Photo courtesy of the World Economic Forum
Like most Brits, I have a far more complicated, zweigespaltene relationship to the yellow press than a typical German. Most of my German friends, for example, have a fairly simplistic relationship to the German tabloids. They basically think they're a bag of shite. But it's more complicated for British people. I think Russell Brand sums it up well when he says he thinks of The Sun as a kind of friend – but the kind of friend you really fucking hate.
I don't have any German friends who admit to reading Bild or B.Z. I mean none. Not even working-class people actually admit to reading the tabloids over here. This is a huge difference to the UK, where everybody reads the tabloids. Well, everyone under a certain age at least. It doesn't matter how intellectual or left-wing you are, everyone under the age of, say 25, reads The Sun or The Mirror at least once a week, mainly for the celebrity gossip and the sports, but also, just because, like, that's what you do. It's just Brauch.
The other difference is that the tabloids in Britain are really fucking evil. I'm not talking about the developments this week – even before it was found out they'd been tapping murdered schoolgirls' phones and deleting the anguished voicemail messages from her panic-stricken friends and family, just to sell papers – the things The Sun and the NOTW were capable of were so evil, that in comparison, when I arrived in Germany, I got really confused whenever I did read the Bild or B.Z. I remember looking through the B.Z. one time on the underground, not sure whether it was a tabloid or not.
"Is this a tabloid?" I thought to myself, biting my lip in bewilderment. "It must be – look at all the pictures and the big font. But... where's all the hate?"
So, okay, when you come from England, it's hard to despise the Bild as much as your German friends do. And besides, it's the Hetzerei I dislike, not the easy-peasy vocabulary or even the populist exuberance. I think sometimes, my German mates are just being snobby against the tabloids because they think everybody should be as clever as they are. I don't agree with that. I think there's value in being funny yet accessible. I thought, truth be told, that THIS was brilliant. And the response was even brillianter. I personally don't think people have to be, like, intellectual geniuses to be intelligent, or worthwhile. I think it's great that we live in an age and a place where most people, no matter how badly educated, can read a daily newspaper. My ex – a Palestinian kid who arrived in Germany aged 14 and never had formal schooling over here – he read the B.Z. religiously. And I think the accusations of limited vocabulary and simplistic language are often vastly overrated – sometimes the headlines in The Sun or NOTW are almost poetic, and a few of the Bild headlines are easily the wittiest things I've ever read in the German language.
The greatest difference between the British and German press in general is the level of hatred. Whereas the British tabloids are just dripping in vitriol, against anyone in society who is slightly disadvantaged or weak, the broadsheets do try to be slightly fairer and less incendiary. It's not like that over here. The only difference between the broadsheets and the tabloids is the vocab and the size of the pictures, basically. The hatred, except for in totally left-wing papers, is exactly the same. I remember an article I read in a South German paper once. I can't remember which one it was and I don't want to quickly make up a lie, because the article was so horrific and sickening. It was after that boy had killed his sister in Kreuzberg. The article called for the whole family to be deported. The vocab was tricky, but the hate was simple. The hate was pure. I nearly threw up afterwards.
So, there have been some commentators describing the News of the World's demise as Britain's Watergate moment. Nobody cared when we thought that the tabloids had been hacking celebrities to find out who'd they'd been shagging. Well, maybe we did, but only a tiny bit – it was like when Guttenberg tried to get away with cheating on his thesis. It was a bit galling to know that normal laws didn't count for them...
Finding out they'd hacked Milly Dowler, deleting her messages, giving her family fresh hope, and then interviewing them about this hope, finding out they'd been hacking dead service men's phones, finding out they'd been paying the cops for information, that that was undoubtedly the reason why the Met had helped cover up the celeb hacking scandals in the first place. Finding out that our police force and our politicians have let one man's power blind them to his evil, finding out that our country is, basically, corrupt – maybe I'm naive but I was gobsmacked.
Could this really be a Watergate moment? My boyfriend says it's premature, and naive, that in one week's time The Sun on Sunday will rise out of NOTW's ashes, and it will be business as usual, only with slightly less phone-hacking. I guess I am a naive person. I really want for our country to seize this moment – as a Watergate moment, as a kind of watershed – and I really believe we can. I know I'm a naive girl sometimes, but I really hope – I really hope, from the bottom of my heart, that, now he has been proven to be nothing more than an evil cunt, Rupert Murdoch's grip on our country will weaken, and that the political discourse which shapes Britain will become slightly (slightly) less polluted with hatred, and, basically, evil. And yet. I can't help it. I wish I was better than this. There's a part of me, a tiny part of me, but a part of me still, that is simply sad to see the NOTW go down.