The Daily Mail does seem to have a penchant for the pensioner, a delectation for near decay, an obsession for the obsolete. It isn’t that The Daily Mail merely likes the way things were, it enthuses that things were better then than they are now.
Some articles are just a little bit of fun: “…and finally” sections which don’t inform us at all. It is easy to think that this story: Do you remember your first car? ‘Yes, it cost £150 in 1956 – and I’m still driving it’ from the Mail is just that, a little bit of fun. In fact, it tells us a great deal about the paper.
Many people eventually get round to trading in their first car. But not Mike Harrison. He loves his 1931 black Bentley sports coupe so much that he’s still driving it – 54 years after he bought it.
The story is full of awe and inspiration, not so much for the car or the man as for the idea of this car and man. Woven throughout is that this car still works because things were better then. Old things last, not like that new tat. The car has now done over 100,000 miles, yet according to the Mail it “still runs like clockwork”, couldn’t get a new car to do that!
Health and Safety rears its head too in this story. The Mail breathlessly recalls how “he drove the car on the roads of France soon after Caroline was born and his most vivid memory is of Jenny breastfeeding the baby as she sat in the front seat while he drove at 110mph. ‘You couldn’t do that now – the safety brigade would make sure of that,’ Mr Harrison said.” Oh, those were the days!
Of course all of this is nonsense. The article is full of the evidence which contradicts these weird sentiments but you have to read between the lines to see this article’s true meaning. The car may “still work like clockwork” but Mike Harrison has spent £1000s of pounds keeping it running and countless hours were spent by Mr Harrison “helping out with the repairs by passing Mike the spanners the whole time.”
The article informs us that only three are left still in existence. Of course there are only three, its because they’ve all bloody fallen apart. This tells me that no, this isn’t an awe inspiring car, it just got lucky and had an owner with a lot of time and money on his hands and an owner’s wife with a lot of patience. Old stuff seems built to last, in part, because we only see what survives. Rather than see this as a happy quirk of fate, The Daily Mail builds this into an edifice of faith: The Past was Better.
The good old days weren’t that good. In 1956 things were terrible, rationing had only ended two years ago and indoor plumbing was the exception not the rule. Of course indoor plumbing wasn’t the worst thing about the 1950s. At this point being homosexual was still legally proscribed and socially prohibited.
Today is much better. You won’t find a single computer made today that will work in 50 years time but that is a good thing. Old things last in part because they were made too well, a computer in 50 years will be useless, much like a car that needs continual repairs is useless today.
Homosexuality is not just legal now but they are accepted by society. We let gay people form civil unions and adopt children. In fact, as Ryan Avent points out homosexual couples have made better parents than their heterosexual counterparts. Children are being better brought up thanks to the changes our society have seen.
The new world, our new world, is far better than the past. There’s no need to look back to the 12th century for improvement or lament the lost days of the 1950s . This is a scary prospect for those comforted by what they know. When what people know is in the past the improvement and dislocation of the present can be scary.
This is what The Daily Mail is for: It exists to denigrate the present and laud the past. The evidence is in everything in it, no matter how trivial. Its a pity really, its a great world out there, I hope The Daily Mail doesn’t put people off.