Highway to Holborn

During the four and a half years that I lived in London, I always found that I did my best reading on the tube. Not necessarily of my own books or periodicals (though I always had one or the other on me) but the newspapers I found other passengers reading. As an immigrant youngster, at first I imagined that the headlines I encountered represented the opinions of the British. As I grew older, and began returning to the country as a journalist, I of course learned otherwise.

Arriving in London on Saturday to give a book reading, my visit just happened to coincide with the riots. In town for six days, I got to witness the upheaval in all kinds of instructive ways. One such way was, as I expected, to sit in the tube and check out what the tabloids were saying. That is, by scanning those newspapers read by my fellow passengers. Primarily shot in the afternoon, the photos in this essay almost exclusively capture readers of the free London Evening Standard.

Newspaper editors know that by using the word “terror”, readers will immediately associate the term with its everyday referents: terrorists, terrorism, Middle Easterners, etc.

For such a decidedly commercial periodical – last Spring, for example, the London edition of The Metro featured an Absolute Vodka ad as its cover -the use of the word “cretin” to describe the rioters is practically literary.

The language of dehumanization continues. Note the use of the word “locust” in the newspaper on the lower left. Poor people are often described as “insects” and “animals”. The style guide of this newspaper obviously makes room for such analogies. What a symptomatic and unfortunate way to express class consciousness. Journalism, it’s not.

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