Inside out

I am captivated by Liz Jones. In the same way that I’m captivated by Jeff Goldblum as the Brundlefly: the exposure of intimate anatomy to the outside gaze, the impossibility of hiding what’s essentially repellent. She’s fascinating. Only the Brundlefly is flashing his guts because of a tragic teleport accident, and Jones is doing it out of some obscure combination of financial reward and compulsion.

One of the most painful things about Jones is that she seems fairly self-aware that excavating herself professionally has been bad for her personally: she’s lost friendships over her confessional journalism, and it was probably the cause of one of her neighbours deciding to shoot out her letterbox. After that happened, the Mail ran a column by Janet Street-Porter advising Jones to “get a grip, love”. That’s Jones’ own employer, having benefited from Jones’ indiscreet columns antagonising her acquaintances, deciding to push the pellets in a bit further and point out all her failings.

Because – despite the apparently matey premise of Jones’ ongoing features, like the diary column in the glossy Sunday supplement and the Jones Moans item in the detestable Femail – I don’t think that Jones is valued especially as a journalist with a connection to her readers. The kindest letters and comments about her offer pity,  but mostly it’s a sort of tabloid charivari, with Jones encouraged to play up the spendthrift spinster aspects of her personality to everyone’s sniggering disdain. She’s the rouged up maiden aunt in an eighteenth-century novel who has to be dragged through the mud by her wig to make everything right.

The centre-spread feature of the Femail supplement is often duplicitous with its subjects, fitting up a first-person account of an experience with a headline and pullquotes that might imply guilt, shame or moral failing. But Jones doesn’t go through this humiliation as a one-off: it’s her trade, and she sucks up scorn twice a week with journalism that offers a weird combination of existential discomfort and epic triviality.

It isn’t just the Mail that hires columnists for the stocks. The Guardian has Tanya Gold. Tanya also writes about the grotesquely personal: the first piece I noticed by her involved tracking down all her ex-boyfriends and telling the excruciating stories of how she vomited on them/cheated on them/drove them out of her life (or they did the same to her). If you had an ex-alcoholic employee who decided to hunt down everyone they’d ever slept with, you’d probably tell them to stop it as soon as you found out. Tanya’s editor paid her to keep going for as long as it took.

And Tanya has been a defender of Liz Jones, inevitably. The way Gold writes it, you’d imagine that Jones has been turning out Ariel bi-weekly, exposing the “agonies of women”. Generalising from “this woman journalist” to “women” is exactly the solipsistic movement that makes confessional writing so horrific. What Jones and her sisters write about is actually a very rarefied, self-sustaining sort of unhappiness that most of their audience will never have the opportunity to inflict on themselves – the unhappiness caused by writing, publicly and persistently, about unhappiness.

© Sarah Ditum, 2010

10 thoughts on “Inside out

  1. I was going to knock out a blog post on Liz Jones, because looking at some of her stuff, it’s clear she’s not well. You’d think the Mail had a duty of care towards its contributors, but as you say, it’s as if she’s paid money to sit in the stocks and be laughed at.

    In a way, it’s a a middle-class equivalent of the supermarket gutter rags’ constant coverage of Katie Price.

    I feel a bit sorry for Tanya Gold. Actually, no I don’t, because she’s clearly had opportunities in her life that others will never get. But if your best known piece is a cringe-inducing trawl through your little black book, it’s not going to inspire confidence when you write on other topics.

  2. My grandma takes the Mail every day, so I had a week of reading Jones over Xmas and she seems terrifyingly poorly. Like, if a friend was blogging that stuff I’d take them to hospital.

  3. What else would Jones and Gold do for a living, if editors one day said: “No, we’re not going to publish any more of this shit”? It’s like all the people who kept on buying George Best drinks until his liver finally conked out.

  4. @darryl853 But Jones has another gig: she’s the fashion editor, isn’t she? The paper doesn’t have to print Jones’ emotional ramblings. They could keep her in work, without feeding this apparently self-destructive spiral.

    I don’t think I’d heard of Liz Jones until I discovered Twitter – and assorted tweeters who read the Mail. I don’t get the hate she engenders: she deserves more pity than censure. That said, I’m happy not to read her at all.

  5. I can’t decide whether the Guardian realise that Gold’s a hate figure and keep her on because she does big traffic, or if her most-obvious-pitch-in-the-world churnalism is the best freelance they’re being offered. :(

  6. I was looking for your summary of Tanya Gold to use in this post and only just found it:

    It’s terrible. They think they’ve unearthed a female Charlie Brooker and ended up with a liberal Carol Malone.


  7. I think gold will be kept on there because she is willing to write about absolutely anything. she’s been far too ubiquitous recently, mind you; I can’t imagine anyone actually reads her turgid rubbish any more. the exercise DVD piece was a particularly low point – full of feeble attempts at ‘zingers’ and with absolutely nothing to say otherwise.

    anyone who does read her is exactly the same as Liz jones’s rubbernecking readership.

  8. Edit 11 July 2011: this comment has been redacted at the request of Tanya Gold. It was quite a vituperative comment, with several swears in it and some quite aggressive imagery. I probably wouldn’t have approved it if I’d imagined Tanya reading it. It did include the observation that, “I think both editors at the Graun, Gold and Jones have a valuable lesson to learn about getting attention: not all the attention you get is good attention,” but probably that’s not enough to justify all the mean stuff it was bedded in, so it’s gone now.

  9. Uncharitably, I had always assumed that once upon a time Alan Rusbridger might have mused that there was a “Julie Burchill-shaped hole” in the Saturday Guardian, and some half-witted subordinate went round looking for someone who could fill such a hole in the physical rather than stylistic sense.

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