(Top image: the front page of today's 'Daily Mail')
What is the Daily Mail for? Like its buddies stacked up on the increasingly obscured paper rack in the supermarket, the print edition of the Daily Mail continues to lose relevancy in an age of digital news-breaking. It's not a journal, or a magazine, or a pamphlet, or even, really, as much as it would like to be, edgy right-wing propaganda.
The print edition of The Daily Mail is, when you get down to the bones of it, a vehicle for chaos and absurdity.
I know, I know – disappointing! A conspiracy would be much more exciting, but sadly the tabloids aren't imaginative enough for that. Instead, every so often, someone on the Mail's writing team exhales a long breath of stale coffee, dusts the sandwich crumbs from their expensively shit jeans and thinks to themselves it's today.
Today, I will write a headline so insane, so odious, so inconceivably mad, so phenomenally shareable that my editor will fall from his chair in a rapturous guffaw. He'll fall from his chair, weeping, crawl over to my desk, grasp my head in his hands and whisper "Yes, yes… we did it… YOU did it."
This, it would appear, is the extent to which tabloid journalists think about the content they send out into the world. Yesterday it was a piece about some legs that belong to two human women. Sarah Vine wrote it, someone thought of a fun and natty headline – "Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!" – and out it went. A bundle of insanity, a weird freak of an article using the terms like "famously long extremities", "calves at a flattering diagonal", eyes like "hard little chocolate buttons". And we receive it online, baffled and angry. Because, brought up on morning news and Sunday supplements, we still can't really understand what The Daily Mail is in 2017. The Daily Mail, a newspaper. The Daily Mail, an artefact Jeremy Deller would show at the Chisenhale and critics would call "a bit clumsy".
Then it's printed and distributed and it becomes part of the fabric of our daily thoughts. We spend time trying to understand it, to identity what it is and why it is and what should be done about it. Some people go on Photoshop and make alternative versions of the "Legs-it" cover featuring a topless David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn in shorts. Others chide their friends for fuelling the furore by sharing the article. All of this, exploding from a bizarre idea that emerged from the brain of a human being who willingly married Michael Gove. The problem being that we will never understand it, because there's nothing in it to be understood. The people who write this sort of thing have no agenda beyond career progression and sycophancy. The words are not imbued with meaning; they're as transparent and rudimentary as their politics.
Now, as a story about legs in shiny tights makes its way out into the world and we desperately try to understand it, we begin to imbue it with our own meaning. We decide it represents something looming that we can't see. The dreaded 52 percent. We decide it represents a demographic of people who pose a threat to our progressive way of life, to the future we're trying to design for ourselves. It marbles together with the terrified faces of Syrian children, babies with bandaged heads, the growing power of an unpredictable and callous Western right-wing. It becomes frightening.
But this kind of media is not frightening; it's failing. It's struggling to adapt to a culture which is growing very tired of the leer of the patriarchy. In fact, at some level it is so deeply sexist and so knowingly sexist that it functions as satire. Let's use this pathetic alphabet soup of nonsense to fuel a vision of our future, not fear. Because if you weren't already aware, our entire mainstream culture is repulsively, violently sexist. The London Dungeon, for instance – a venue for a fun family day out – recently pulled a series of adverts, one of which ran with the slogan "What's the difference between your job and a dead prostitute? Your job still sucks!"
The Daily Mail might have one of the biggest circulations, but it's also the easiest target. Deal with its absurdity however you like and don't judge your friends for dealing with it in their preferred manner. Most importantly, try not to let it overwhelm you with a skewed, bonkers vision of reality. In other words: you know it's dumb as shit. Treat it as such.