It feels like a well-planned journey of outrage, lust and fear. You could almost graph out the emotions page-by-page: you’d probably see similar patterns depending on the day of the week. Stories of stabbings, gang murders, politicians stealing specified amounts from ‘Victorians pockets’, tax slugs, power bill slugs (preferably accompanied by pictures of bosoms), bullies, paedophiles, hoons, boat people, foreign buy outs, rogues from the country with too many guns, prostitutes hanging out in (gasp) drab grey T-shirts, old people getting bashed. Anything that might harm Victorians’ families, kids, or income.
Just when your hatred of humanity threatens to overwhelm you, there’s a reassuringly hot blonde accompanying the ubiquitous tale of our ‘sizzling summer’. And at least one cute animal story (the miniature donkey last week was a highlight – if you think cute dogs are a good chick/man magnet, imagine taking that one down Lygon Street!) Interestingly, the Herald Sun does way more animal cruelty stories than The Age, with a preference for abuse inflicted on pets or native animals.
Readers can enjoy the violence, betrayal and lechery without ever getting their hands dirty, and at the same time, relish their righteous indignance. The Herald Sun quite obviously strives to reassure you that, as its reader, you are the good people, part of a community with shared values: honest, down-to-earth, hardworking, with a sort of varmint/mischievous sense of humour but also the ability to agree on when a joke has gone too far (cancer). Also: intolerant of disorder, impatient with complexity, and fed up with bullshit.
I’m not sure whether I’m a target reader. I rarely pay for the paper, but I do read it online. Stabbings, gang violence, tax slugs, bill slugs don’t concern me. But then, maybe they don’t concern the other readers as much either. Maybe they just read the paper for a bit of gossip and outrage. After all, surely one thing that every salt-of-the-earth Australian is supposed to know is that the media isn’t to be trusted?
With some exceptions (like banning makeup and cool hairdos for Victoria Police – do we want them to feel like psychos or normal people?), I’m not usually outraged at the stories themselves, but the way the paper has covered them. That said, I appreciate the Herald Sun as a cultural artefact in itself, find it fascinating. I probably also enjoy some kind of morbid voyeuristic satiation from their sordid stories. Lately though, some of them have left me with a bit of a sick feeling in my stomach. More to come…