Crap Journalism 4


Once again, there’s a piece in the Guardian that I wish to highlight. This one isn’t the same kind of overt idiocy I’ve railed against before, rather it’s an opinion piece that, whilst disagreeing fundamentally with the opinion, I would normally just ignore.

But Trevor Mitchell is not merely pushing the jaundiced idea that Cliff Richard’s ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ is the only Xmas record that counts, he’s using his piece to mount a cynical and wrong-headed attack on ‘A Fairytale of New York’, which around here is fightin’ talk!

My own personal choice as the only Xmas record that counts is already back on its way towards the top twenty, having re-entered the chart at 66 last Friday. It’s starting a long way back from Mariah Carey, who hit the top 100 the week before and is already standing at no 29. Much is being made of the fact that this is now the tenth consecutive year the song’s been a hit: I expect that rather less will be made of the fact that this year will mark the Pogues and Kirsty’s eleventh successive season.

It’s not as if Mr Mitchell is actually promoting the idea of the Cliff Richard song having any intrinsic merit. If that were so, it would again be a mere difference of opinion, and I don’t rail at those any more. No, his piece is, throughout, a snide snipe at Xmas records that sarcastically cloaks itself in a supposedly contrarian promotion of something most sensible people wouldn’t touch with a double-length bargepole held by someone else.

It’s an inherently nasty little piece, written out of self-assumed intellectual superiority, of the kind that has always stemmed from someone thinking he’s better than the unwashed masses.

But it’s in its attacks on ‘A Fairytale of New York’ that the piece veers into territory on which it must be beaten to the ground, bloody and broken. Once again, this is not just about opinion. We are now at the point where the working day is backdropped to an endless run of MTV Xmas shows, thankfully silent, and I work with enough people who don’t like the record. We just disagree, that’s all.

But Mr Mitchell has other things in mind. He minces no words (nor pies):

“The song that consistently tops the annual polls of the UK’s 50 favourite Christmas songs is, of course, Fairytale of New York, the festive cheese it’s been deemed OK to like. The problem is that the acceptable face of Christmas novelty songs is as cynical as any other: manipulative, over-produced and as cloyingly sentimental as Bing Crosby. It also has the bonus of glamorising poverty, alcoholism and domestic violence. It’s selling a fantasy while trying to convince us it’s authentic, inviting the listener to experience the vicarious thrill of NYC drunk tanks, and giving us a “can’t live with him/can’t live without her” cliched shtick.”

Oh my! Someone slept in the nasty tree last night, didn’t they? There’s a repeat whack near the end with a line about ‘cynical attempt at authenticity’ but this is the core of Mr Mitchell’s bitchiness. ‘A Fairytale of New York’ fails against ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ for not invoking the essential dreariness of Xmas day with the family, which is something it never set out to do, but to admit that would destroy Mr Mitchell’s case, which is built on serious strawmanitis.

The biggest charge against ‘Fairytale of New York’ is that it’s cynical.  That it’s calculated, manipulative, inauthentic and as phoney as any X-Factor Xmas single. I suspect Mr Mitchell is not of an age to have experienced the song when it first appeared, nor be familiar with the music of its time, and I suspect he doesn’t know much about the Pogues either. That long, slow, deliberately maudlin opening, Shane McGowan’s half song, bleeding into Jem Finer’s rollicking tune far later than any commercial producer would ever have allowed. The aggressive charge of the second verse, where Shane and Kirsty turn on one another with anger at themselves as much as each other. The chorus that presents us with cliches that nevertheless reach into the innocence we keep hidden deep within. Manipulative? Bollocks. Sentimental? Of course, and bang it on until we drown in it. It’s a story of one night, that’s all.

At the end of the day, it’s the song that refutes such charges. All Mitchell is doing is saying that I don’t like what loads of people like and that, because there are more of you than there are of me, I’m right and you’re being fooled.

Which makes for Crap Journalism in my book.

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