13 September, 2010

Indefensible (trigger in paragraph 5)

Having a slightly masochistic streak I'm occasionally compelled to pick up the Metro, the Daily Mail's ugly little sister, on the train into work. This rag usually offers a bit of bile to start your week with and this morning's edition was no exception, with the story of a woman who neglected her children and let her dogs starve to death while playing a computer game as its front page offering. (The story is covered in even more gory detail in the Fail itself). By the time I'd finished reading I was shaking with rage, but possibly not for quite the reasons the editors intended.

This seems at first reading to be a continuation of the Fails' bizarre crusade against the evil interwebs: the addictive game in question is called Smallworld, to which "she received an invitation from a friend on Facebook", and is "an online boardgame featuring characters such as wizards, dwarves, orcs and giants" – clearly such a tempting prospect it can turn an ordinary mother into a neglectful monster. Look a bit closer though and the story gets rather more complicated.

It seems the problems started when she lost her husband to a heart attack, after which she stopped taking care of her dogs and her house, barely managed to feed her children and started obsessively playing the game. That doesn't sound to me like an addictive game ruining someone's life, it sounds to me like someone with severe depression taking refuge in a virtual world from a life that's become unbearable. It sounds to me like turning someone with a severe mental illness into a hate figure in order to fit with their anti-Facebook agenda.

Apparently she got a ban on using the internet and keeping animals and a suspended custodial sentence. What I hope she also got is counselling, a lot of hot cups of tea and a lot of friends reassuring her that whatever she's done they still care about her. What she certainly doesn't need is a media-maddened mob who can't imagine themselves ever ending up in that position to tell her what she did is inexcusable, I'm pretty sure she already feels bad about it.

Honestly, in my more tinfoil-hatted moments I sometimes wonder why the Daily Mail puts so much effort into making sure we hate each other. Do they want us to be too busy squabbling amongst ourselves and bitching over biweekly bin collections that we won't notice when Paul Dacre peels off his fleshmask and leads his army of Martian Lizardmen to victory or something? Maybe it's meant to be reassuring. We're not like those people, the narrative goes. We're not workshy scroungers sponging off honest taxpayers, or underdressed sluts who go out and get themselves raped (or probably make it up anyway) or foreigners inventing tales of persecution to leech off the public services we pay for. We'd never get addicted to an absurd game "featuring characters such as wizards, dwarves, orcs and giants". And we're certainly not the sort of weak, pathetic people who get depression.

Only it's a lie of course. It's hard to find a firm figure but it's widely accepted that about a quarter of us will experience some sort of mental illness at some point in our lives. No matter who we are or how strong our work ethic may be, we can find ourselves sick or unemployed, we may even be assaulted whatever precautions we take. And sometimes, maybe in response to bereavement, maybe because of something else, our brains can do things we don't like and can't control. Life can be touch, and possibly the one thing I'd agree with the Daily Mail on is the need to look out for each other – this story probably wouldn't have ended so tragically if this woman's friends or family had noticed she wasn't coping and offered to help at the beginning. But a little understanding and compassion is what would promote that sort of society, not the judgement, mistrust and condemnation peddled by this paper.

In short, there's some indefensible behaviour here, but it's on behalf of the writers of this article, not its subject.

P.S. I should probably point out that I'm a dog lover (currently dogless due to circumstances rather than choice), and while the idea of letting your dogs starve to death makes me feel sick, I'm not so self-righteous that I can't see how someone with depression could let that happen.


  1. Excellent points. I'm so fed up of the sneering hate the media stirs up. Empathy seems to become rarer every day and that frightens me.
    FWIW, I think that it's no accident. If people are all too busy frothing at the mouth about work-shy scroungers, celebrities, immigrants, the p.c brigade and, of course, feminazis then the chances of them standing together against injustice are greatly reduced. Divide and conquer!

  2. Very well said. When I read that story my first thought was 'poor, grieving woman, what an awful tragedy', not 'string her up, teh crazy dwarf-obsessed child/animal neglecter!!' Where the hell were her friends and family while all this was going on? Did not a single one of her relatives/neighbours pop round to say 'sorry to hear about your husband, I brought you a casserole'?
    Also did you notice that the story focuses solely on how she neglected her children and dog - not on how she quite clearly neglected her own welfare, getting only 2 hours sleep a night etc. Because of course, once a woman becomes a mother, she has no right to have needs of her own, she is merely a servant to her children.

  3. @starsandcars Completely agree that that sort of thinking stops people from standing together to improve the situation – just look at the amount of hatred the papers managed to whip up against the tube strikers defending their jobs amongst a lot of people also in fear for their jobs. Not sure if I can quite believe it’s intentional though, I’m generally too much of a believer in human incompetence to think that it’s part of some masterplan.
    @Fizzwhizz Absolutley, it’s telling isn’t it that she’s referred to as “a mother”, not “a woman” throughout. I’d certainly consider her a victim here as much as the children or the dogs, but that’s certainly not an angle these papers are taking.

  4. Jules, it's not that I think it's some kind of conspiracy but I think the lines between media and government are far too blurry.
    A government would have a much easier time passing through legislation that would negatively affect a certain social group if the general view of said certain social group is influenced negatively by the media.. I'm wondering if it's 'chicken and egg'-style conundrum now..
    Sorry for rambling- I've been lurking the blogosphere for years but never had the confidence to comment, working on that now but think it will take some practice, lol.

  5. please please please, write an article about this article



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