The Monster, The Sun and A Tale of Hack Journalism

They are not idiots. They’re hacks.

I’ve written on this blog before about my quiet love for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It’s a book I studied and one, as a teenager, I felt a lot of kinship with. Because what else is Frankenstein about but a Creature attempting to find its place in a cold and indifferent world.

This week, I was scrolling on my Twitter feed and found this:

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My brain promptly imploded. But… but that’s what the book is about…?

En masse, Twitter lit its torches, picked up its forks and marched on The Sun. People replied with their usual hilarious gusto.

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Sian Cain at the Guardian publishing a hilarious article called “Forget Frankenstein, what else are snowflake students getting wrong about classic literature?” Here, he names a few more books millennials are ‘misreading’.

Animal Farm
As a thin-skinned millennial, I sometimes pretend George Orwell’s laugh-a minute romp is a nuanced critique of Stalinism and how the Russian revolution created a power vacuum that allowed the rise of a dictator. But, deep down, I know Orwell’s classic is a fun, farmyard fable. It has talking animals! A pig walks on its hind legs! I usually have to go on YouTube for that. Knocking off a horse to get some whisky – who hasn’t? Napoleon is just an incredibly entrepreneurial porker.

A Christmas Carol
Oooh, scary ghosts! #Triggered

But now the smoke has cleared and we’ve had our laugh, what I still can’t get my head around is why? Am I really expected to believe that two professional journalists actually haven’t grasped the moral and message behind one of English Literature’s most seminal works?

The old, old joke from BBC’s immortal comedy Yes Prime Minister has probably coloured our view on The Sun. When asked who reads the papers, the Prime Minister replies with a hilarious and not flattering list each newspaper’s readership. The joke ends:

Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?
Bernard Woolley: Sun readers don’t care *who* runs the country – as long as she’s got big tits.

If you’ve never seen this sketch, do yourself a massive favour and go and watch it here.

After all – seemingly missed by the protesting masses, it the fact that The Times ran the exact same article. Again, accusing millennials of that horrendous crime of sympathy.

The fact is, just as the Daily Mail is made up of liberals writing for a right-wing readership, I suspect something very similar is happening at the Sun. Are these people idiots? At worse, I think they’re highly patronising – if this is what they think their readers want to read and the level of their understanding, it’s insulting rather than willfully arrogant.

What these ‘gotcha’ journalists are poking fun at is our sympathy with the Monster. Our crime of fellow feeling. Empathy, it seems, is the mark of the millennial. How sad and twisted is the assumption that this liberal trait of empathising with others is only felt by the youth and lefties? Why, if you’re from an older generation and right-wing, are you assumed to have no tolerance for nuance or the greys that make up mortality? And why aren’t more people blatantly insulted by this?

In other words, who do these journalists think they’re talking to and why are those readers putting up with it?

David Barnett put it very well when he said in his article:

…the story itself is vintage Sun, akin to their discredited claim in 2003 that asylum seekers were catching swans from London’s parks and eating them. Don’t pity the asylum seekers who might be starving, have a go at them for eating our swans. They belong to the Queen, you know!

This isn’t fake news. This is sensational news. This is the result of an industry which is dependent on people clicking that link and interacting with the content. This article would have gone unnoticed if not for the outrage it (rightfully) inspired and, in the end, the journalists got exactly what they wanted. More views.

The Information Age my generation was born into has betrayed us in a predictable and vaguely ironic way. You live by the sword, you’ll die by it too. I’m writing this post because I found the whole thing massively depressing.

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