The Daily Mail is responsible for many intellectual atrocities over the course of its ignoble history, but recently one of the most irritating is its overzealous use of the label ‘woke.’
Where once the Mail was mocked for linking every inanimate object with cancer (as prevention, cause or even both), now it has invested in a custom-made rubber stamp marked with the word ‘woke,’ and is setting about applying it to any trend, opinion, activity or object that sits outside the Mail’s own extremely narrow parameters of acceptability.
An African-American term coined to describe the condition of being alert to racial injustice in society, ‘woke’ now exists in the Mail’s lexicon as a catch-all pejorative term, to be used with the same indiscriminate glee with which an unruly toddler might deploy the F-word.
Builders go woke
In mid-June, workers in the building trade served their turn in the barrel, with the Mail’s headline declaring “UK builders go woke!” Far from taking the knee before each shift, or invoking Malcolm X when giving clients a price for work, the crimes of which builders were accused by the Daily Mail included: talking about their feelings with colleagues, eating healthily, and learning about history or science.
Beneath the mocking headline was an article quoting fairly anodyne observations from a survey run by Toolstation, which presented statistics about the number of workers in the building trade who enjoy such self-care pursuits as muesli, yoga, meditation or reading.
The fact that builders enjoy a diverse range of leisurely pursuits will not be news to anyone who has ever actually spent time with people who work in the building trade. Still, the Mail’s preferred pastimes for builders were clear, as implied by their ‘woke’ slur; wolf-whistling, pop music, suppressing their emotions and eating fried breakfasts. By applying its favourite attack word against builders deviating from these, the Mail’s invitation is clear – stay within the narrow cultural sphere that we expect of you.
Looking down on the working class
In an often lonely profession where workers spent long periods away from their families, and where suicide rates are three times higher than in other occupations, it is lethally toxic for the Mail to invite bottling up of emotion. It also betrays the true reality of the Daily Mail’s attitudes to class.
It’s not for nothing that builders find themselves in the firing line here. An iconic working class profession, one that shapes the physical world through the brawny endeavours of its workers, builders are an easy stand-in for all other working class professions – at least as imagined by the Mail.
While today’s working class also ships packages for Amazon, populates UK call-centres, cleans or provides security or customer service, the Mail’s class analysis is ill-equipped to deal with this century’s reality. Instead, it picks on builders as the archetype of a mythologised working class.
Recent years have given voices on the right an ill-deserved notion that they enjoy a unique connection with working class people. Having pulled off a populist shock with Brexit – and again with the election of Johnson – in which working class people gave their support to a right-wing prospectus, an emboldened right sees itself as the tribune of working people. Its culture war rhetoric is calibrated to appeal to the ‘red wall’, albeit aimed at an imagined working class voter who is truculently and unthinkingly opposed to foreigners, trans people, refugees, and any critical interpretation of Britain’s history.
In reality though, the Daily Mail’s aspirations for the working class are neatly summarised within the stereotype it decries them for breaking. The Mail’s preferred builder does not discuss his feelings; he eats an unhealthy breakfast; he seeks to learn nothing beyond what the back pages of the tabloids tell him. The Mail’s platonic ideal of the builder lacks empathy, lacks the intellectual ability to ask tough questions of authority, and – having served his economic purpose – will die of cholesterol related illness shortly after reaching pensionable age. With their attack on builders, we can read the Mail’s true allegiances in black and white; the workers must accept their lot, do their duty to the economy, and then quietly die.