Categorising the columnists 2 – this time it’s personal…

Because now The Daily Mail has kidnapped my daughter as part of a plot to re-install an overthrown Latin American dictator…oh, no, sorry, that was actually the plot of Commando. And I don’t have a daughter anyway. No, the sad truth is I’ve thought up a few new categories of columnists and I have nothing better to do this morning than inflict them on the world. Anyone who thinks I’m just a jealous wannabe hack…would be not far off the truth. Enjoy!

The Party Hack

This is, literally, a hack who tends to support the line of a particular political party, at least as long as it seems to share the views or pursue the policies of which they approve. The latter is an important distinction to make, since these columnists are rarely slavishly loyal or uncritical, not least because that makes for very dull writing and fewer readers. Also, all journalists hate the idea of being considered anything less than independent and critically minded. However, all other things being equal, you know that Daniel Finkelstein of The Times will ultimately come down on the side of the Tories (for whom he used to work), that Polly Toynbee of The Guardian will back Labour, that John Rentoul really liked the New Labour side of the same party and that basically most people who write for The Spectator are Conservatives and for The New Statesman Labour. May well be the principal political commentator, since most newspapers, especially at key moments like elections, will take a party line and these guys can represent that.

Pretentious Arts Columnist

You don’t have to be pretentious to write about the arts, but some positively revel in it. Big words are their stock in trade, they dare to be incomprehensible and they scorn as ignorant philistines all those who would suggest they’re taking a bunch of painted wall-decorations/a group of people reciting a script in front of an audience/ some pop records far too seriously. May unleash their pretentiousness over high or popular culture. Of the former, Brian Sewell must be accounted overlord, partly because his grand manner extends from arts criticism to life to such an extent that he may well be a national treasure; partly also because such are his ninja literary skills that he can get a weekly page devoted to posh paintings in The Evening Standard, a local free newspaper read chiefly by commuters vainly trying to avoid the existential despair that is a journey on the London Underground. Most of its readers probably think Caravaggio and Fra Angelico are options on the dessert menu at Pizza Express, but does Brian give a damn? No! As for popular culture, it was once practically obligatory for a rock critic to be a Pretentious Arts Columnist (see Paul Morley, especially at his heights in the 80s), but there is now much less of this. It hasn’t entirely gone away though. Tom Ewing of The Guardian has a column called On Music. Note to Mr Ewing: calling any piece of writing “On” Something, unless your name is Immanuel Kant, is pretentious.

Manolo Blahniks, Sweetie

She kisses the air, but she’s always a woman to me…like the Feminist Storm Trooper, Glenda Slag and Isn’t My Domestic Life Amusing?, this tends to be a female option. Writing mainly for women, this columnist seeks to lead them towards the Nirvana of being more glamorous, fashionable, cool and thin or at least to provide the ill-dressed, dorky and porky with some consolatory lifestyle porn in the shape of writing about/photos of those who have already entered this state. An absolute mainstay of all “general interest” glossy magazines. There’s even a male version, which you might call Sharp Dressed Man, but that has uncomfortable tendencies to stray into Gay Lord Focker territory as it still isn’t done for heterosexual men to admit to being that interested in fashion or their weight. Can extend beyond fashion proper into food criticism, travel writing, hotel reviews, film journalism – anything where it can matter whether things are hot or not. Bonus points for dropping “industry” terminology and pretending you’re great mates with cool people you got to interview for 60 seconds once. Even more bonus points if, like Hadley Fitbird  Freeman, you come from somewhere considered glamorous (New York). Often, at least outside the magazines, a young woman’s/man’s game, partly for the obvious reason that Old(er) is Uncool. Also, in the Journalism Mafia, the “made guys” tend to either be “serious” political or hard news hacks or to have been such. If you’re ambitious, you’ll want to join their ranks, not spend your career being regarded as a lightweight intellectual bimbo who freeloads off the rag trade/travel industry in return for free advertising.

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1 Response to Categorising the columnists 2 – this time it’s personal…

  1. Tom Ewing says:

    I don’t get to choose the column title, alas – it’s been called “On Music” for donkey’s years – since John Harris did it at least.

    I am very pretentious though, so it’s a fair cop.

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