A slop bucket on every front page

I've been a bit busy this month. Well, I say 'busy'. I mean 'I've been playing LA Noire until I finished it so sod you lot'.

But that's only one of the things I've been up to. To prepare for the broadcast of 'All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace', I've been rewatching old Adam Curtis documentaries. Curtis isn't everyone's cup of tea, but he is mine. And I really, really like tea.

'The Century Of The Self' is excellent. It's been a while since I've seen it - years before I even started this here blog - so how what it says applies to newspapers hasn't occurred to me before.

'The Century Of The Self' covers how Sigmund Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays, influenced the world of marketing and PR by including elements of psychoanalytic theory, and how this in turn affected the world of politics.

Bernays changed the concept of market research by introducing the focus group - moving away from the process of asking logical, rational questions about products towards allowing groups to talk freely about how products made them feel. Emotion became the most important factor in marketing, and Bernays' most famous success was to break the taboo on women smoking by making it a symbol of freedom and emancipation.

Politicians took advantage of these tactics, and the last part, 'Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering' focuses on how Clinton and Blair both used focus groups talking about how they felt to inform their messages and how they marketed themselves. If it were filmed any later than 2002, Curtis could have easily included David Cameron, with his rubbish YouTube videos, cycling to work in front of a huge car driving his stuff and hugging hoodies.

The interesting thing about newspapers is how they sit in both of these worlds.

They're all about selling products - newspapers and audiences. The newspapers get bought by punters in shops and the audience gets sold to advertisers. The audience is probably the more important of these two since advertisng raises more money than the cover price, especially when we're talking about free sheets. Paul Dacre has boasted before about the number of 'quality readers' the Daily Mail attracts. He means ABC1 readers - the ones with money who can afford to buy any luxury items advertisers might want to pay him money to push in his newspaper. No good trying to sell expensive stuff to people who can't afford it.

But they're also about pushing political messages. The political messages are one of the many ways they attract the audience they sell to advertisers. One reason (and it is only one of loads) the right wing press push the anti-global warming message so disproportionately may have something to do with the need to sell advertising space to corporations selling big, petrol guzzling behemoths. It's so much easier to do that when you can say, 'Hey! Our audience is X million per day with X amount of disposable income and guess what? They don't give shit one about how much your new model with the cow-catcher will fuck the world up for everyone else. In fact, they mostly don't believe it'll do any damage at all'.

So, in order to sell an audience whose emotions advertisers can appeal to in order to sell whatever it is they're advertising, newspapers attract readers by appealing to their emotions with iffy political messages that have about as much evidential support as, well, an advert selling you freedom in the mountains instead of the car you're actually being asked to buy.

The anti-global warming approach is just one example. Take today's Daily Mail and Daily Express front pages. 'A SLOP BUCKET IN EVERY HOME' shouts the Mail, and 'DUSTBIN CHAOS ON THE WAY' squeals the Express. Are bins the most important thing in the country at the moment? Are they really?

As you'd expect, both papers' headlines aren't exactly rational or dispassionate. The Mail goes for the jugular with 'slop bucket', a description designed only to conjure up horrible images (how is a 'slop bucket' different from 'a bin' when you can chuck all your food waste in a bin?) The Express decides to tell us about DUSTBIN CHAOS that's definitely on the way. But do either of these tell us anything that would contribute rationally to any debate?

Not really. The real story is that because, wouldn't you know it, actual government is a bit more complicated than armchair pontificating to appeal to people's emotions, the coalition is rolling back its promise to have weekly bin collections. Instead, people might have to separate their food waste from their recycling into bins that councils will be encouraged to collect - wait for it - every week.

In terms of a rational debate, this actually removes one of the arguments of people who get het up about bins. I know this because I subjected myself to reading all Richard Littlejohn's books, which I think makes me an expert about what people who moan about bins say. And about fifteen percent out of twenny more stupider.

This argument goes that it's unhygenic to collect bins only once every two weeks because smelly, dirty food remains are left too long to rot and attract vermin. The new plans should mean that the smelly, rotting stuff that attracts vermin is collected exactly as quickly as the bin enthusiasts would like.

But the tabloid fascination with bins has nothing to do with a rational debate, and everything to do with appealing to emotion. The papers are targeting the 'can't be arsed to do anything extra with rubbish' market, and they're offering ad hoc resoning for why that's an okay position to take. For the Express, this means saying that the new change will cause chaos with no evidence at all, and for the Mail this means the most sophisticated of all rhetorical devices - namecalling.

And the tabloids are so good at selling political positions by appealing to emotions that political parties go beyond just copying the approach. They actually steal the nonsense positions themselves. The reason the new headlines can talk about u-turns and whatnot is that Eric Pickles read the papers and stole one of their wheezes for himself. And it's not the only time he's done this stuff. Who cares whether Christmas was actually banned, or whether elf n safety has gorn mayyyd or if it's even possible to have weekly bin collections if you can attract X number of ABC1s with X amount of disposable income to vote for you if you promise to do something about them?

The thing is, newspapers market themselves as being rational representations of what is going on in the world. Even Richard Littlejohn pretends to be just giving the facts when not even the news section of the paper he writes for does that.

It seems everything's a product, and you can't trust anyone's messages about anything when you're deciding who to vote for or what should be done about anything or even what's happening at all in the first place.  And you can expect more of the same in future.

I hesitate to use the term 'false consciousness', but Jesus.


Anonymous said...

"by making it a symbol of freedon and emancipation"


Five Chinese Crackers said...

Ooh. A typo. Fixed now - no-one will ever know.

sianandcrookedrib said...

In Bristol, they collect our 'rubbish' once a fortnight, and our 'food bin' and glass/paper/cardboard recycling once a week. it is really quite easy.

iain said...

There's also "Twenny" - "And about fifteen percent out of twenny more stupider."

Bins here have been collected like this for years, one week rubbish, the next week food and garden waste. I've not noticed an increase in the amount of rats or vermin around (0) and no-one else seems to have noticed the chaos.

The only problem I have is remembering which bin goes out, but thats quickly solved by having a sneaky peek out on the street and seeing what colour of bins your neighbours have left out. Oh, that makes me a nosy neighbour I guess. Maybe thats why the mail is against it.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

There's also "Twenny" - "And about fifteen percent out of twenny more stupider."

Umm...those were deliberate.

Stonyground said...

We make compost, feed leftovers to the chickens, recycle via the bins in Asda carpark and produce one very small binbag that goes in our green bin. I suppose we are not typical but monthly collections would actually cover our needs.

Anonymous said...

"It seems everything's a product, and you can't trust anyone's messages" ... this includes anthropogenic climate change which you've been sold by another set of papers ...

Charles Mingus said...

What a brilliant post. I liked the "And about fifteen percent out of twenny more stupider" bit.

I thought the Mail would be all for slop buckets since they were also one of the policies promoted by thegreatestbritishprimeministerever(Winston Churchill) and were around at a time when thisoncegreatcountry was a, err, once great country.

Hannah said...

Um, actually, anthropogenic climate change is well-known scientific consensus, and has little significant dissent, which is nevertheless blown well out of proportion by a high proportion of the popular media. The fact that two opposing sides are represented by newspapers does not mean necessarily that anybody with an opinion has been "sold" their position by the newspapers; it just means that some newspapers happen to be on the side of solid scientific evidence whereas others are not. If David Cameron says that two and two equal four, and I concur that two and two do indeed equal four, I have not been brainwashed by David Cameron, and indeed agreeing with David Cameron is a loathsome possibility to me; I just happen to be able to assess the validity of a statement.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Heh. Wondered if any global warming 'sceptics' would turn up when I was writing that bit.

Yours would be a good observation if 'other newspapers' were printing stuff about how humans are the likely cause of climate change in the face of the vast majority of climate scientists and the biggest scientific foundations in the world.

But, you know, they're not.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

That last comment was directed at 'Anonymous' by the way.

James said...

It made for an interesting couple of days on the Express frontpage.
Monday: 'Foreign Aid?! Piss Off, Britain's Skint'.
Tuesday: 'Fuck Sorting Out My Recycling, Just Send That Big Lorry Round Twice as Often and Let Me Dump All My Shit in it'

Daz said...

"... this includes (anthropogenic climate) change which you've been sold by another set of papers ...

I find it interesting that, over the years, we could have inserted any number of things into the part I bracketed. Smoking, passive smoking, use of seat-belts, acid rain, CFCs, leaded petrol, even drink-driving...

The list goes on, and it seems some people either never learn or are determined to rationalise their destructive behaviour no matter what the cost.

merrick said...

The newspapers are indeed dealing with the most important issues of the day. The government asserts this clearly, with Eric Pickles affirming ‘it’s a basic right for every English man and woman to be able to put the remnants of their chicken tikka masala in their bin without having to wait a fortnight for it to be collected.’

I'm not sure how he feels about rubbish collections in Wales; maybe that's where the English men and women are going to dump their tikka remnants.

But anyway, this is a basic fundamental right. Makes up for all those other rights to social care that he's taking away.

Anonymous said...


"anthropogenic climate change which you've been sold by another set of papers"

Those papers being scientific papers that have been peer reviewed and validated by scientists in the field. Rather than, you know, the clueless amateurs with no scientific knowledge whose word you take without question for some reason...

Anonymous said...

Although much is made of citizenship, the reality is that we are all treated as consumers. Citizens have rights and responsibilities, but consumers only have rights. This attitude results in a society with a strong sense of entitlement, but not responsibility. Responsibility is important, but it belongs to someone else, not me. I am entitled to have all my desires fulfilled, but if I am inconvenienced in any way someone else must be to blame.

meatpie said...

If only we read Chomsky,read the guardian,watched Curtis and banned the mail. Then truly this country will/would awake from the fog thats has surrounded it. Its only the left/liberal intellectual vanguard like yourself that keeps me sane.
RIP Brian
Free Julian