Thinkers in online pop-culture tabloid reinterpretation shock

The ‘Philosophers’ Mail’, edited by Alain de Botton, re-examines some lowest common denominators

Sat, Jul 19, 2014, 01:00

If it looks like a tabloid newspaper, reads like a tabloid and has an article about Kim Kardashian’s behind, then it probably is a tabloid. Sure enough, the Philosophers’ Mail – a new but fast-growing web-based news outlet – presses all the “celeb and sex” buttons.

There are pictures of Simon Cowell on holidays in Barbados, an interview with David Beckham, an article about Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and their daughter Suri.

There’s a section devoted to shopping, a health story has breaking news: “Still no cure for death” and a shock/horror story: “Chef boils wife’s body, leaving only fragment of skull – and does us a great service in the process”.

Culture is catered for by a think piece entitled “Art says beefy thighs are OK”. There’s even what appears to be a gratuitous pop at immigrants headlined: “Why the defenders of immigration are so annoying”.

Look a bit more closely, though, and the stories bend out of tabloid shape: “The next Jagger will need to liberate us from a hang-up even more oppressive than sex once was: money”, “The doomed Malaysian flight 370 is none of your business” and the controversial “Feeling happy about a sunny day is stupid, absurd and simplistic”.

The Philosophers’ Mail is the Daily Mail as edited by Schopenhauer. Laid-out to look like the Mail online, both publications’ articles may treat some of the same subject matter (the Kardashians, etc) but the Philosophers’ Mail comes at the stories from an entirely different angle. Written and updated daily by a team of real-life philosophers led by Alain de Botton, it was set up earlier this year with the mission statement: “Media moguls aren’t philosophers; so it’s time for philosophers to become media moguls.”

“The most attractive, charming, sexy and compelling news outlets enjoy unparalleled influence over the minds of tens of millions of people,” says de Botton “but, unfortunately, they rarely put out content that might make the world a better place. At the same time, there are lots of serious, earnest, good people attempting to change things, but they put out publications that only reach tiny and already- convinced audiences”.

The Philosophers’ Mail is not the anti-Daily Mail. The medium is the message here: using the online Mail’s design and enticing headlines over stories that don’t drone on about the meaning of life but instead imbue pop-culture news items with traditional philosophical virtue.

The problem for de Botton is not that modern news talks too much about low subjects, it’s that it doesn’t know how to do anything serious with low subjects.

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