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Burn The Bun
Member Name: fromage
Date: 03/07/01, updated on 03/07/01 (307 review reads)
Advantages: Sport coverage is good, I'm told.
Disadvantages: Overly populist., Mean spirited., Distasteful.
Having turned over the front page of more issues of The Sun than I care to admit (thanks to the smiling indulgence of colleagues at work), I had a pretty good general impression of the content. I think it’s fair to say that the headlines are often pretty vacuous, and the content of the articles less concerned with the biggest news of the day than with star gossip and scandal. World events and politics (usually a page or two further in than I bothered to go) tend to be presented from a highly biased viewpoint (for example the mighty Bun has pledged to fight Britain’s entry into the Euro with “massive and unmitigated aggression”, and accordingly lambasts pretty much any action of the European Commission, and many of Europe’s most powerful statesmen any chance they get). I never, ever got as far as the sport pages, but have been repeatedly told that they’re good, so in the absence of any real interest of my own I’ll go along with that.
My curiosity, therefore, was more or less along the lines of ‘so, how bad is it?’
It’s pretty bad, to be sure, but it didn’t make me as furious as I thought it might. An
awful lot of people do seem to get very riled up by The Sun, and I’ve had my moments in the past. As a mealy mouthed liberal with mildly socialist leanings I do find myself in disagreement with pretty much everything the editors and journalists have to say for themselves. The idea that millions of people might be influenced by the patronising idiocy of this brightly coloured toilet paper made me pretty cross on occasion. If nothing else reading it for a week and a half has quelled that fear. It convinced me that, wish as it may, The Sun does not have the grip on the hearts and minds of its readership that it likes to think, nor has it ever won an election for anyone (not even poor old Bubble, voted out the week after receiving the paper’s backing).
But anyway, to the content, as from my reading I found plenty of stuff that deserves to be allowed to speak for itself. Regular Sun readers may find this tedious and irritating, and to them I apologise, but I do intend to try to stick to the facts in so far as they agree with what I think and as long as they scan well.
I’ll start at the front. I’ve kept a few front pages, and I can see a pattern. In two cases the front page features a picture of a woman in a bikini. On these, the words are big, but the pictures are much, much bigger. In the third (the morning after the election) the picture is of the newly elected and terrifyingly grinning Prime Minister and is quite small. The words, by contrast, are huge. The justification for the presence of the bikini ladies is dubious at best in terms of story interest (“EXPOSED: LABOUR TV BABE. Soap star tells kids to vote… but is too busy to do it herself”). But scantily clad ladies are an end unto themselves in The Sun, and we must all admit they catch the eye far better than little Tony and the punchy, but still uninspired “BLAIR’S BACK” (exclamation marks don’t seem to be in vogue with the headl
ine writers, surprisingly: presumably it is felt that they detract from the gravitas of the stories). I may be wrong, but I think “BLAIR’S BACK” was the only time the editor’s standards slipped so far as to allow actual news on front page.
I never dared read page two in public, or indeed in front of my wife, but the news content was a little higher as I recall. Major international incidents, stock market crashes and the like go here. And anything relating to Paul McCartney or Michael Barrymore. Page 3 is for fun, of course, and doesn’t do any harm, really. The headline story is usually continued on pages four and five, with big pictures and lots of sub-headings. Then we get into the politics.
Ah, the politics. These are the pages I thought would wind me up. In the week before the election The Sun was determined to fire on all cylinders and devoted a page a day to the most renowned and charismatic of their commentators, the redoubtable Richard Littlejohn. He treated us to a “no-holds-barred” look at each of the party’s leaders. Charles Kennedy was portrayed as “Blair’s useful idiot”. Ouch. But Littlejohn went further: “Charlie’s relationship with Blair is the same as Divine Brown’s relationship with Hugh Grant”. Witty, incisive stuff from which I’m sure Kennedy is still reeling.
Turning to Blair. “A pathological liar”, apparently. “The stench of hypocrisy clings to this government like the rivers of sweat on Blair’s shirts”. “Blair is the family man who moved heaven and earth to change the law to allow homosexual propoganda to be peddled in schools and sixteen-year-old schoolchildren to be sodomised” (actually that last one does wind me up quite a lot, thinking about it).
Hague, however, is as brave as a lion. Despite being “Monstered by the media, sneered at by the self-appointed metropol
itan elite… stitched up by his own colleagues”, whereas “The prime minister panics at the first whiff of cordite”, Littlejohn knows “which one of them I’d rather have fighting beside me in the last ditch”. Hang on. Weren’t The Sun backing Blair in the election? Yes they were, but they’re no pack of lapdogs, that’s for sure!
Whether the labour government deserves to be as popular as it is or not, I can’t help feeling that the nation’s, and thereby The Sun’s readership’s mass embrace of Blairism has thrown The Sun into a philosophical crisis which even after five years of officially backing him they haven’t quite got over. I can think of no other explanation for their allowing vitriol as corrosive and vile as Littlejohn’s above in their pages. The Sun, like its readership, is instinctively conservative. But if the readership backs Blair, The Sun does too, much as they seem to dislike it. The Sun would have us believe that the cart and the horse are the other way around entirely, but the market makes the paper, not vice versa.
“The Sun Says”, the paper’s daily contribution to political philosophy, sets out their stall. It’s readers aims, are its own aims, it states. The Sun is a mouthpiece through which roars the voice of the common man, and the establishment trembles. Inspired by The Sun, the little man can move mountains. “We lead, the others follow”. This following came on the day before polling day: “This week The Times, The Financial Times, Economist, The New Statesman, and Sunday Times all followed The Sun and backed Labour. [that bit should have been in bold and underlined, but I can’t help thinking it really doesn’t deserve it] It isn’t just that the others have followed, it is they are saying the same things – albeit using thousands more words.” (Big vocabulary bad).
The Sun does try to influence its readers, just like every partisan newspaper. It does so using basic language and basic arguments, and drags down the debate to a level where it isn’t a debate at all, just name calling and hair pulling. Just like every partisan tabloid. The reason The Sun is so irritating (aside from Littlejohn) is its air of self importance. The reason this should bother no-one is that The Sun is, at the end of the day, as irrelevant to forming people’s views as any other newspaper.
People enjoy reading papers that agree with their own opinions. They rarely seek out one carrying an opposed viewpoint, because what’s the point? You can’t argue with a paper. You could argue that The Sun oversimplifies and misleads, and this may lead people astray, but that is an idea so patronising to the readers it is worthy of a Sun editorial. People read and believe what they want to, and it takes arguments infinitely more compelling than the ones you find in The Sun to change someone’s perceptions. When you consider this the posturing bravado of “The Sun Says” is ridiculous. Again, the day before polling day, they trumpeted “The Sun could have destroyed Hague and handed Blair complete and total victory. We chose not to do that.” Well, on behalf of Hague, thank you to The Sun. I’m sure he’s very grateful for them holding back and saving his campaign from total disaster.
I was going to go on and write about Dear Deidre and the comic strips, but I’ve gone on far too long already, so instead, I’ll finish this up. I’m not going to read The Sun any more, and I don’t recommend it (unless you like half naked women and sport, in which case I’d still recommend topless darts instead), because I agree with virtually nothing in it, and I don’t enjoy it. Its jokey, jolly tone sits poorly for me with the vicious and petty way it attacks the things it doesn̵
7;t like. It tries to make us feel good by showing ladies in (or half out of) bikinis, then condemns the “forces of liberalism that The Sun sees as its sworn enemy” (embodied by Jeremy Paxman, apparently). But I’m happy to say I don’t feel threatened by it any more, because I’m now convinced what it says is ultimately irrelevant, not just to me, but to anyone who reads it.