It's kind of a recent development with me, but I find myself increasingly unwilling to try and dunk the Aunt Sallys nowadays. There seems little satisfaction with the outcome - you tell someone who's written something stupid they've written something stupid; but by doing so, you give them an enormous amount of attention, albeit negative, and reward them for their poverty of insight or imagination by getting their article talked about, tweeted and blogged about all over the place.
Part of me can't help feeling that some articles, like Charlotte Metcalf's of yesterday which I wrote about on here, are a bit flamebaity. I pointed to the fact that the Poundland elements have been done to death before (and since, in this Evening Standard article, for example); others have pointed me in the direction of this Metcalf article from earlier in the year (doesn't link to the Mail, so feel free to click!) in which the same 'middle class poor' themes were explored.
Less than ten years ago, that was me, but today it's like peering through a window in my past. Like so many middle-class people, I slid into poverty when fees for my work froze or plummeted and the cost of living soared.
I am currently one of thousands of middleclass paupers out there putting on a brave face and pretending nothing has changed when, in fact, beneath the glossy varnish of the facade, our entire way of life is crumbling under the crushing pressure of the credit crunch.
You can point to the fact that Metcalf claims £500 a week isn't a spectacular income - and sure, it's not the breadline; but it's not a wonderfully comfortable amount of money to try and keep a family afloat, either. It's a bit more subtle than the writer pleading poverty when they're not poor; it's about people noticing the difference in their lives that the recession has brought, and struggling to keep up the facade of wealth with their peers despite not having the readies any more. It's all relative.
And besides, I tend to feel that a lot of these columns are merely put up there in the first place to put the authors in the crosshairs.
There's something else, too. When Janet Street Porter came out with a torrent of nonsense about how depression was just a trendy illness, there were strong rumours that it wasn't even she who had written the words (Private Eye covered it at the time). The indication was that her byline had simply been slapped on a nasty piece of work written by someone else, which was designed to stick the boot into a recently departed employee who had claimed they were depressed. Which makes me wonder if a lot of these articles serve a couple of functions: to garner a lot of heat and light by irritating bleeding heart lefties like me; and to stick the dagger into someone behind the scenes in a bit of nastiness.
As Bad Hedgehog pointed out under the previous Metcalf post, they also provide a handy Aunt Sally for readers, commenters and passing bleeding hearts alike. You can question the extent to which the author is complicit in this, a willing participant knowing they're going to be flamed in the comments, or whether they're being exploited by the publishers. But a couple of things are clear to me, I think. Personal abuse of the writer doesn't help anyone; and it just doesn't achieve a great deal to chuck rotten fruit sometimes.
Of course there are times, as was the case with Jan Moir's abysmal efforts after Stephen Gately's death, or Allison Pearson's sneery finger-pointing after the death of Scarlett Keeling, when something is truly hideous and unpleasant, then I think there's a case to be made for verbalising the rage that is felt upon reading the garbage on the page. But saying you're quite badly off when you're not so badly off? Is that really worth getting that worked up about? As I've said before with regards to Liz Jones's bleatings re her financial situation, it's hard to work out where the real person ends and the proll begins, where the human being stops and the flamebaitery starts.
I find it difficult to get so angry at someone who seems simply unaware of the fact they're not as badly off as they might think. I end up thinking, so what? If they genuinely feel that way, then they're ignorant, and unloading a can of whoopass on them isn't going to change that; it might be more useful to calmly point out where they're going wrong, and just how wrong they can be. If they don't genuinely feel that way, and it's just a caricature or a type of trolling designed to put a stick in the hornets' nest, then why give them the satisfaction of getting worked up about it?
I don't feel the same level of anger towards Aunt Sallys like Charlotte Metcalf or Liz Jones as I do to the truly unpleasant columnists. I even end up having a bit of sympathy. You might that's wrong, but I hope you can understand why I might feel that way.
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