Monday, 21 September 2009

Barry Delaney Wears Dress to Funeral; Journalists Collapse in Paroxysms

So. Judging by the story's viral contagiousness, you may well already have read about Barry Delaney (above). He commemorated the death of his friend Kevin Elliott (killed in action in Afghanistan) by attending his funeral dressed in a fluorescent yellow dress and pink stockings -- in accordance with a pact he had made to do so, should Elliott be killed.

In other words: journo-wet-dream.

For what could be more delightful to a lazy-penned hack than a story that combined so many heady ingredients?:

  • topicality (mounting Helmland province deaths, growing public antipathy and all)
  • transvestism (a potent google-magnet of a topic, if ever there was one … want proof? Consider the following graph, in which the popularity of transvestite searches is measured against the ever-reliable yardstick of those for doughty 19th century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli)
  • tragedy (chasing the Princess Diana dragon)

… and, most important of all:

  • trash

Yes, trash. By which I mean those vast segments of British society that any decent broadsheet regards with towering, bile-swollen condescension, trembling hatred and hyperventilating incomprehension.

The commoners.

To see what I mean, read Mark Townsend's nauseating coverage of what is (I'll freely admit) a bizarre story. Or make do with a few extracts:

It was just after 10am last Wednesday when Delaney squeezed into a tight lime-green mini-dress and donned a pair of 99p pink knee-high socks. Then, assiduously avoiding the mirror, the 25-year-old poured a neat vodka – his, and Elliot's, favourite drink.

– 'Assiduously' … and that faux-literary dash after vodka. Leave off the false afflatus, please.

His reminisces last Wednesday were interrupted by the blare of a car horn from the forecourt 120ft below. It was Jonathan Wells in his Vauxhall Vectra, ready to take Delaney to his best friend's funeral. Wells made no mention of Delaney's odd attire during the two-mile drive to St Mary's Church in Dundee's centre.

– Was it really necessary to name the car?

The pact was Elliott's idea: a year ago, while the friends were watching Delaney's widescreen television together, he began hypothesising about his funeral.

– and, now, the reference to his 'widescreen television' … as if this were somehow a noteworthy detail.

They had been friends since 2005, when they were introduced by Elliott's 22-year-old sister, Kirsty, and hit it off immediately. They had bonded in the drinking dens of Dundee – their favourite haunt was Fat Sam's. They were inseparable except for Elliott's long tours in combat zones.

– 'Their favourite haunt was Fat Sam's'? What? Seriously: what?

What the fuck kind of a tone is this article meant to be written in? The whole thing oozes cliche in a way that is alternately (sometimes simultaneously) inept and sardonic. It seems to be an attempt to straddle cloyingly maudlin sentimentality and spiteful tongue-in-cheek mockery.

It is simultaneously one of the most bizarre pieces of writing I have come across in the Guardian and one of the most repellant.

... don't you think?


David said...

I was surprised to see no trace of irony over promoting this story in your own blog. But perhaps I just missed it.

Billicatons said...


Promoting in what sense? Channelling the firehose of the Intellectual Hooligan's linkjuice towards's puny pagerank? Or do you object, more broadly, to my referring to the story itself, in the face of my having called it a journo-wet-dream?

If the former: you have me bang to rights. The Guardian's SEO team will be rubbing their hands as their search rankings leap like salmon on account of my coveted linkage. If the latter: I can but hope (which I do, fervently) that my account of the story itself (as opposed to my criticism of the Guardian's coverage) was relatively dry.

David said...

Your complaint, other than the quality of the Guardian's writing, appears to be over the exploitative nature of 'news journalism'.

Yet it seems to me that your account, opening up with a nice big photo from the story, then quoting half the article itself, piggybacks on the Guardian's coverage in much the way that the Guardian piggybacked on this unusual event in an attempt to create 'meaningful comment'.

Yes, you're highly critical of the whole business. But, dare I say it, perhaps you should look into your own motivation for going into this story in such detail?

I've just reread your piece, and I think its intention was greatly diluted by the opening few paragraphs, and especially by the photo.

If indeed your fundamental point is that this Guardian hack has an elitist perspective that's coming through in his use of details like the car model et cetera -- well, I think it's a bit of a stretch. It seems more likely to me that he's just trying to stick an extra adjective in here and there, and he's not very good at it. I think this writer is incapable rather than malicious.

Billicatons said...

Eh? I certainly intended no particular complaint over the exploitative nature of &c &c. As you point out, such a complaint would have about it more than a whiff of hypocrisy. I'm an exploitative bastard m'self, and proud.

That said, my motivation (altruistic as ever) for including photo and summary was primarily provision of context for my dear readers. My focus - and that which motivated me to write - was the Guardian's coverage of the story, not the story itself.

... Specifically, on the snobbery that pervades the article.

You think it's a stretch; I don't. There is definitely ineptitude at work here, sure. But there's also condescension. Palpably, I'd say.

In any case, surely the journalist need not be motivated by malice in order for his words to resonate snobbery and elitism?

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