Written by Conor Mullins
Has anyone picked up a copy of The Sun lately? I certainly hope not – in my opinion, it’s a crude, pornographic rag designed mostly to stir up controversy and sensationalise current events, frequently if not constantly breaking down complex issues into digestible (and inaccurate) chunks. It’s aimed mostly at the working classes in this country and it is absolutely insulting to the workers of the country – it is deliberately written with a basic reading level in mind and offers no real opportunity for discussion. The Sun is a newspaper made specifically to tell the reader exactly what they should be thinking at any time of day about any event, and it is that which makes it one of the most malevolent forces in British politics today.
Working at a retail outlet in my Conservative home town (by God are we Conservative – the local Conservative headquarters here is literally called “Margaret Thatcher House”), I often come into contact with whatever newspapers are left in the canteen. Often I find myself flicking through The Sun out of morbid curiosity, and it is probably not the best thing to be reading before spending four hours working on a shop floor and finding items of clothing for people, because what I read in there makes me extremely angry.
The Sun is well known for being an extremely low-quality “Red Top” tabloid, on par with other newspapers in the same vein, and for being cheap. Its headlines and articles are often written to reflect regional working-class dialects in order to appear attractive to a working-class readership. Incidentally, The Sun is considerably less popular in the North of England and Scotland, and especially in Liverpool, where The Sun’s despicable reaction to the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster is still met with a lot of anger. Nevertheless, The Sun has a considerable and extremely concerning influence over political matters in the United Kingdom.
There’s no quibbling that The Sun isn’t exactly the most “high-brow” of journalism, and I try to say that without seeming elitist; let’s be sincere here, the first thing we see upon opening The Sun is, of course, Page Three, that half-page of a 20-something woman with no bra on, celebrated and championed by anti-feminists everywhere. It terrifies me that in 2015 it’s still even a conversation to be had that the third page (or, indeed, any page) of a newspaper should not contain soft pornography meant explicitly in an erotic context, but alas, some men who read this paper seem to think breasts belong in the same sort of public space as, say, news on the upcoming general election. An entire campaign has been set up to have Page 3 removed from The Sun for good, and it even has a petition with a worryingly small amount of people signing (which can be signed here).
Page Three, however, is just the start of the problems with The Sun. Page Three is a laugh, a walk in the park compared to the real sinister underbelly of the network that goes into creating The Sun for the unsuspecting reader. Page Three is just the start of the myriad of problems with what is proudly proclaimed to be the “Nation’s Favourite Paper” by The Sun’s publishers, and the statistics show they’re not lying: just under 3 million copies of The Sun are sold every day (Clayton, 2010), while publishing the sort of horrible, anti-left, pro-capitalist, racist, corrupt, bigoted, and cartoonish propaganda for which it has become infamous.
Make no mistake: The Sun is a hard-line right-wing paper. After the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack on the 7th of January 2015, which claimed the lives of 12 people – some of whom were cartoonists well known for their controversial and often very racist caricatures of Islamic figures – The Sun immediately published an opinion piece recommending, without a hint of irony, that MI5 and GCHQ turn the United Kingdom into a surveillance state (Ben Goldacre, 2015). The piece others Islamists – calling them “savages from another time”, and claims “modern concepts” like “democracy” and equality are “alien” to them. It goes on to recommend increased surveillance of Muslim communities…claiming it is the responsibility of “moderate Muslims” to steer their children away from extremism.
This is but one example of the kind of dangerous attitudes The Sun expresses in order to whip up their readers into terrified, irrational black-and-white thinking. The view that Islamists are unintelligent, irrational savages is one built out of centuries of colonialist ideology. Islamists are not savages. They are not medieval. This is in fact one of the things that makes them dangerous – they know exactly what tactics to use to mess with their enemies’ heads. They know that the sort of terrified, confused crap The Sun spouts every time this sort of thing happens will get stuck in the head of every person who consumes that information, and they weaponise that against us. That is how terrorism works – create a media spectacle, get your message in the newspapers. And The Sun and its readership eats it up. Perhaps they know they’re being played like violins, which raises uncomfortable implications of its own.
As I said before, The Sun has no real windows of opportunity for discussion or reflection on recent happenings. It mostly fires off news at the reader like a machine gun, never stopping to think, just spouting condemnation here, celebration there. This is part of why The Sun is an absolutely poisonous paper. It is written by the enemies of democracy and of freedom – capitalist scaremongers and fascists in sheep’s clothing. It pollutes conversation and discourse between people, often making any discussion of social justice issues and current events impossible under a cloud of biased ideology promoted by The Sun’s editors-in-chief.
The Sun presents a rather infantile view of the world. “Good people” are very good, and “bad people” are horrid. There is no examination of the reasons people behave the way they do, or why events play out in the way they do. There is no exploration of the background. It might not be too much of a stretch to suggest that Sun readers live in a phantasmagorical world, where things just happen because of vague, metaphysical forces and because of oblique concepts like “immigrants”, and there is no definite underlying, predetermined cause. After a terrorist attack, the political motivations of the terrorists are rarely explored, if ever. Terrorism is only relevant if it happens in a Western city. A car bomb in Baghdad might get a little note in the corner of a page, the dead a negligible number, their names never named. But when an attack takes place in the West – “these people are bad, they did this bad thing because they are bad and evil. There is no underlying cause for this behaviour. These people are just bad.” A lot of people seem to think understanding the motivations of serious criminals – terrorists, murderers – is equivalent to supporting the actions of serious criminals. This is black-and-white thinking. Black-and-white thinking is toxic and serves the powers that be nicely – it is often key to Tory victories.
The Sun’s alliance with the Conservative Party is well-documented. When the Tories won the general election in 1992 The Sun immediately presented a gloating headline reading, (in)famously, “It’s The Sun Wot Won It” (BBC News, 2004). Today, their unrelenting support for Conservative governments has not wavered in the slightest, and this becomes especially noxious when election time comes around. The Sun is made to encourage people who are confused and scared about the state of the world feel more like they are in control, that they have a handle on the sorts of awful things that are taking place currently. They publish articles that encourage fear but also promote a feeling of control and narrative so long as they keep buying The Sun. The world becomes more like a daily soap opera than a seemingly random and chaotic series of events, something to keep up on during your free time as opposed to something that directly involves you. The Sun encourages people to become passive audiences to oppression, and asks them only to engage when absolutely necessary – such as in general elections, or when campaigning against the Big Bad Minority Group of The Week. The Sun treats the world like a soap and generates controversy whenever it suits the end goals of the men in suits pulling the strings behind its scenes.
An example of this is that just recently, The Sun has given an entire page to notorious “shit-stirrer” (Sydney Morning Herald, 2015) Katie Hopkins, well known for her aggressive and astonishingly uninformed diatribes on everything from fat people to the Israel/Palestine conflict and beyond. Predictably, Hopkins usually takes the allocated space to vomit whatever shit goes through her head on to the masses, who lick it up as she grins like Jeremy Clarkson after driving a particularly expensive car. Her ignorant middle-class attitude to life is of course all part of an act to make money, which The Sun is only willing to provide a space for. The Sun and Katie Hopkins have something in common, in that the loathing people feel for their sordid words seem to attract a kind of morbid fascination. Many people, it seems, loathe The Sun, and yet, like me, find themselves flipping through the pages of rogue copies of the paper out of sheer spite. The newspaper, like Katie Hopkins, profits by “shit-stirring” and making people angry.
It tells people who to vote for so they can be more in control of everything, but the reality is far more sinister: The Sun is ultimately owned by people who want to wrest control out of the hands of the common person, into the hands of millionaires. The easiest way to do that, of course, is to tell as many lies as they can get away with, and convince the masses that if they play into the hands of these millionaires they will live lives of relative comfort, as long as they don’t pay attention to everyone being thrown under the bus.
The Sun’s political influence is, quite frankly, disturbing. It is so deep-rooted into British politics that British politicians must carefully watch their words and actions so that The Sun cannot fashion them into weapons against them, and while this is true of all newspapers, it is not so true in most than in The Sun. Just recently, Labour leader Ed Miliband went for a pint in the same pub frequented by UKIP leader Nigel Farage, which The Sun immediately seized upon as a sign of Miliband’s apparent naïveté and weakness (The Sun, 2015). Many politicians are, indeed, afraid to stand up to The Sun and its editors simply because they know The Sun can bury them and their reputation with one issue. That is not democracy. That is oligarchy.
Distressingly, the newspaper’s stranglehold on the populace of the United Kingdom doesn’t look to abate soon. The Sun still outdoes most other daily newspapers, competing mainly with The Daily Mail, a similarly vitriolic newspaper, and it’s not hard to see why. The Sun is colourful and it is simplified. It fictionalises reality and allows people to escape into a world where things make sense. The Sun provides a pair of “glasses” with every issue that seem to reduce the world and the events that take place in it to a monochrome. The Sun doesn’t require effort to read; it doesn’t ask you to think or debate. It tells you what you need to think, it tells you who you need to vote for, it tells you what you ought to do. To The Sun and its readers, there are no moral grey areas; there is nothing to be discussed. There are no in-betweens. No questions asked. Just hate whoever you are told to hate and love and adore whoever The Sun’s journalists think you should love and adore, and everything will be fine in the end.
With every issue of The Sun sold, another person gets whisked under a bus for the cash in a millionaire’s back pocket. Nobody seems to see it. And that’s why I implore everyone out there not to buy The Sun, not to read The Sun, not to trust a single media outlet related to The Sun, and to find better, more objective ways of informing themselves, such as Reuters and the Associated Press. All media has a bias, of course, but The Sun’s bias is clear and dangerous in its construction. The Sun is anti-democracy, anti-freedom and in general it seeks only to preserve the status quo of oppression, if not deepen and worsen it, for the benefit of the people in charge of publishing it. If we truly want change, the first thing we have to do is start thinking for ourselves, and that starts with destroying the very things telling us what to think.
Young people are becoming more politically engaged – numbers of young voters went up dramatically, with two out of three young people saying they intended to vote in 2013 across Europe (European Commission, 2013). This could be a very good thing, or it could be a very bad thing, and it all depends on how we inform ourselves in the coming months, and the decisions we make right now, as a group of people. Either we continue to vote like our parents and their parents did – when they had no ready access to statistics and ideology at their fingertips, basing our political views entirely on what newspapers tell us – or we take advantage of the technology we have in our hands, and use our right as citizens of a democracy to start taking our country back from the millionaires and the fascists now pervading our governments.
I only pray that come May, we make the right choice.
BBC News. (2004, September 14). BBC NEWS | Magazine | Forty Years of The Sun. Retrieved January 09, 2015, from BBC NEWS: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3654446.stm
Ben Goldacre. (2015, January 8). ben goldacre on Twitter. Retrieved January 9, 2015, from Twitter: https://twitter.com/bengoldacre/status/552978416560242688
Clayton, M. (2010). That Nation’s Favourite…Daily Newspapers. In M. Clayton, The Nation’s Favourite: The UK’s Best-loved Things. London: Quercus.
European Commission. (2013, May 24). European Commission Press Release Database. Retrieved January 09, 2015, from Europa.eu: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-13-462_en.htm
Sydney Morning Herald. (2015, January 6). Adam Hills sprays Katie Hopkins on The Last Leg, claiming she’s worse than Rolf Harris. Retrieved January 9, 2015, from The Sydney Morning Herald Online: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/adam-hills-sprays-katie-hopkins-on-the-last-leg-claiming-shes-worse-than-rolf-harris-20150106-12iht0.html
The Sun. (2015, January 2). Ed’s new La-bar fail: Labour leader pops in to Farage’s local boozer . Retrieved January 10, 2015, from Sun+: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/politics/6229052/Ed-Miliband-unknowingly-pops-in-to-Nigel-Farages-local-boozer.html