THE Mail Online holds a grisly fascination for me, as for most people in the industry. The website is almost completely distinct from the paper now. It has become the most visited newspaper site in the world by remorseless and shameless attention to what it is that bored office workers actually read.
There is a lot of crime, provided it is picturesque enough. Unlike the paper Mail, where every story is meant to make the reader a little more frightened and a little angrier, the online Mail seems to go for a frisson of pleasurable horror. It publishes more, and more graphic, IS propaganda pictures than anywhere else I know, but there does not seem to be any coherent political aim behind this.
Politics is always shoved well down the page. It is very rare for the newspaper’s splash to be visible on the website to any casual visitor. The columnists or commenters are hardly there, either, except for Katie Hopkins.
There are a fair number of the standard Femail models: women in early middle-age photographed full length in shadowless light, facing the camera almost straight on but with one foot three inches ahead of the other. It’s a pose that manages to make them look simultaneously self-assured and horribly inadequate. They are to be judged, and they don’t quite measure up; otherwise it would be less fun to judge them. Those pictures represent the core audience that the paper sells to advertisers.
But they are not the most striking visual element of the online package. Those are women very much younger and more glamorous than the readers. And — this may come as a shock — all of them have breasts.
I have written a little computer program that looks at the site three or four times a day, and analyses the key phrases there. As I write, there are four stories about “wardrobe malfunctions” on the page, two about a “sideboob”, and 15 about “cleavage”. But the nouns barely suggest the focus of the site. It is the variety, as well as the sheer number, of the verbs which reveals what it is about.
There are 31 stories in which a woman “shows off her” body, another four in which the verb is “showcase”, three in which she “displays her. . .”, and 16 in which she gets straight to the point and “flashes”. This gives a total body count right now of 51, which is surprisingly low. However often I run the program, I have never found a day with fewer than 50 stories about the astonishing fact that young women have breasts.
Who are these young women? And here there is something unexpected. Most of them are Kardashians. Some of the Kardashians are, I believe, male, though one has recently transitioned and is now known as Caitlyn. But most are female, and there are between 60 and 90 mentions of them on the site every time I check. Why?
Why indeed? None of them has ever accomplished anything in the supposedly real world. They are famous for being famous. But that’s enough to make them very famous indeed. What they have managed is the trick of turning themselves into a soap opera. Theirs is an everyday story of Hollywood folk.
And this timeless cycling of mythical creatures is what lots of people want from the news: it’s interesting without being disturbing, and constantly novel in reassuringly predictable ways. Oh, and did I mention that the women in it all have breasts?
I FEEL an unaccustomed warmth of sympathy for the regime in Tehran which, The Financial Times reports, has denounced the Kardashians as agents of British intelligence: “Mostafa Alizadeh, a spokesman for the state-run Centre to Combat Organised Cybercrime, this week alleged that Ms Kardashian had collaborated with Instagram, the social media platform, to encourage Iranian women to post images of themselves violating obligatory Islamic dress code and undermining the country’s morals.
”The plot, he said, was masterminded by some Gulf Arab states and Britain, who deployed ‘serious financial support’ to target women and young people.
”To counter the threat, ‘Operation Spider II’ was launched. Some 150 beauty salons and photo studios in Tehran were shut down, and around 30 models, make-up artists and photographers were prosecuted — eight of whom remain in detention.”
DON’T anyone tell Professor Richard Dawkins, who told The Times: “Tyrannies and dictatorships all over the world must really dread the internet because it undermines their power to dominate people’s lives.”
Actually, he appears quite alarmingly confused in this interview: “If you’re seen to criticise Islam you are often accused of racism, which is absurd. I’m all for offending people’s religion. I think it should be offended at every opportunity.” And then: “Aggressive atheism is sometimes attributed to me, but I think wrongly.”
It must be what religious people call a mystery.