This week Amanda Palmer’s open letter to The Daily Mail, the British tabloid, has reanimated the debate about the representation of the female form in the media. After being mocked by The Mail Online for a nipple slip, Palmer wrote a song expounding her frustration at the hungry leer of press cameras. Although Palmer’s song has taken its place in The Daily Mail bashing hall of fame, sadly her very legitimate annoyance has merely been added to an ever-lengthening list of grievances.
It seems blithely mocking The Daily Mail has become something of a sport: the tittering, the false feeling of superiority and the smug glee. We’ve all chuckled at The-Daily-Mail-o-matic that generates panicked titles from combinations of The Mail’s favoured gripes: tax, immigrants and cancer. Many of us also enjoy a playful glance at The Mail Online. Reading The Daily Mail and then self-righteously mocking it has become something of a guilty pleasure, a national past time. Yet despite how light-hearted this appears, we should not neglect the uncomfortable undercurrent of objectification and shaming that female celebrities are often subjected to.
Amanda Palmer, an American performer who first rose to fame as the singer, lyricist and composer of The Dresden Dolls, featured in The Daily Mail following her set at Glastonbury. The article was entitled: “Making a boob of herself!” and included a photograph of her exposed breast. It left me with a feeling of righteous frustration, accompanied by an aftertaste of despondency that this was deemed news-worthy, or particularly notable. Little was written about the music, her set, or her career; the camera’s glare and the journalist’s writing fixed firmly on her exposed form.
However, Palmer retorted with characteristic boldness and ingenuity, penning an open letter to The Daily Mail put to music. The song condemned and loudly mocked the absurdity of the article, this time shifting the shame of exposure towards The Daily Mail for the attitudes it revealed, rather than on a musician for unknowingly exposing her body. Palmer chirpily sang about how their “focus on debasing women’s appearances ruins our species of humans” and later hits a crescendo, liberates herself from a kimono and decries The Daily Mail as a “misogynist pile of twats”, incisively interrogating the lack of “newsworthy cocks”.
The power of her protest lies in her reclaiming of her body, not as something inherently sexual or shameful, but as something that is her own, something for her solely to appraise rather than the sharp nib of a journalist’s pen. Much as The Daily Mail is certainly not alone in its bowing to the ever-growing demand for flesh, trawling through The Mail Online it is all too easy to find examples of flagrant objectification of the female body, coupled with an unsettling discourse of shame.
Take this article which details Liz Jones’ rage about Rihanna’s glorification of “drugs, guns and sleaze”: the tone is feverish and furious. It features captions rejecting her as “wanton” for photo shoots, comments about how she “invites rape at worst, disrespect at best” and a hearty dose of shaming. The shift of blame towards a female artist to the extent of legitimising rape is undeniably more poisonous than Rihanna’s occasionally questionable outfit choices. What messages does this send to legions of Rihanna fans that Jones, very ironically, is trying to protect and save? Amusingly, we are also provided links to equally hard-hitting articles about female celebrities’ beach bodies: the tone veers erratically from titillation to outrage in a cycle of condemnation and objectification.
So when we disregard such articles as “entertainment” or as amusingly facile, our egos sufficiently bloated after having a good snigger at the expense of Daily Mail readers, we should remember that newspapers are a gauge of social change. More outraged and brilliant Amanda Palmers should emerge, loudly denouncing rather than idly laughing at retrograde articles that blight our newspapers. We shouldn’t just get over it and laugh, we should get angry.