newspaper, then asked me what planet I was from. He read this rag regularly and was therefore totally familiar with these people who, to me at least, spent all of their time trying to do controversial things just so that The Sun could report on them.
I disregarded the question and continued to read. When I had exhausted “the news” I drifted into the problem page where an agony aunt answered questions that actually made me laugh out loud, I started to read them aloud and, fuelled by alcohol, giggled like an insane extraterrestrial. I was in tears, howling at the problems some people write in about.
“It’s made up,” I cried amidst gales of laughter. “Who would write in with problems like these?”
In the end, somebody took the paper off me because I was quite literally on the brink of bursting.
The next day the question came back to haunt me. I switched on the TV to watch the news and it all came back to me just before reality kicked in: I am out of touch.
In my younger days, I used to watch soap operas and occasionally read tabloid newspapers, so I had an inkling who most of the stars of tabloid news were. A few years ago at work a group of us used to pop off to the pub for lunch on Friday afternoons and read the three main tabloids, giggling at the stories and trying desperately to find something worth reading.
We used to have a competition called “Pun of the Week” where we would search for the most ridiculous sensationalist headline in all three papers and then vote for the best. I knew who these characters were – I didn’t care for them at all but I had a vague notion.
I no longer read them and haven’t done so for a good fifteen years or so. Occasionally a tabloid crosses my path but within five minutes I have thrown it down in disgust.
I think this is the reason that I am so out of touch. I should perhaps read this crap.
Many years ago, I remember reading about a judge who hadn’t heard of one such wannabe celebrity and he was absolutely pilloried for being so out of touch with society and youth. I joined in the derision; at the time I watched soap operas, listened to the pop charts and watched dreadful Saturday night television and all of those crappy talk shows and light entertainment programmes. I knew who these people were and could not understand why a stuffy old git in a wig would never have heard of them.
Then I came to my senses and my choices changed. Pop music gradually became dreadful. I realised that soap operas were rubbish; my ex-wife used to watch them all the time and I learned to appreciate that there was more to life – so I simply stopped watching them with her. Equally, I saw that most TV on Saturday night, what people would call light entertainment, was actually utter shit. One or two gems surfaced but the majority of it was mind-numbingly tedious and about as entertaining as watching paint dry.
And now I am just like that stuffy old judge; I have no idea who these people are. I have absolutely no idea why they are so fascinating. I simply cannot see why anybody would even be vaguely interested in the lives of these people at all.
Is that wrong?
Am I in the minority here, dear reader?
Am I really a stuffy old git?
Should I get involved in the cult of celebrity?
Don’t worry, dear reader, I am not asking you to be an agony aunt for me. I have already answered these questions and I simply don’t care that I have never heard of a Z-list ex Big Brother wannabe. I don’t care that I regard magazines like OK! and Hello! where readers are invited into celebrity homes to see how the other half lives.
However, there is a part of me that is curious and reading The Sun had stimulated my interest a little. I have done a little research.
I’m not an anthropologist by any means (in fact I might just be a massive challenge to an anthropologist) but I have delved a little into this.
Last night, I was alone in the house with my two cats; Mrs PM had gone out with friends. This gave me the opportunity to watch Saturday night TV to see if I could gain any insight into why people watch this bilge.
First up was Hole In The Wall where a bunch of celebrities have to get through a funny shaped hole in a rapidly moving wall. If they can’t do it, they end up in a pool of water. They can win money for charity apparently. It was awful. The music was irritating, the jokes were unfunny. Even when they celebrities hit the water I didn’t laugh once. It was utter bilge.
Next was 101 Ways To Leave A Gameshow where a bunch of real people compete against each other, with contestants being eliminated in bizarre ways, like being dragged off by a Formula one car, being dropped fifty feet into a pool of water, dropped through a trapdoor or, in last night’s show, being turned over in a stock car with a massive ball of flames. Now I actually enjoyed this – simply because people who fail to answer questions are eliminated in bizarre ways. Okay – the contestants were egotistical maniacs who wanted their fifteen minutes of fame but they were brought crashing down to earth as they were dragged from the show in increasingly terrifying ways (my favourite was the ejector seat).
At this point, however, I had had enough. I’m sorry, dear reader, but there is only so much crap I can take.
But if you are one of those people who love this kind of bland mind-numbing bilge then fear not – I believe there is a new series of The X Factor coming soon which will satisfy the needs of those who crave crap TV and have musical taste that is so shallow, that they wet themselves over the latest dreadful karaoke singers.
And there is more, dear reader. In the interests of research, I have bought two newspapers today instead of just the usual one.
The first is The Sunday Times, which is the flagship Sunday newspaper. It is a serious broadsheet and a bargain at £2. It is vast and enormous. It has eight sections, each of which is a newspaper in its own right and comes with three magazines.
It is so huge that you could use it to wallpaper each house in my street.
As you would expect from such a newspaper, it focuses on the news, covering current affairs, politics, sport, business, health, money, travel, culture and style. There is talk of celebrity but only when these celebrities actually do something newsworthy or are in the news because of their art.
The other newspaper is a tabloid called The Sunday People. You might think that is better value for money at a cost of 95p but that’s where it ends. It is not serious at all, not by any stretch of the imagination. It is just one single newspaper with three little magazines – one of which is a “special” in preparation for the start of the football season next week, listing the fixtures of every club in England and Scotland.
What newsworthy items are contained within these papers then?
The Sunday Times talks about a British killing squad in Afghanistan, 11 year old girls on the pill, a row in the Home Office about a controversial aide to the Home Secretary, Naomi Campbell giving evidence in the Hague at a war crimes trial, more news on the new Conservative government’s cuts, the drop in ratings of the Liberal Democrat Party since the election and the Navy’s attempts to save £10billion. All of this appears on the first two pages and is the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the newspaper contains actual news from home and abroad and not just the antics of the latest supermodel on her Caribbean holiday.
The Sunday People has the following.
The first page is divided into three bits – the first (taking up almost three quarters of the page) is an advert for the fixtures magazine that comes free with the paper. The second, just below that under the headline “Dead Duck” is a taster for the impending death “in a bloodbath” of one of the characters, Jack Duckworth (Dead Duck - Get it?), in the soap opera Coronation Street. Finally right at the top of the page is a picture of a woman’s backside under the headline “Move over J-Lo”.
Let’s turn over to page two.
Ah – some news. Apparently we are going to be attacked by Al-Qaeda because of David Cameron’s views on Pakistan and a couple of other minor stories about the Labour Party leadership elections and some landmines found in Afghanistan.
Page Three? We learn the identity of the owner of the arse on page one – none other than Scary Spice. This takes up almost the entire page. There is also a small story about Frank Lampard, the footballer, buying a £4million house.
So what? Am I alone in thinking that this kind of stuff is not worth the paper it is printed on?
But it gets better. On pages four and five, they expand on the Dead Duck headline from page one, with a double page spread about something that is going to happen in a fictional soap opera on TV some time in the future.
The rest of the paper is pretty much the same with a story about “SuBo” (aka Susan Boyle, the Scottish woman who sang like an angel), Simon Cowell (again) is apparently “stressed”, Cheryl Cole has fallen out with one of her bandmates (who cares?), Charlotte Church wants to fall in love again, David Beckham giving his son a kiss and various other sensationalist stories about other celebrities and nasty people who have done despicable things to each other.
It is truly awful and I can’t think why anybody would buy this thing week in week out.
Am I alone?
There is one thing worth having a look at though: “Dear Rachel” who is “Britain’s Most Straight-Talking Agony Aunt”.
I am absolutely convinced that the people who write letters to agony aunts are simply making it all up. I am sorely tempted to do this myself – for a laugh. And the “sex tips” are even better.
Maybe I should become an internet agony uncle, specialising in people who have problems separating celebrity culture from real life, for example:
People who regard themselves as Kerry Katona’s best friend because they watch a reality TV show about her.
People who think that Katie Price’s new reality TV show is worthy of anything more than the “off” button on a remote control.
People who think that “Jack Duckworth” is a real person.
My advice will be simple:
Get a life!