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Flood victims left to suffer as The Sun doesn't shine

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: January 16, 2014

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Back in the good or bad old days, last week's Sun newspaper stunt that saw it send a page three model by boat to cheer up the flooded villagers of Muchelney would have worked a treat. We would, next day, have enjoyed reading about the super soar-away Sun-tastic boat making waves in Somerset as cheering readers said wow, look at the prow on that. One villager would have said phwoar, thanks, it's like being sent our very own mermaid which is just what we needed.

Another one said cor talk about sandbags, she can hack my phone any day (or maybe not).

And how we would have laughed, like we used to at Carry On films and Jim Davidson jokes when there wasn't much else to laugh at. Even if we thought The Sun's stunt was stupid, we'd still laugh for fear of being called a stuck-up killjoy member of the PC brigade. (I've been trying to join this brigade for years, but cannot find my local branch, and am beginning to wonder if it actually exists.)

But the stunt would have been just that – a stunt.

Everyone who wasn't there would have been treated to a vision of how it should have been. Those who were actually there might have been left muttering about nonsense, but unable to share their grumbling with anyone else.

In some ways, the golden age of tabloids was wonderful. It was always heart-warming to read about people facing adversity being cheered up by some old-fashioned fun with a saucy edge to it. This is, after all, the land of rumpy pumpy and how's-your-father: we have a sniggering, giggling, schoolboy view of all things naughty and might as well have a chuckle at a girl in a tight T-shirt in a flat-bottomed (nudge, nudge) boat.

We probably knew that such stunts were different in reality. We didn't mind, though, being deluded into thinking the world was really like a comic; it's a comforting thought, and we might all be better off for it. We didn't want to be told that life is often dull, tough and – if you live down this way – very wet.

So life's a laugh, and the tabloids have been superb at cracking the jokes; they've had all the best gags the same way the devil plays all the best tunes. And all that fun has had its serious side, too, because it's provided the fruity fibre in the diet of serious news which is otherwise too boring to read.

We're one of the greatest newspaper-reading nations, and that's in no small part due to the blend of news and entertainment that graces our popular press. Just try reading, if you can pick one up at an airport, an American newspaper: mirthless, indigestible and inaccessible to anyone with a normal attention span and a sense of humour.

The Currant Bun, as the Cockneys call it, still sells like hot cakes. And pretty girls are as popular as ever. Look at Poppy Rivers, the Burnham-on-Sea based model on the boat – she has more than 20,000 Twitter followers. I have been admiring her tweets (nudge, nudge): she's a smart young lady, and puts up a good fight in the debate about whether posing semi-naked is empowering rather than degrading.

The problem for our own tabloids is that although we still read them, not enough of us do. Their days may be numbered, and Muchelney shows why. It's because we're all journalists now, of a sort, chipping in with our own news and views about the real world in contrast to the slapstick version created in some distant newsroom. I don't think we believe them any more.

When The Sun went to Muchelney it found itself more exposed than a page three sizzler. Some of the locals are on You Tube suggesting that it was not super and didn't soar-away.

Poppy would have raised more smiles if she'd offered to bale out a few homes, or promised some silage for those farmers left with no grass for their cattle to graze. The truth is out: life's not a script written by Sid James; flooding isn't funny; and The Sun made a bit of a boob by pretending anything different.

It gets worse for the tabloids, because these days if you really want to consume the best the red-tops have to offer then the web is full of it anyway, and it's all free: soft porn, gossip, nonsense, corny jokes, stupid videos.

So if one day we'll be saying RIP to the red-tops, perhaps we'll remember the day their ship was holed by a broadside of reality on the waters of the Somerset Levels.

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