Silly season is upon us. The Olympics is over and the press & media are flailing around like a thresh in a barn clutching for husks and straws of news to throw about.
At this time of year things are normally pretty desperate, but now more so than ever. Last year there were riots to report. Just last week we had wall to wall coverage of the world’s biggest sporting event. Now there is a bleary-eyed collective press hangover as families go on holiday and the news grinds slowly to a halt. Sure there’s Syria (but that’s foreign stuff stupid) and a few other *actual* stories for the media to feed on, but where’s the FILLER? The pap that you put between news and sport.
At this time of year the press are generally at a loss. It’s a great time to put out press releases. Churnalism reaches new highs in the month of August. You could probably put out a press release about a giant mouse in your garden eating all your carrots and they’d be sending the paps round before you could say glis glis.
That’s why A-levels day is such a special occasion. It gives the media something to focus their efforts on. All those people who spent the last 2 weeks in Olympic park living it up get dispatched to schools around the country in search of bouncy young girls.
And that’s the other thing about A-level day. It seems that for one day and one day only the press seem to collectively engage in the dubious practice of ogling at young girls (ahem, except the Daily Mail which runs its sidebar of shame all year round). To be honest this is nothing short of sinister. Last year the FT ran a piece on how the media thirst for images of pretty pubescent girls was so established that schools were actively trying to market their best looking girls for the press to come and take pictures in order to help school PR. The exploitation gave rise to a blog, SexyAlevels which poked fun at the whole practice (now closed but living on via twitter)
This morning the biggest shock for me was seeing BBC Breakfast interviewing a BOY about his results. It was so out of kilter I thought I’d passed into another dimension where we lived in a matriarchy or something.
But the lone boy interview will always be the exception. Today the media start girls off on a lifetime of objectification and exploitation in our society by trying to squeeze in as many shots of them giggling, whooping and bouncing around in delight as they open their results.
Maybe they’ll throw in some tears, y’know , for the people in their audience who like to see girls crying. Then tomorrow, like it never happened, the press will be all straight-faced again. As though they never willingly sent out legions of camera crews and photographers to schools with the explicit aim of gathering and publishing images of 6th form girls! A convenient and collective amnesia where regular journos go back to raising their eyebrows at the Daily Mail sidebar of shame and make ‘tut tut’ noises.
There’s another annoying news agenda that seems to go out on A-level day too. Suddenly the media love to read out letters, texts and emails from Joe Public about how graft is the key to success. You know the one’s those generic missives that get repeated like a mantra on every news and radio channel after every A-level skit.
“Troy Michaels has texted in. He says ‘I got all D’s at A level and failed to get into University. Now I’m a billionaire playboy with a wife, mistress and yacht. And I got it all through hard work'”
“Billy Balls says ‘I failed everything, even my mental health check up, so I had to work in a factory. Now I own half of Westminster and it was all down to good honest graft'”
It strikes me as odd that these get rolled out with such vigour, but they perpetuate the myth that the society wants to perpetuate, that it is somehow meritocratic. It’s not kids! For every success story they hold up like a cardboard cutout there are thousands more who will spend a lifetime working their fingers to the bone without ever rising above a relatively low-level of income.
Hard work doesn’t equal success and we do not live in a meritocracy. Privilege, position, networking, education, luck. All these things and more are components of “success” (as defined by society). Good looks probably help too, just ask all the girls getting their picture taken today!