Monday, October 25, 2004

Sense and sentimentality

Amidst all the brouhaha surrounding the infamous Spectator article, I found myself deeply troubled by the possibility of actually being in agreement with the only half-penitent Boris Johnson and, worse still, with the Daily Mail.

Despite retracting the editorial's insinuations about Liverpool's relishing of victim status, the floppy-haired fop Johnson refused to apologise for the overarching sentiment of the piece - namely, that Britain has become a nation of people quick to display disproportionate levels of public grief in the wake of events which barely touch their lives.

Mail columnist Melanie Philips appeared on Thursday's edition of 'Question Time' and defended the overall message of the article in the same terms - perhaps unsurprising, given that a fellow Mail columnist, the despicable Simon Heffer, was behind it. When I last saw her on the programme, she was savaged and destroyed by Will Self in the cleverest and sharpest way imaginable, but on this occasion her point was, I think, valid.

Britain has for so long been associated with stoic reserve and the stiff upper lip, but over the last few years, things seem to have swung to the opposite extreme. In principle I'm all for the expression of empathy and sympathy for those who are neither immediate family nor friends - but then why do people choke themselves with tears over the death of the Queen Mother whilst at the same time not giving a shit about the victims of genocide the world over? It's just a grotesque kind of exhibitionism which, in the words of a Mclusky album, shouts to all within earshot "My pain and sadness are more sad and painful than yours".

So it seemed, then, that the Mail and me, we were suddenly, horrifyingly, in agreement.

But it only lasted for the briefest of moments, before it struck me, and not for the first time, quite how hypocritical Ms Philips and the Mail was being in all this. After all, what was the catalyst to this societal shift towards excessive public mourning? Diana's death. And which paper did the most to artificially arouse and stimulate the nation's grief? Yes indeed.

Thankfully - and I mean thankfully - the Mail's most poisonous writer Lynda Lee-Potter died last week. As if to disprove the point about mawkish sentimentality made by their own columnists, the paper did its best to get the "sad" news on the agenda, the result being a procession of obsequious obituaries trotted out in the mainstream media.

What's more, the fact that I agreed with every single word of Inspector Sands's alternative send-off assured me that I'm not in danger of becoming a fearful, snivelling, self-interested, Buckinghamshire-dwelling wretch just yet.

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