In a year marked by racism, the British tabloids have been front and centre
No-one is safe, from Polish lorry drivers to Prince Harry’s girlfriend
We’ll remember 2016 for a number of reasons – not many of them good. But look beyond Brexit and past President Trump, and perhaps the most awful part of one of the most awful years of all time has been the way the tabloids have handled it all.
It’s not like bigotry in the papers is a new thing; it was only last year that Katie Hopkins was using The Sun to call migrants “cockroaches” and say she’d hunt them down with gunships. Yet 2016 has been different – since the result of the EU Referendum, we’ve been rapidly reversing into pitchfork-wielding self-parody.
Not convinced? Here’s a little recap for you.
We could have begun in January, sure – but we all know the year really started on the 24th June. Before Brexit was even decided, The Sun had declared our “INDEPENDENCE DAY.”
The cover made a hasty effort of comparing Brexit to the Independence Day reboot which had just hit cinemas. Fitting, because both were expensive, unnecessary and, in hindsight, absolute fucking disasters.
For better or for worse, Brexit actually happened – and the country lost its mind. While The Sun’s “SEE EU LATER!” won on puns and the Daily Mail’s “WE’RE OUT!” had the obligatory full-page spread of a cheering Nigel Farage, the Daily Express were the real winners here in terms of full-on overkill.
Things to note: “SPECIAL SOUVENIR EDITION” banner; ambitiously early declaration of Boris Johnson as next Prime Minister; decision to speak like a dictatorship broadcast for Kim Jong-Un in “WORLD’S MOST SUCCESSFUL NEWSPAPER CRUSADE ENDS IN GLORIOUS VICTORY FOR YOUR DAILY EXPRESS.”
The general vitriol of a post-Brexit Britain is such an everyday thing now that it seems weird to pinpoint a moment where we all thought “Shit, this is getting quite nasty.”
If there was one, though, it came in the form of a column by The Sun’s Kelvin Mackenzie in which he complained about a presenter in a Hijab delivering news of the Nice terror attacks.
In his typically pleasant manner, Mackenzie called the use of presenter Fatima Manji “massively provocative,” pointed out the station’s “editorial stupidity” for talking about Islamophobia and asked the potent question: “Who was in the studio representing our fears?” – “our,” presumably, meaning confused old white men.
Speaking of, it was just two days later that the Daily Express were screaming at whoever would listen about the migrant crisis. “SORT IT OUT NOW,” they yelled, presumably cross-eyed with rage.
August began, and it was worse than we thought – the migrant crisis was officially “COLOSSAL.”
Well, the Daily Express thought so, although by this point we were becoming convinced they were less a newspaper and more the ramblings of a bloke who’d become tired of bellowing vague statements at strangers on train platforms.
Despite this, migrant outrage generally took a bit of time off in August. This was mainly due to an influx of news stories about the British summer sunshine and British Olympic success, and an all-encompassing need to shoehorn the two together into endless frontpages declaring “BRITAIN’S GOLDEN AGE.”
As soon as September rolled around, however, the hysteria was back in full force. No surprise, really – as early as the 4th and Muslims were already PROTECTING THE YORKSHIRE RIPPER.
Across the channel, tensions were rising in the Calais Jungle – so you can imagine the relief on Daily Mail readers’ crinkled faces when the paper promised we were weeks away from a “Great Wall of Calais,” and just two months after Trump had promised the same thing in America.
In a month full of open-mouthed fury, September outrage reached its peak when a West Midlands Police Constable fielded the idea of allowing police officers to wear burkas. “Burka” is, of course, a buzzword for the tabloids, and it set them off with all the foam-flecked fury of a bell to Pavlov’s dogs.
And it wasn’t only our police. It was our doctors too, coming in from the bloody EU and putting our own patients at risk. Oh well, at least we can stave off disease with a deliciously simple diet.
Our police force and our NHS may have been at risk from the migrant crisis we’d heard so much about, but at least there was some light at the end of the tunnel for us.
No, not Princess Charlotte – a Bishop! Thank God, we’re saved.
Come October, the latest furore was over the new kids on the block. Or, as the Sun would call them, the new “kids” on the block – the papers weren’t happy with the ages of the child migrants in Britain, and took it upon themselves to demand their… teeth be tested?
Some people thought asking the government to start poking around in beleaguered foreigners’ mouths felt a little bit, well, fascist – so national treasure Gary Lineker got involved by calling the whole thing “utterly heartless.”
The Sun responded in kind.
It’s almost enough to make someone not want to speak out! After all, Lily Allen was another celebrity who spoke out in defence of child migrants – prompting this, a genuine headline on a genuine newspaper cover in the year of 2016.
It’s November. The US Election looms large; racial tensions are high on both sides of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, The Sun has decided that using your phone while driving is a “foreign” thing.
Next up, rather than letting Theresa May do as she pleases, a campaign is launched to allow parliament the chance to vote on the terms of Brexit. The judges are named “enemies of the people.” Things are starting to get a bit scary.
The Express are demanding that we “MUST GET OUT OF THE EU.” They liken it to World War II – they tell their readers their country needs them, that “this country faces a crisis as grave as anything since the dark days when Churchill vowed we would fight them on the beaches.”
But who are “they,” the people we’ll be fighting on the beaches this time? Because amid all the patriotic declarations, all the EU puns, all the poppy-and-St-George laden mastheads and “GIANT” maps of Britain free inside, people started to notice things like this.
— Paint It Black #BLM (@CameronMcIntosh) November 6, 2016
Left: "Enemies of the people", 2016. Right: "Who is the enemy?", 1934. pic.twitter.com/yBeaIGO7wz
— Alexandre Afonso (@alexandreafonso) November 3, 2016
The situation is so dire that even Prince Harry, an actual prince with a history of dressing like an actual Nazi, has been forced to make a public complaint about the “racial undertones” in the tabloid treatment of his new girlfriend.
The atmosphere is tense. Donald Trump is going to be the Leader of the Free World, and the news outlets of the UK poke fun at child migrants, rant about religions they don’t agree with and shamelessly splash their covers with pictures of judges who won’t do their bidding as if they’re wanted men.
Suddenly, when you think about it, it’s not very funny at all.