Milf Teeth

Why Alain de Botton Loves the 'Daily Mail' Just As Much As the Rest of Us

He just launched a website that's exactly like the Mail Online, but more philosophical.

Sophie Heawood

The homepage of Alain de Botton's new website, The Philosophers' Mail

What joyful news to wake up to on a Thursday – my old friend Alain de Botton has launched an alternative to the Daily Mail website. It’s called The Philosophers’ Mail, and it features the usual photos of celebrities with their kids, celebrities on sexy surfboards, a creepy thing about Taylor Swift’s legs and an interview with David Beckham’s soul. This is because, textually, it is very different from Mail Online, and tries to tell us about why humans long for the things we long for, through the prism of celebrity culture.

I say that Alain de Botton is my old friend because I once slagged him off on Twitter without even tagging him in it, and he did a search for his own name, started following me back and sent me a DM asking me to leave him alone. It was quite a surprise as I only had about three followers at the time and he had sold a fuckload of books. (I later found out that he had also sent an angry letter to a New York Times book reviewer who disagreed with him.) Anyway, the philosopher was right in his personal advice to me, recommending that I stop following people I didn’t like. I have ceased and desisted from my trolling now.

No, really, I’m not even trolling his new Philosophers' Mail website thing. Yes, the thing about Taylor Swift’s legs being “utterly firm yet unyielding and soft” is a bit creepy, but actually the rest of it is quite charming. It tries, gently, to explain a few things about human nature. And it hits the nail on the head, really, with its understanding that the Mail website is the most popular newspaper online for many, many reasons, not yet understood by those who post links to one awful Mail story – and then another apparently TERRIBLE Mail story – and then one captioned, "Oh god, the Daily Fail!!” and then, “Read this through a proxy site so we don’t give that hideous paper any more traffic!” (What, so you’re so far up on the moral high ground that you’re basically going to steal their content without even allowing them the benefits of advertising revenue?)

We all love it, and love is not a crime. The Mail Online is the boyfriend who turns away from his phone for a brief glimpse to look you up and down and ask if you’re really going out dressed like that, and you suddenly need his approval so much more than if he had just said you looked nice, even though the reason he only looked away from his phone for a second is because he’s currently balls deep in the Tight Body Perky Boobs app. There’s not really much difference between Mail Online and the Tight Body Perky Boobs app anyway, which is why so many people are a bit obsessed with it. Several broadsheet columnists are completely obsessed, reporting on its horrors in an endless meta stream of side-eye at the Sidebar of Shame.

The Mail will write a story pretending to be appalled by, say, a celebrity parent letting their 13-year-old daughter go out in a leather miniskirt and a push-up bra, while showing you 47 photographs from different angles of her in the push-up bra – and quick, here’s another shot where you can almost see up one side of her bum-crack. A broadsheet columnist then writes another column about how horrifying it is that this prurient, judgemental smut is being published, having yanked their laptop into bed with them and checked for this prurient, judgemental smut so early in the day that their first morning pee is still stretching their bladder like a pig’s balloon. 

People then post links to the article of outrage about the outrage, all the while sending the web traffic stats of the original Mail piece shooting upwards faster than Usain Bolt's morning wood. It all turns into one big circle-jerk where nobody has the audacity to simply stand up and tell the truth, which is this: “Looking at photographs of Suri Cruise wearing pointy shoes and a teddy bear rucksack gives me a tingly feeling, because sexuality and childhood and voyeurism and loneliness and computers are so much more interwoven than anyone outside of Operation Yewtree has ever been forced to admit. Help me.”

Mail Online exists, like a coroner with a better camera, to document how a human body can change, because metamorphosis fetishism is real. Pregnancy stretching the skin across a reality TV star’s belly like a Nazi lampshade? Get in. Some awkward shots of a pubescent Beckham child turning from larva to pupa? Perf. A Kardashian with their hand over their mouth as they leave the dentist? Brilliant, we can make another 50 grand out of the public’s hitherto unknown desire to check a total stranger’s oral fissure for the latest positioning of their teeth. And then the feigned outrage in response always reminds me of the Private Eye cover the week after Princess Diana’s death in a car crash made lurid front page news across the world. On the cover photo, the crowds are gathered outside Buckingham Palace to show their deep distress. One such distressed mourner has a speech bubble saying, “The papers are a disgrace.” The next person says, “Yes, I couldn’t get one anywhere.” The third says, “Borrow mine, it’s got a picture of the car.”

The celebs themselves then say how much they hate the Mail Online with all their heart, because it invades their privacy with its cruel dissemination of judgement and disgust at the natural transmogrifications of the human form. That is, until that slag who was such a cow to them on I’m a Celebrity is rumoured to be on there with a botched lip filler, at which point they’re downloading its app (90-day free trial!!) and losing the whorls on their right thumb refreshing that thing enough times a day to keep the schadenfreude away. Actually, the whole point of Mail Online is schadenfreude, which means, literally, harm-joy, and refers to the pleasure we derive from the pain of others. You might sometimes go on there and find yourself idly looking at a nice wedding photo of a happy famous couple, but the best bit is always going to be scrolling down to the photo where that nice famous bride’s sister has apparently come in costume as a stripper from SophistiCats and has a face like pig’s piss about it.

Does Mail Online make us paranoid about our bodies? So far, I’m still completely happy with mine, apart from the toes thing. I must have missed the memo where you were supposed to care about the aesthetics of your toes. Now I worry about them for up to 20 seconds a day. Oh Christ, who cares? Fleeting feelings. My feet work just great. Get out there, you beautiful wonderful humans with all your living breathing bits that walk and wank and work. You love the Daily Fail, and so does Alain de Botton.

Follow Sophie on Twitter: @heawood

Previously – Let's Hear It for the Spineless Lib Dem Toad-Men

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