I'm often quite accurately accused of spending too much time obsessing about the Mail and Express (and Telegraph, and Sun, and Star) at the expense of other media outlets. "What about the Guardian?" people say to me. "What about the BBC? Surely they're just as shit."
It's a fair cop. The others are just as capable of being terrible; though I'd argue they do it less often - much less often when the words "Tanya Gold is away" appear in the Guardian, for example. I've got nothing against the woman personally, but it would seem to be the case that the Guardian have hired a Daily Mail journalist so their readers don't have to go to the Mail itself to exercise that Mail part of their brains - you know, the bit that starts pulsating when you see coppers pulling someone over for speeding, and before you know it, you've started foaming at the mouth about catching law-abiding motorists when they should be out there going after the real criminals, and I'm paying for this, and it's not right...
We've all got it, our Inner Daily Mail. I think it sits in between the bit of your brain that tells you that you need to go to the toilet and the part that makes you go "awww" when you see a puppy. It's quite an ancient part of the brain, I think, but what it also does is make you feel suspicious about new technology. And Gold brilliantly (or not, if you don't like dying in a sea of witless banality) taps into this with this article, about iphones:
Customers, you see – actually, I prefer the word hostages – cannot be bothered to say "application". That is three syllables too far for the avatars. They have better things to do with their time – like having a virtual pint with iBeer. (Hilarious if you are six years old or, because you are a software designer, other people have only ever been a fascinating but terrifying idea to you.) Not drinking? Have an iMilk. It's the same, but it's milk. Except it isn't.
In labour, trying to squeeze a baby out? Try the Birth Buddy app – it will help you track the frequency of your labour contractions. "I can't remember anything about the moment I brought you into the world, child, because I was playing with my iPhone." "I hate you, Mum." (This sentiment was brought to you by iPhone.)
Want to fart, but can't? iFart will fart for you. "Set your phone on a flat surface. The next time the phone is moved, it will fart." Is this where science has brought us? To a farting telephone in a joke shop world?
Gold has a bewildering talent, in that even when I actually broadly agree with what she's writing, I find myself getting angry. Do you know what I mean? There's something excruciating about the whole thing. Sure, a lot of people with iphones are total arses, but on the other hand, that's not the phone's fault; it's the people who are arses' fault. Gold annoys me not in the same way that the Mail or Express annoy me - she's not making up crap about immigrants to suit a prejudiced agenda, for example - but it's the sheer "is that it?"ness about the whole thing. When I read something in a national newspaper, particularly the nationa newspaper I buy most often, I kind of want it to be good. That isn't. It's feeble space-filling.
And yet, it's pretty much Proust when compared with Deborah Orr breathlessly telling us that Sadie Frost is an attractive woman - more than that, that Sadie Frost has 'flesh' like 'flesh' she has never seen before.
That's what the whole story's about. You think I'm making this up, and that actually there's more to it, and I'm being reductive and pretending it's worse than it really is. Oh no, go and see for yourselves. And read this, if you can:
I've seen Sadie Frost very close, very recently, with hardly any clothes on, when she appeared on stage in camisole and knickers for a charity fundraising event I attended last year. So I know that her body has very little to communicate to other women at all, except that it is quite exceptionally wondrous.
Sure she's slender, she's toned, and she keeps herself in good nick. Anyone can do that, given the motivation. But Frost's flesh has a special quality. It looks both soft and firm, like no female flesh I've never seen.
I know. You're probably softly crying into the keyboard, having pummeled yourself around the head with your fists, and now you're wondering why I subjected you to this. You may even be thinking: "Jesus Christ, Vowl, I've seen some shit from Littlejohn or Moir in my time - I've even read Allison Pearson and survived - but this is a whole different level of badness." And you'd be right. Drooling over someone's flesh, synecdochising someone into their bare components - it's like something Buffalo Bill might do in Silence of the Lambs, not a proper writer in a proper newspaper. Is it? If it is, it hurts my brain and I don't like it.
And then, just when I think it can't get any worse, it goes and employs Zac Goldsmith to write some crap on Comment is Free:
Actually, I was going to try and put a quote in there. But there's not a single sentence that lends itself to appearing in an article with the Guardian banner. It's dreadfully written, poorly thought out, smearing by association, unreferenced, and comes to a miserably pissweak conclusion which isn't stacked up by anything that's gone before. Is this really how low the bar is for Comment is Free? Or is it only this low if you happen to be some non-dom Tory prick who's about to be sedan-chaired into a nice cosy safe seat, despite having the intelligence of a freshly-coiled dogshit?
You might imagine - or hope - that it's a "Give this twit enough rope" exercise but I'm not so sure, given the context of Gold and Orr. I don't think we can give the Guardian enough credit to do that, when they're happy to fill their space up with such utterly unbearable crap on a regular basis. Of course, Goldsmith's nonsense is demolished in the comments - one of the few occasions on which I haven't looked at the comments under a CiF article without losing the will to live - and there's a good article about it at Liberal Conspiracy here. Now I don't mind the Guardian giving space to Tories, of course not - but I would like to see things that are interesting to read and well written, even if I don't agree with them, rather than the kind of desperate tosh spluttered out by Goldsmith.
While the Mail might make me angry, the Express might make me despair, the Guardian just makes me think: What the fucking hell was that? I know it has a lot of really great writers, but that's what irritates me all the more when it bulks out its content with sawdust. I want to like it; I want to enjoy it. But it won't let me.