So, Jan Moir spouts a bunch of homophobic garbage and people final notice that the Daily Mail is a foul, grubby little paper which spreads hatred via innuendo. Everybody goes to the PCC to register their dissaproval, then suddenly notices that the PCC’s chairman is actually Paul Dacre who (drumroll) is also the editor of the foul, grubby little paper in the first place. People really haven’t been paying attention, but it’s nice that they’re finally joining the party.
I got to the party early. I was setting out dips and drinks before everyone else arrived. Because I got a crash-course in how the Daily Mail operates at the tender age of 12, when the wretched paper in question gave my parents the impression that I was interested in bestiality. Yes, it’s the second rant about newspaper fact-checking this year, and with apologies to EE Cummings; here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called pure dark hatred of the Daily Mail.
I wasn’t the coolest 12 year old going. I was vaguely awkward and vaguely weird, but I was just beginning to fashion myself an identity all of my very own. That identity, unsurprisingly, was based on movies. I loved ’em, and I realised early on that by going out on a limb and loving the movies that nobody else loved, by paying attention to those poor, confused, malformed little flicks that everyone else seemed determined to kick into the gutter I could stand out from the crowd at school. Whilst they sung the praises of whatever flick had just hit the local Odeon, I’d sing the praises on a straight-to-VHS Charles Band movie that I’d rented. And people would listen, and laugh, and I’d be the Movies Guy, which was a damn sight better than just being the guy who was always picked three-from-last for every sports team going.
One afternoon after school, I went to see Howard The Duck with my mate Dan Rice. HTD had been a horrible flop at the US box office, to the degree that it was retitled on these shores as Howard:A New Breed of Hero and the advertising campaign (rather brilliantly) went to absurd lengths to conceal that the hero was a duck. We saw the late afternoon showing at a fantastic cinema in Westcliff called the Classic (which was knocked down and turned into a fucking Halfords some years later) and there were only two other people watching the movie. Evidently, Howard was repeating the egg he’d laid Stateside. I loved the movie. It was horribly misjudged and hugely embarrassing, so I naturally told everyone who cared to lend an ear how wonderful I thought it was.
That Saturday morning, I awoke to hear my parents discussing something in hushed tones. When I entered the room they fell silent. Then, very cautiously, my Mum started to ask me about ‘that duck film’. I sensed that something was horribly amiss, and my eyes fell onto the copy of the Daily Mail that lay on my Mum’s bedside table. Apparently, a schoolteacher had taken a class of 6 year-olds to see Howard, and had marched them all out at ‘bedroom scene’. She had then written to her favourite shitrag vocalising her disgust, and the Mail had responded by detailing various events from HTD with all traces of humour or context carefully removed. So my parents now thought that the film that I had been championing all week was, not to put too fine a point on it, a duck-fucking movie. No matter how much I protested that it ‘wasn’t like that’, the mud stuck.
That time, as a 12-year old, I crumbled. I took back my support for the movie and felt an odd shame every time the title was mentioned. The Mail took something I’d loved and turned it into a source of embarrassment, something that made me feel awkward and sad. For years, I persuaded myself that Howard The Duck didn’t exist; if it didn’t exist, I had nothing to be embarrassed about.
Weird the way these experiences shape a man. The whole Howard The Duck incident taught me a lot of things. It taught me that context is all-important. It taught me that just because it’s okay for Lea Thompson to want to fuck her son in Back To The Future, that apparently doesn’t mean it’s okay for her to want to fuck a duck in Howard The Duck (Seriously, what was her agent thinking? Fear of typecasting?). But most of all, it taught me that the Daily Mail has a special mirror of lies which can turn whatever it reflects into something foul and ugly.
There, i made it through the whole blog without mentioning the whole ‘they supported the nazis’ thing.