On Richard Littlejohn and the Southbank Centre’s advert in the Daily Mail

Richard Littlejohn writes in today’s Daily Mail about Tom Daley and Dustin Lance Black’s announcement on Instagram. The headline was enough to get my back up and my eyes focused: “Please don’t pretend two dads is the new normal”.

Stop Funding Hate has identified today’s advertisers in the Daily Mail and tweeted them a picture of Littlejohn’s piece. Among those advertisers is the Southbank Centre.

I’m not a Daily Mail reader. I can’t stand the publication. It makes my heart sink when I think of the people I know who do read it.

It used to infuriate me when the Daily Mail would criticise the BBC in its editorial. Teams of people would prepare responses for a bit of social media bite-back. I was often engaged in the production of those materials. That work’s success would feature in tiresome evaluation sessions. The day after the BBC would be seen advertising free DVDs from the newspaper’s banner.

The Daily Mail is an oily rag, but its one that serves a purpose for a great many organisations because of its reach. That’s why the BBC actively sought promotion in the newspaper. That’s also why the Southbank Centre advertises in the paper because its marketing department knows that some people who enjoy reading the Daily Mail may also enjoy visiting the Southbank Centre.

Speaking as someone who writes about classical music, wants more people to enjoy it, or at the very least wants more people to enjoy the communal atmosphere at a building that is open (free) to all, it’s more important to me that the Southbank Centre pays to advertise in a newspaper that provides access to the greatest audience share than not.

This is not a popular view, and that last sentence is quite long too. Sorry.

Art in all its forms reflects back on the individual engaging with it. That kind of engagement has the potential of changing people. It may not be the kind of dramatic immediate change the likes of Stop Funding Hate quite understandably seek, but its meaningful individual change nonetheless.

We live in an incredibly polarised society fuelled by outrage and indignation. None of us are listening to one another, preferring instead to revel in our own self-righteousness. All of us are responding to ever more simplistic views of the world constructed by those with an agenda, or under the cosh of a tyrannical running order.

But other people take on viewpoints for different reasons because they perceive the world in a different way from us. Isn’t incumbent on all of us to listen to others and, as we do so, see how their views challenge and potentially reshape our own?

The hate in Littlejohn’s column isn’t about whether or not two men should be fathers. The hate nestles cosily in the way he describes Daley and Black as “Bill and Ben”. That’s on the same level as Alan Partridge’s line “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Painfully unreconstructed middle-age uneducated white male uttering a belief that he is right and the rest of the world has gone mad. Littlejohn: wearing your ignorance like a badge of honour isn’t decent and it isn’t honest. You’re celebrating your own dimness.

But, Littlejohn’s column does unearth one point which I hadn’t considered. The idea that Daley and Black’s Instagram posting makes no reference to the fact that there is a woman involved in the process of them becoming parents. Contractual arrangements make that a necessity, of course. It’s an odd kind of celebration when looked through Littlejohn’s prism.

It is possible to identify a different narrative in that image other than the positive LGBT role models demonstrating that gay men can be parents. What Littlejohn’s column highlights is how one PR person’s strong defiant message can be seen quite legitimately as something completely different.

Personally, I found the picture nauseating. I see the image of a perfect-looking couple living a perfect life blissfully happy all of the time. It’s Hello Magazine for the next generation, only on Instagram. But that’s largely because I have a core need for things to be authentic, real, and possibly a little spikey and uncomfortable around the edges. I question things that are too polished.

And because that line between legitimate message and defiant message of equality is blurred, different groups of people with different perceptions of the world will express different views of it. And that means for some, news like celebrity gay men announcing they’re soon to be parents is a green light for cynicism.

But cynicism isn’t hate. I still want people who think Elton John and David Furnish’s children are trophy children to visit places like the Southbank Centre and experience the thing I love. Because I’d rather meet them, look them in the eye and tell them I’m not scared of them, than throw stones from the other side of the playground. At least that way I’ll have listened to them.

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