Daily Mail writer and professional troll Samantha Brick is back. This time she has turned her attention to the ‘mummy-porn’ bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey. The woman who “caused an internet storm” a few months ago, we are told, has dealt a blow to EL James by labelling the book “demeaning and degrading to who we are.”
Now, that’s funny, because her sentiments echo the reaction – at least in part – to Brick’s own article which claimed that women were universally unkind to her owing to her beauty. There are many reasons why I took affront to That Samantha Brick Story, not least of which is that it was a prime example of the Daily Mail trolling its readers. Sure, Ms Brick came across as smug and self-satisfied and I won’t deny that my hackles were raised at her assertion on This Morning that women were incapable of befriending women they thought were prettier than them. But my major issue with the publication of the article was that it revealed the bare-faced hypocrisy of the Mail: that bizarre paradox in which it courts and undermines a hefty proportion of its target demographic. Despite every feminist’s efforts, the Mail is one of the most widely-read daily newspapers in the UK, with circulation figures bested only by the Sun, with women accounting for just over half its readership. A large proportion of its writers are women; yet in spite of all the figures, the newspaper remains one of the most misogynistic publications available. So it is always amusing when the vitriolic and gossip-laden Femail trots out a story which claims to defend women, as with yesterday’s account of Samantha Brick “slamming” the ‘mummy-porn’ bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey.
The most interesting thing about this latest incident is that the article in question is not actually written by Brick. In fact, the introduction to the article almost appears to suggest that the Mail have no connection with old Samantha; but just in case anyone had been fortunate enough to forget about the ‘I’m so beautiful’ furore, the editors are here to remind you just how personally insulted and belittled you were by la Brick. I haven’t read the book and have no desire to; I’m not really concerning myself with the subject matter here. Instead, I’m interested in how she is portrayed in the article. I may hate Brick’s writing and attitude, but there is no question that she is not the only blameworthy party here. Her editors knew exactly what the reaction to the ‘I’m so beautiful’ story would be. Everything about the presentation of the article was engineered to stoke the indignation of its readers, from the unflattering photographs which accompanied the story to the front-page placement of the infuriating ‘the bile proves I’m right‘ follow-up. So it comes as no surprise that the Mail’s editors are still using the whole debacle to sell stories; and that in doing so it displays a sickening disloyalty to its own writers. The reminder that Brick “claimed she was too beautiful for women to like her” is a cheap (and, sadly, effective) device for attracting hate-readers, especially when the subject of the article is a best-seller.
A quick look through Brick’s recent articles serves only to confirm that this kind of trolling is a staple of both Brick’s writing and the Fail’s editorial. ‘Independence? A career? Who needs them!’ and ‘I use my sex appeal to get ahead at work… and so does ANY woman with any sense’ are perfectly-packaged nuggets of misogynistic idiocy to satisfy the casual reader’s appetite for smug superiority. ‘Sorry, some women ARE too ugly for TV’ is another, in which Brick defends AA Gill’s assertion in the Sunday Times, in the face of a fierce and loyal backlash, that the historian and TV presenter Mary Beard is neither young nor attractive enough for our screens. The article itself is bile and certainly cannot be said to represent the views of a nation. Comments to that effect quickly came pouring in, and a response from the Mail quickly followed. The snide comments embedded in what is otherwise a warm appraisal of Professor Beard, entirely deserved, were no doubt calculated to bring a balance and nurture the ‘love to hate’ mentality among readers.
“Samantha Brick, the journalist who prompted a furore for claiming women hate her ‘for being beautiful’, today turns TV critic in an article in the Daily Mail.”
Articles presenting opposing views within the same publication is no new phenomenon; it is quite normal practice for a response or counter-argument to an earlier article to appear in the same title. It is rare, though, for a picture of the original writer to appear with the response with the caption ‘deluded’ underneath it. Classy.
The whole thing, I have to admit, is an impressive feat of manipulation; the Mail have honed reader-trolling to a fine art. And Brick is the perfect vehicle through which to do this: everything she writes has an infuriating air of narcissistic self-satisfaction, and the topic of each article is calculated perfectly to grate on even the most balanced and indifferent readers. I am beginning to doubt, in all honesty, whether Brick is a real person at all, or simply a fictional construct designed to be a target at which readers can aim their frustrations – much like the News of the World’s Edward Trevor. Just as the now-defunct national protected its reporters from blame by using a fake byline to break its most salacious scandals, perhaps the Brick-bot is simply a group of sniggering hacks behind a CGI image. Surely one person could not be capable of dealing with the sheer volume of criticism and, often, threats levelled at her.
We may never know the truth behind The Existence of Brick; perhaps she merely feels vindicated by the force of her critics. Let’s not forget that many of the responses were violent and disproportionate to an article which essentially reveal her to be a vain, deluded trophy wife under the thumb of a controlling and selfish husband. Perhaps instead the payment of large sums of money cushion the blows of the feminists and journalists and general public who critique and revile her work. Perhaps she is deluded. The one thing we know is that the editors at the Daily Mail are anything but. They are perfectly, expertly aware of the effect of each phrase and headline – and that is the true art of trolling.