|Unemployment is mentioned—quite frequently . . . . The dole and the trade union are certainly never mentioned. The latter may be influneced by the fact that the largest publishers of these women’s magazines are a non-union house. One is never allowed to criticize the system, or to show up the class struggle for what it really is, and the word Socialist is never mentioned—all this is perfectly true. But it might be interesting to add that class feeling is not altogether absent. The rich are often shown as mean, and as cruel and crooked money-makers. The rich and idle beau is nearly always planning marriage without a ring, and the lass is rescued by her strong, hard-working garage hand. Men with cars are generally ‘bad’ and men in well-cut expensive suits are nearly always crooks. The ideal of most of these stories is not an income worthy of a bank manager’s wife, but a life that is ‘good’. A life with an upright, kind husband, however poor, with babies and a ‘little cottage’. The stories are conditioned to show that the meagre life is not so bad really, as you are at least honest and happy, and that riches bring trouble and false friends. The poor are given moral values to aspire to as something within their reach.|
There are many comments I could make here, but I choose to take up the point of the moral superiority of the poor being combined with the non-mention of trade unions and Socialism. There is no doubt that this is deliberate policy. In one woman’s paper I actually read a story dealing with a strike in a coal mine, and even in that connexion trade unionism was not mentioned. When the U.S.S.R. entered the war one of these papers promptly cashed in with a serial entitled ‘Her Soviet Lover’, but we may be sure that Marxism did not enter into it very largely.
The fact is that this business about the moral superiority of the poor is one of the deadliest forms of escapism the ruling class have evolved. You may be downtrodden and swindled, but in the eyes of God you are superior to your oppressors, and by means of films and magazines you can enjoy a fantasy existence in which you constantly triumph over the people who defeat you in real life. In any form of art designed to appeal to large numbers of people, it is an almost unheard-of thing for a rich man to get the better of a poor man. The rich man is usually ‘bad’, and his machinations are invariably frustrated. ‘Good poor man defeats bad rich man’ is an accepted formula, whereas if it were the other way about we should feel that there was something very wrong somewhere. This is as noticeable in films as in the cheap magazines, and it was perhaps most noticeable of all in the old silent films, which travelled from country to country and had to appeal to a very varied audience. The vast majority of the people who will see a film are poor, and so it is politic to make a poor man the hero. Film magnates, press lords and the like amass quite a lot of their wealth by pointing out that wealth is wicked.
The formula ‘good poor man defeats bad rich man’ is simply a subtler version of ‘pie in the sky’. It is a sublimation of the class struggle. So long as you can dream of yourself as a ‘strong, hard-working garage hand’ giving some moneyed crook a sock on the jaw, the real facts can be forgotten. That is a cleverer dodge than wealth fantasy. But, curiously enough, reality does enter into these women’s magazines, not through the stories but through the correspondence columns, especially in those papers that give free medical advice. Here you can read harrowing tales of ‘bad legs’ and hemorrhoids, written by middle-aged women who give themselves such pseudonyms as ‘A Sufferer’, ‘Mother of Nine’ and ‘Always Constipated’. To compare these letters with the love stories that lie cheek by jowl with them is to see how vast a part mere day-dreaming plays in modern life.
Besides, if this war is about anything at all, it is a war in favour of freedom of thought. I should be the last to claim that we are morally superior to our enemies, and there is quite a strong case for saying that British imperialism is actually worse than Nazism. But there does remain the difference, not to be explained away, that in Britain you are relatively free to say and print what you like. Even in the blackest patches of the British Empire, in India, say, there is very much more freedom of expression than in a totalitarian country. I want that to remain true, and by sometimes giving a hearing to unpopular opinions, I think we help it to do so.