Before I begin on this one, I'd like to offer a disclaimer: I recognise that having a go at the Daily Mail is like shooting fish in a barrel, or say, for instance, like shooting the six year old children of celebrities / every woman ever who dares to have cellulite / a tattoo / a brain / side-boob, but recently I have noticed a particularly hilarious contradiction within the Daily Mail’s style of moral outrage. In some ways, however I shouldn't be surprised that they're going all 'ethical policing' on us. After all, The Mail (as we all know, because it constantly tells us) likes to pride itself on being a wholesome “family” newspaper. But then the Mansons were a family.
I have at times been accused of finding almost anything amusing, but every time I see this new stock-phrase it cracks me up. I now find myself shamefully contributing to the Daily Mail’s ad revenue by scanning articles for this term (by which I mean clicking on the lead article, et voila), because it makes me LOL so hard time every time I see it. I am talking, of course, of the suspicious cigarette.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. The Suspicious Cigarette; that could easily be the title of Lindsay Lohan’s first autobiography, or that should have been Bill Clinton’s better excuse if he was thinking on his feet, but he couldn’t, 'cos he was way stoned, but the Daily Mail are OBSESSED with suspicious cigarettes.
Every time a cigarette hangs out a little shiftily outside a club, tries to sneak in an extra 2kg over its baggage limit allowance, wears a trench coat and Ray Bans, or loiters too close to a bike with a faulty D-Lock, BANG, the DM are there to report it.
The reason I find this phrase so laugh-out-loud funny, apart from the fact it’s a perfect example of hilarious visual metonymy (yeah, I studied English), is it is exact evidence of the Daily Mail’s brilliant double standards and skewed moral logic.
This is a newspaper which, because it is so family oriented, can’t bring itself to use the word “joint” or “spliff” or even the scientific words for drugs, because it is so naïve and innocent and holier-than-thou, and it definitely does not want to be responsible for readers spitting out their coffee in the morning over an explicit drug reference, but is perfectly willing for its readers to drool out their half-masticated toast over “leggy” pictures of a six year old (one of which was actually captioned: 'her dad should be proud of those legs'.)
Now, obviously, I understand that because of libel laws, the good old Fail can’t just be all RIHANNA PUFFS ON A BIG FAT DOOBIE, but the fact that they insist on “suspicious cigarette” as a catch all term for anyone seen smoking on a joint rather than just sticking the world ‘alleged’ in and be blunt about the blunt, therefore calling a spade a spade, is inherently hilarious. 'You are too delicate a flower/ganja plant to realise that Rihanna is (probably, allegedly) dragging on a joint, but you are not delicate enough a flower to have an upshot of her vagina in your face,' the journalists mumble soothingly into your ears that are already ravaged with gossip about Chris Brown's new tattoo and whether it means that he'll hit her again. 'Justin Bieber is smoking a suspicious cigarette, because we don’t want to be crude about it and upset the readership, but here’s a snap of his 16 year old girlfriend getting out of the sea wearing a bikini like the minxy little tease she is. Come, let’s estimate the circumference of her areolas.'
If you type ‘suspicious cigarette’ into Google, the top 5 results are Daily Mail articles, and if you type it into the Mail website itself you’ll get 154 results. Don’t get me wrong, the Mail will allow themselves to use the words cannabis and ecstacy and cocaine etc in ‘serious’ articles that are actually about drugs, or news pieces involving drugs, or puff pieces placed by a pharma company PR, or 'tragic' real life stories etc - sometimes even if they're taking stalkery photos of an Actual Grown Man celeb, which is hardly as fun as the alternative - but generally, in regards to women (and little boys - hello, Bieber) their mainstay is nudge nudge wink wink who’s been a bit naughty.
Of course, it's understandable and perfectly expected that each media outlet has a standard tone and register, but this is exactly my point. While The Mail and its buddies market themselves as family newspapers who basically asterisk out asterisks - so in that sense their coyly-if-ridiculously phrased euphemism suspicious cigarette fits perfectly - that market-place morality doesn’t seem to extend to the continued debasement and degradation of women. So why all the suspicion when you're zooming in to the latest teen glamour model's mammary glands on the very next page?
All I’m asking for here is a little consistency, y’all. If you’re the type of paper that is quaint enough to refer to “suspicious cigarettes”, why are you not so reserved when it comes to adolescents with their sternums out, or Reese Witherspoon’s 12 year old daughter? I don’t really have a problem with pictures of naked women* (*not children), hell, I’m gay – I am quite literally lapping that up – but we all know that the place to quench that particular thirst should not be in a national daily newspaper. It probably doesn't count as news, and it definitely counts as intrusion if you're twelve and the daughter of an actor and on your way to theatre group. I’m not saying that tabloids and the Mail don’t also cover dudes when they’re caught smoking suspicious cigarettes, oh they do (hi Zayn from One Direction, anyone from any Harry Potter film), but usually it’s along the lines of the cool 'bad boy', whereas, say, with Lindsay Lohan it’s an epic moral failing and she should just be put down before she fucks up anymore.
To be honest, I do actually feel a little sorry for them, because every time they want to use one of Rihanna’s naked Twitter pics, she almost always has a suspicious cigarette in her hand. This must be a major pain in the ass for the Mail. I think it is why they have reverted to using pictures of sexy kids, since they're more likely to be holding a cuddly toy puppy close to them rather than anything potentially "suspicious", given that they are SIX YEARS OLD.
Now, I’m not advocating drug use and have no burning desire to see pop stars’ bongs explicitly referenced to in the media. I used to do shit loads of coke and then I stopped because it made me shit loads. Amongst other things.
But it is true that the mainstream media, and the Daily Mail especially, have a particular attitude to women and drugs. Generally they go for two angles: ‘wink wink what a naughty girl this makes you more sexy’, or ‘what a nasty drug-riddled skank’. A lot of the times these angles are conflated into OH WOW YOU SEXY NAUGHTY SKANK, which come to think of it, is generally 99% of what porn’s depiction of females is.
If we think back to the Daily Mirror’s splash on Cocaine Kate, no-one really gave a shit that Pete Doherty was out of his head on crack all the time, because he has a penis and therefore it wasn’t really anybody’s business, so what, and also, y’know, that’s just rock’n’roll.
But with Kate, well, she is a beautiful woman and not supposed to fit into a narrative for coke-taking, because she is pretty and beautiful and women aren't rock'n'roll and as far as I know there isn’t a Coke Barbie that comes with a rolled up tenner and a mini pot of Sudocrem for your chewed off upper lip. Therefore, this is unacceptable behaviour in real women. Cocaine Kate had to pretend to be real, real sorry for her DRUGS HELL etc, before the Mail's attack dog quietened down (not without a fight.)
The funniest is that it doesn’t even need to be drugs; the Mail get all tut tut tut and judgemental about ACTUAL cigarettes, not even suspicious ones. These are usually referred to as “sneaky” or “cheeky” cigarettes. Occasionally, they will really blow a load and talk about people “sneaking out for a cheeky cigarette”. So, while you (ha! Imbecile!) thought it was just someone on the pavement having a smoke, these women are actually Phillip Morris in a cat burglar outfit.
Every time Keira Knightley has a fag, the Mail deems it newsworthy. They always talk of “enjoying” a cigarette like it is some depraved activity that really shouldn’t be brazenly happening at 3pm in broad daylight on the King’s Road or whatever. Especially not Keira, because she’s from Teddington.
Of course, all of this ties into the paparazzi staple of waiting outside a club to take a picture where a famous woman is blinking and then call her out on how rat-arsed she is, and on a school night and everything. Or they trip her up, send her sprawling and be like bitch, control yourself. What a state. They like to do this with Sarah Harding of Girls Aloud a lot.
When Hilary Duff was “caught” with a cigarette on a night out, about a month or so after she had given birth, the Daily Mail were all SIGH, acted like she had done a blowback with her baby, and doled out the following:
“Getting pregnant is a handy time to ditch those bad habits you haven't quite had reason to dispatch with.
A fondness for wine or toking on a cigarette might be gone after nine months enforced abstinence, one could reason.
And though the habit isn't to be encouraged one bit, the pretty mother-of-one did look healthy and happy in her pretty blouse and it could be perhaps just a small slip up.”
One could reason that DM should mind its own fucking business, but hey, she did look pretty and her blouse, also, y'know, was pretty. So that’s OK. Just about. Possibly the best thing about that article, though, was the caption underneath the picture of Hilary Duff smoking. Wearing red nail varnish (“caught red handed” apparently), the Mail actually ran clean out of euphemisms for smoking and went with this:
“Hilary was sporting perfectly manicured nails as well as brandishing the stick”.
So there you go - next time your parents bollock you for smoking, tell them you are not smoking, you are merely brandishing the stick. I mean, they might take that to mean that you were doing something a hell of a lot worse, but whatever. A family newspaper sanctioned it.
Basically, it all boils down to this short message from our sponsor: if you’re looking at an article of RiRi or Miley Cyrus or whoever smoking a suspicious cigarette, keep one hand free for finger wagging, and the other for wanking over the pictures. That's how they roll (not baccy), and if you've got any family values, that's how you'll roll too.