The heart sinks. Must everything – absolutely everything – get dragged into the intensifying culture war rooted in an ever angrier battle over identity and the need to take offence? Even the question of which shops it is deemed correct or acceptable by campaigners to buy a pen, a notepad or a birthday card from?
Yes, it must. Nothing is immune, it seems. Everything is political, even a mass market newspaper running a promotional campaign at the weekend offering two free rolls of gift-wrapping paper is now a key battleground thanks to Twitter and a corporate panic.
All to bully people into parroting the new supposedly standard opinion on the trans issue when, actually, there has been no proper public debate about these profound and complex changes. The campaign means bullying women into accepting that they are not allowed their own distinct spaces such as changing rooms at the gym because a tiny group of furious campaigners attack anyone who raises the slightest doubt about dispensing gender-altering drugs to confused children.
Paperchase now finds itself in the middle of this row. The hitherto rather wonderful high street shop, that has added a little colour and fizz to the business of buying a pen and a notebook in Britain for a decent price, has decided that it will not be advertising or doing promotions with the mi-market tabloid The Daily Mail following an online campaign by activists.
The Paperchase PR people tweeted this morning:
“Thank you for taking time to share your opinion. We genuinely like to know what customers think about us – even though on this occasion some of your feedback is uncomfortable to hear. We promise to review in detail all customer feedback on this promotion.”
There were 480 tweets in response, with Stop Funding Hate, the unbelievably pious campaign on Twitter set on destroying media outlets its supporters disagree with, in the forefront. Getting attacked by Stop Funding Hate is, it seems the corporate equivalent of being denounced in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, a chronicle of the witch hunts in New England. An assault online by Stop Funding Hate produces blind panic in the public relations department and the only way to save yourself if named is to grovel or denounce others.
Paperchase responded by Monday lunchtime:
“We’ve listened to you about this weekend’s newspaper promotion. We now know we were wrong to do this – we’re truly sorry and we won’t ever do it again. Thanks for telling us what you really think and we apologise if we have let you down on this one. Lesson learnt.”
The executives who did this – who folded because of a targeted and highly questionable campaign by a tiny group of activists – are declaring the millions of people who buy the Mail or products like it (the Mirror can be pretty robust on stories too) to be bad people, bigots even. They have declared all Mail readers beyond the pale.
There is talk from advocates of free speech, and those wanting the mainstream media to survive, of boycotting Paperchase for its decision. Again, the heart sinks. More boycotts. More anger. Personally, I will avoid the place where I shopped several times a month, but with a sense of regret as much as fury.
This is happening while the mainstream media is in the middle of a meltdown, with the advertising model collapsing. As much as 90% of the new ad dollars go to Facebook and Google. These are the giant companies that present themselves as neutral platforms, while hoovering up money and creating the scope for Russian interference and online violence.
These advertising boycotts will only worsen the problems of the media fighting for its life, by lessening the amount spent on journalism. If you don’t like the Mail, and are feeling smug today, ask yourself if it will really stop there once the boycotts by assorted tribes get going. I read the Guardian, along with many other newspapers, and it contains a great deal I disagree with. It is good to read articles that challenge your thinking, otherwise you risk being stuck in an echo chamber of priggish righteousness.
But it wouldn’t take much for campaigners on the centre-right to define some of what appears in the Guardian and the Mirror as extremely hateful – towards anyone with money, or someone from a class background that Mirror journalist Kevin McGuire finds annoying, or someone owning a stake in a legal but tough business, or in the case of the Guardian towards British troops fighting Islamist terrorism. All because of what some of the columnists write.
You see where this leads. Lots of conservatives shop at Sainsburys or Tesco. Should those stores be advertising with newspapers that campaigners on the centre-right, or others who back Britain’s forces or are pro-business, don’t like or find offensive? I think yes, of course they should, because we need journalistic investment and noisy diversity of opinion now more than ever.
Paperchase and all these other businesses folding to the sinister, politically correct, Orwellian Stop Funding Hate campaign are enemies of freedom, it turns out. Not a good place to be for a company trying to sell pens and birthday cards, I would have thought. But we’ll see. Perhaps pompous illiberalism and denouncing Mail readers will be good for business at Paperchase.