Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Afghanistan? Iraq? Shush! Read your Daily Mail and collect your plates!

Welcome back collective hysteria, last seen in town at the Queen Mother's funeral.

Amongst the revolting cries of "Harry the Hero" and "Brave Harry" that afflicted the weekend - an endless seam of sycophantic triviality - The Independent was the only paper to stick out and speak some sense.

If you thought cheap jingoism and a peculiar aversion to reality were already populating the UK press, the last few days showed that there's always room for lower depths. Welcome back collective hysteria, last seen in town at the Queen Mother's funeral or the 2006 World Cup.

The Daily Mail and Daily Express had over ten pages plastered with photos of valiant Harry "in combat", Partridge-esque smiling while atop a tank, commanding a rifle while looking at the stars and so on.

Even The Mirror, the "working man"'s paper sported a lame "Here's To You Harry The Brave" headline. And of course, routine statements that Prince Harry "was being treated the same as all the other soldiers" serving in Helmand, Afghanistan, were too many to mention.

Because of course every soldier enjoys the Press Association being the guardian angel of their every move as they take snapshots of their "experience" in the desert. Every soldier has the privilege of Royal minders rolling in to drop them safely into the combat zone. And, last but not least, every soldier returns from a two-month tour of Afghanistan to then proceed straight to an exotic safari with his girlfriend, all expenses paid. Just to wind down a little, you know.

Bored of the shackles of his pampered, oppressive life, Harry wanted to go out and play a bit. It turned out a win-win situation.

For the royals, an excellent PR opportunity to clear Harry's spoilt-brat, party-animal, photographer-punching image. For the tabloids, industrial quantities of populistic fodder for weeks to come. And while soldiers and civilians alike are dying in a morass that makes less and less sense as the weeks go by, there they are, the brave, bulldog-clad, patriotic, British papers, bingeing on regalia.

The miserly press coverage of the last British soldier killed in Basra last Friday is a poignant case in point.

And so, hats off to The Independent newspaper, with extra praise to Afghan-veteran Leo Doherty. Speaking of the Harry-induced gorge, the former soldier remarked that "war is reduced to entertainment". More, "The images of Prince Harry blasting away on a machine gun seem dangerously close to propaganda". You can read the full article, "Harry's war: the ugly truth", by clicking here.

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