Press Clippings From Hell No.4
Let’s have one last blast of misery, stupidity and hypocrisy from the press clippings file. These were culled from the national press during the writing of my collection ‘Red Gloves’, and no doubt influenced the extreme bleakness of the ‘Home’ volume (it has two volumes, Tales from Home and Tales from Abroad, which is generally more upbeat).
Nobody does stupid as well as the Tories. A massive expenses scandal engulfed MPs from both sides of Parliament, as Tory MP Douglas Hogg revealed he spent £2,000 of taxpayers’ money getting his moat cleaned. Another was caught having a duck-house built from public cash, and complained that the ducks had never really enjoyed using it anyway.
Best of all was Tory MP Anthony Steen, who shoved the inspection of five hundred trees and rabbit-proofing his shrubbery on expenses. and had this to say to British taxpayers about being caught out; ‘I think I have behaved impeccably. You know what it’s about? Jealousy. I have got a very, very large house. Some people say it looks like Balmoral, but it’s a merchant’s house from the 19th century. It was this government that introduced the Freedom of Information Act and it is this government that insisted on the things which caught me on the wrong foot.’
As decades of financial abuse come to an end, British MPs screamed like stuck pigs. Weirdly, some were defended in the national press by kowtowing members of the public who clearly relished the prospect of returning to a feudal system. The exposure of MPs’ expenses threw up some wonderfully odd claims; Conservative leader David Cameron claimed almost seven hundred pounds on ‘burning oil’ (presumably for his Aga cooker). Others claimed for biscuits, jellied eels, a wig, orchids and a hedge trimmer for a helipad.
Google street-mapping arrived in the UK. Across the country, a million cries went up: ‘Why did they have to film our street while the scaffolding was up at number 57?’
A German couple abandoned their three children in an Italian pizzeria because they had run out of money on holiday. They thought the authorities would probably figure out where they lived and send them home. Luckily, money is just something poor people have to worry about. On the same day, a Thai jewellery designer displayed a $4.2 million dog tiara at a canine fashion show. This is a theme beloved of The Sunday Times, which constantly carries reports on the world’s most expensive handbag or gold-leaf filled burger while their World News section only manages to scrape up a few paragraphs on global warming or war crimes.
Susan Boyle, a middle-aged woman with a pleasant singing voice and a face that could send a dog under a table, became one of the most-viewed internet sensations of all time, but failed to win a television talent contest. Her overnight ‘career’, from rise to fall, ended with a breakdown and her admittance to The Priory clinic – a sped-up microlife that eclipsed even Jade Goody’s.
Amidst global financial hardship, Turkey’s £1 billion Mardan Palace opened its doors with the biggest Beluga and Bollinger party in history. Sharon Stone, attending with other fading stars like Richard Gere, Mariah Carey and, with grim inevitability, Paris Hilton, said it was a ‘moment of potential profundity. We have come together to make the world a better place.’ That’s the beauty of celebrities; they’ll say or do absolutely anything to justify themselves. The Russians found a way to punish their most rebellious oligarch hotel owner for spending his cash overseas; they closed down his revenue source, a vast Moscow market full of smuggled Chinese goods. For more good Russian thug stories, check out Al-Jazeera’s documentary strand.
The line between PR and reality vanished with a tiresome staged tiff between Sacha Baron-Cohen and Eminem at the MTV Awards (Cohen was dropped into Eminem’s face dressed as a half-nude gay angel and the rapper called him a faggot before storming out) Both were selling new products, and later confirmed that the ‘accident’ was a publicity stunt. ‘This is very exciting television,’ said the show’s presenter.
‘The greatest concerts of all time’ never happened. AEG, the promoters of the O2 concerts which were to feature Michael Jackson performing a record-breaking forty-plus appearances, were slowed down a little by his sudden death. Happily they came up with a great way to save on refunds. Punters were offered replacement memorial souvenir tickets somehow ‘inspired and designed’ by the dead singer. Meanwhile, Jackson’s death sparked a massive internet campaign of hoax celebrity death reports that included Jeff Goldblum falling off a cliff and George Clooney crashing a plane.
Prince Charles gave the planet just 96 months left to survive, and David Attenborough revised that figure downwards. Last week a team of Antarctic scientists admitted that the global heating crisis is now unstoppable as ‘we have probably passed the tipping point’. Their findings barely made the news anywhere. The latest G7 summit pretty much failed to agree on anything at all.
But if the world ends that’s okay too, because it turns out there’s an afterlife. Following her death, the August 3rd issue of The Sun ran a front page headline announcing that Jade Goody (press clippings passim), once so used to speaking through the medium of television, was now speaking through a television medium – from beyond the grave. For many of us this was the moment the Western press died.