Have you ever seen someone gesticulating wildly at the dinner table and had the queasy premonition that they are about to swat their drink all over your lap – yet you’re too late to stop it? That was Infotainment’s feeling last week as the name of a self-confessed narcissist swept across the online landscape like some digital version of the Great Deluge.
Of the less-appealing cultural phenomena to have fallen under this column’s critical gaze, few – even those involving the name ‘Murdoch’ – have been as dispiriting as the case of Samantha Brick. Even typing that name just now was a wrench, for one does not go out of one’s way to add to something that one has already had quite enough of. But the grisly truth is that the episode – like it or not – wouldn’t have happened at all, were it not for… (oh, go on – admit it)… people managing their jobs very, very well indeed. Even if the greatest part of that management consisted of monumental cynicism about the British public.
Cutting a tediously long story short, the saga began a week ago when the Daily Mail published the lifestyle feature ‘Why do women hate me for being beautiful?’ in which Brick – a C-list media wonk – simultaneously bemoaned the flak she’d received for her (dubious) aesthetic gifts and lauded herself as the greatest thing since the bread slicer that sliced the sliced bread in the first place. In a stroke, a particularly shallow brand of middle-class self-pity was shaken into a particularly shallow brand of middle-class arrogance with a skill not witnessed since Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown earned their bartending stripes.
With its Molotov cocktail duly mixed, all the Mail needed to do was sit back, watch the inferno and soak up the hits for the online version of the feature – showered with attention from commentators who were outraged at The Brick Delusion, and needed to link to it so they could show their readers exactly what they were outraged about.
In fact, Brickgate seemed to mill such an extraordinary amount of outrage that coverage of ongoing atrocities in Syria and debate over government plans to monitor electronic communications and web usage didn’t so much take a back seat as off themselves with service revolvers. It was, in sum, a runaway bullet train of self-generating bile that sped Brick’s name to the top of Twitter’s trending topics for a length of time that may actually have led people to believe she was remotely important.
For those of us who have been eagerly tracking the Leveson Inquiry in the hope that it would lead to a reclamation of the press as a truth-seeking entity on the side of the public good, the Brick Revelation has been like experiencing root-canal surgery on every single tooth. Far from paving the way for a new era of crusading, investigative journalism, Brick’s article has proven that the British public – and the columnists of the Mail‘s ostensibly highbrow rivals – are really only interested in self-centred, me-me-me waffle crafted and honed in some Laboratory Of The Short Attention Span to create exactly the kind of reaction that ensued. In other words, with the North Star of cynicism as its steady guide, the Mail set out like some Frankenstein Academy to demonstrate that the public are a bunch of suckers who can be co-opted at will into the noble project of boosting the paper’s web stats. And did so quite brilliantly.
So, who do we have to thank for this great and wondrous pre-Easter tiding? Stand up Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre and online editor Martin Clarke. The fierce and resilient Dacre has already distinguished himself at Leveson by arguing the case for business as usual – the kind of business, in fact, that has spawned Brickageddon and may yet spawn similar outbreaks of catastrophic nonsense as time goes on. Clarke, meanwhile, was highlighted as Bond-Villain ambitious in a recent profile of the Mail by respected US journal The New Yorker. As well as revealing that the Mail website had added six million unique visitors throughout December and January – and that its US traffic had soared by 62% – it quoted Clarke as saying: “I could not care less if we overtake the Times. What matters to me is: Are we bigger than MSN? Are we bigger than Yahoo?”
Infotainment has seen the future. And the future is Brick shaped.