I’ve had a vision of the office of the Daily Mail. In the corner sits a device that looks remarkably like the BBC’s election night swingometer. It looks rather dusty and neglected but as I watch, the arrow moves ceaselessly back and forth. I move further into the room for a closer look. On either side of the board are the words “we’re outraged” and “we’re outrageous”. I stand and stare. Still the arrow moves. Has the Mail, in defiance of physics built a device which is in perpetual motion?
A glint of light catches my eye and I realise that the device is housed in a glass box. Aha, I think. It’s in a vacuum. But there’s a strange foul looking mist in there. Horrible shades of brown, yellow and green. What sick magic has the Mail wrought? They’ve bottled the bile of millions to keep the device in motion. Nobody is immune. Their supporters’ bile is easily collected to power the swing to “we’re outraged”, while their detractors’ bile (harder to get but all the more potent for it) powers the “we’re outrageous” swing.
What evil lurks in the hearts of those who conceived this device? At the bottom of the case, I find my answer, dessicated brownish-red lumps lie discarded and forgotten by the Mail’s journalists. Surely not? I retch but have to know if my suspicion is correct. Yes. There lie the hearts of those who have willingly given them in return for the honour of writing the stories needed to power the pendulum.
What’s that I hear? Whispering. Wait….whispering doesn’t accurately describe the buzz of words coming from under the glass. Rage. An incandescent roar but pitched as if coming from a long distance away. It’s hard to make out the words, although hatred and disgust can be heard in their tones. Listening closely, I can almost hear spittle flying in accompaniment to the words, a seething mass of abusive words.
Of course, the secret to the Mail’s device isn’t magic. It’s something far more commonplace. It’s something far more human. Fear. Loathing. Self-righteousness. Hypocrisy. A principled person would look at the device and say that the ideal state of this particular pendulum is stillness but calm, reason and a lack of outrage don’t sell newspapers. The Mail’s pendulum trick relies on all of us responding in a thoroughly predictable way. And we do. There is always a “they” and always an “us” for them to tempt into outrage. The Daily Mail and others like it are a suppurating wound and add nothing of value to society. We can ignore them or mock them but when we engage with them, we feed their need for notoriety. And then they win.