Last Thursday, June 12th The Sun put out a free edition of its newspaper to 22 million homes.
The Sun newspaper is produced by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corps and has the biggest circulation of any daily paper in the UK. It sells over 2 million copies a day, and has a readership in excess of 5.5 million daily.
I am not a Sun reader.
The paper does not interest me.
If it weren’t for the blog, I wouldn’t have read this edition, either.
I like to write a blog regularly, and, recently, I’ve been obsessed with the Dort and the Britian’s Got Talent tv show. I wouldn’t normally have watched Saturday night tv with mass viewing appeal, and it dawned on me that there must be some crossover between that demographic and this one, so I decided to test the water.
It’s very easy to be dismissive. It’s easy to judge. I decided that to judge Sun readers is beneath me. I’m not going to do that... not if I can help it.
I might, however, judge those who produce this tabloid paper. Who knows?
First of all, I’m going to state, for the record, that, in my opinion this isn’t actually a newspaper. I don’t know what The Sun usually delivers in the way of news coverage, but there wasn’t any news, foreign or domestic, in this edition.
This is an advertisement. The Sun is using the World Cup to gain readers. I do hope it doesn't work.
The Front Page
The front page headline simply read THIS IS OUR ENGLAND.
This was enough to make me tense before I’d even opened the bloody thing. I know that there are Scottish and Irish editions of The Sun; nevertheless, invoking England in this way always conjures a form of nationalism that makes me deeply uncomfortable. And who are WE? I’m guessing The Sun isn’t referring to residents of England, to all our wonderful friends and neighbours.
One hundred and eighteen faces looked out at me from that front page. 118 English faces, our representatives, people we could rely on to make us feel proud. I wonder how many of them would have chosen to have their faces attached to that headline or to The Sun’s banner? I wonder how many of them share this newspaper’s jingoism or its political stance? I’m damned sure many of them wouldn’t. I also wonder when Peppa Pig and Wallace and Gromit could be classed as people, or when they rated more highly than either their creators or, for example, our poet laureate, who doesn’t appear? If these 118 people are the pride of our country, I also wonder why The Sun feels that its readers need a key to who they all are?
This was a rundown of the best English things. The first two groups were the best English people as voted for by Sun readers. The Greatest Living English Person question resulted in 34% of those questioned giving an answer in the categories ‘someone else’ or ‘don’t know’. Leaving a total of 66% voting for actual people. The Queen got 39% of the vote, and was the only woman on the list. Ant and Dec counted as one person. Two other royals were on the list. Sir David Attenborough got 16% of the vote, and came in second.
I think Sir David would be horrified by that figure. I think Sir David would be able to cite dozens of English men and women in half-a-dozen fields whom he would consider to be great: scientists, academics, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, artists, statesmen. I doubt he would put himself in that list. I’d bet bloody good money that he wouldn’t put a couple of charming Geordies who do a telly show on that list either.
In the category of Greatest Historic English Figure, 15% responded in the categories ‘someone else’ and ‘don’t know’, leaving 85% voting for an actual person. Women faired better; there were five on the list and seven men. What was really interesting, though, was the grasp Sun readers have on history. Only two people on the list: Elizabeth I and Shakespeare were around before the last couple of hundred years, and they both came from the same period. It also happens to be the one bit of history we all learn in school, and the one that comes up over and over again in period dramas and movies. I’m not going to begin to mention the fact that Elizabeth I was also royalty. We’ve clearly got a bit of a thing about monarchs, and queens in particular, and the longer they live the better. The two Elizabeths and Victoria all feature on these lists. Between the three of them, they ruled for a total of 170 years, and counting!
If our memories really won’t stretch past the last couple of hundred years and we like royalty, as monarchs go, George VI might have been a good candidate. He reigned for sixteen years, following the storm of his brother’s abdication. The first half of his reign coincided with World War II. Not an easy time to be an accidental king. He doesn’t appear on the list. If we like strong female monarchs and we’re so fired up about patriotism, why didn’t we vote for Boudicca?
The English rose: Girls, not flowers.
World Cup. This free edition of The Sun was delivered on the first day of the World Cup. Absolutely no coincidence there, then.
The George Flag and England supporters
The Sun (mock) front pages
50 things to do in England
The World Cup
The World Cup
Pages 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 16, 18 20, 24
So, there you go... I had a look, so you didn’t have to. I looked into the heart of The Sun, and I wasn’t blinded.
You might be able to tell that I became fractious and bored pretty damned quickly, so I didn’t actually read it... I couldn’t bring myself to do it... I just couldn’t. Besides, if I’d read it I would’ve ended up writing about it, and can you imagine the snark factor? Let’s face it, you got 650 words on a cover photo and a pop quiz.
I’m going to roll up my free edition of The Sun, which in no way resembled a newspaper, and I’m going to post it back to them... And I’m never going to read it again.