New Internationalist

Columnists can damage your health

April 2014

In Australia, cigarette packets display grimly shocking images of the poor buggers who’ve come unstuck consuming the evil that lies inside. Many newspapers and websites should have the same warnings. Front pages should be emblazoned with pictures of previously healthy people keeling over. Because, however tempting they may seem, their contents can make you extremely sick. I know this because I ruined a perfectly good Sunday recently by absentmindedly exposing myself to the noxious vapours lurking in the fetid folds of the Sun on Sunday – Rupert Murdoch’s cut-price News of the World replacement.

It happened like this. My girlfriend was in a generous mood, so offered to go solo on the childcare for an hour while I indulged in that glorious Sunday morning ritual of a leisurely breakfast in the café. To relax, some people run a bath, light candles and listen to a whale-song CD. Me, I pop to my local caff for a chilled-out brekkie with the papers. Not this day.

I arrived at the café, ordered a Number Five (no sausage, extra bacon) and started foraging the magazine rack, where the only thing left was a ketchup-stained copy of the Sun on Sunday. I could have abstained, except, at that moment, ‘Nigel’, a supremely boring yet talkative neighbour, sidled through the door. I knew he’d want a chat – and a chat was not part of my relaxing ‘me time’ itinerary. I grabbed the paper, found a discreet table and got my head down.

Big mistake. After 20 minutes I was an apoplectic keg of impotent rage. I craved ‘Nigel’s’ banal banter. I craved anything that might unravel the barbed-wire ball of fury that had engulfed my innards. I only read two columns but it was enough. For the rest of the day I just couldn’t shake off the burning in my belly. Admittedly, the huge fry-up might have been a contributory factor.

The first column was full of glib, mean-spirited, misty-eyed Little Englander nastiness. The second served up a wilfully inaccurate, foaming-mouthed rant against a leading trade unionist, and actually delighted in the possibility of workers losing their jobs. Both deliberately whipped up fear and celebrated cruelty. If anyone out there is in training for the Race To The Bottom, these two columnists would make inspirational role models.

It’s my fault for getting drawn in; engaging with the phony polemics spouted by the tabloids, talk radio and Fox News gets you nowhere but an early grave. It’s also exactly what they want.

I have friends who spend their entire lives getting worked up by these people and their splenetic ramblings, bizarrely demonstrating how much they despise them by reposting links to their bile on social media saying, ‘OMG! You have got to read this!’

Well, no, you haven’t: it’s bad for your health. Far better to get angry about hospital closures, poor housing, welfare cuts, even ‘Nigel’ the Neighbour’s latest grumble, than let the professional provocateurs of the media stain your brain. That’s what I’m here for…

Steve Parry is a comedy writer, performer and political activist. He is Welsh and lives in north London. You can contact him on Twitter: @stevejparry

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 471 This column was published in the April 2014 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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