The Daily Mail is not a newspaper for everyone. Some may disagree with a lot of the content it publishes, the crusades it fights, the opinions it gives space to, and the views is helps peddle. It also has a very large readership, publishes some of the best journalism in the country, contributes to a lively and interesting landscape of political and cultural debate, and, in my opinion, happens to be home to one of Britain’s most readable and consistently entertaining film critics, Christopher Tookey. Throughout his years working as a critic for the newspaper, Tookey has written hundreds of reviews and some have generated controversy. But Tookey’s writing on film has been subjected to an uninterrupted, mostly-internet based attack from bloggers and semi-professional journalists whose problem with him seems to stem from the fact that he writes for the Daily Mail.
Disliking a journalist simply because of the publication they write for is as absurd as it is naive. Of course, if the publication was a piece of extremist literature which backed, for example, fascism, Nazism, or Communism, then we would be in different territory. But the Daily Mail does not support any of these things. Like it or not, it is part of our culture and, like it or not, it is not an extreme publication. Some writers within its pages may raise opinions that are extreme and may well be offensive to some, but so does The Guardian (a paper many would regard as being at the opposite end of the political spectrum as the Daily Mail).
Anyway, back to Mr. Tookey. I am lucky enough to have been in contact with Christopher Tookey in the past and have found him to be a warm, kind, encouraging individual with an eager interest in cinema and those who write about it. I have read his reviews for many years, and have always admired his writing. It is considered, funny, thought-provoking and relevant. I write this article partly in response to a piece, billed as an open letter to the Daily Mail and their website Mail Online, which recently appeared on the independent film site The Cine Blog. The site is not without its merits (it rightly reprimanded Zack Snyder for his hateful and misogynist movie Sucker Punch), but on this occasion it embarrassed itself. This letter, though about Chris Tookey, chooses to refer to him merely as one of the Mail’s ‘journalists’ and launches an attack on his reviews for the paper. The article’s author Thomas Harris (who, I must stress, is not the bestselling American novelist of the same name) accuses Tookey of deliberately altering his reviews to ‘comply with your [the Daily Mail’s]political viewpoint’ and for lacking professionalism. This latter accusation is based on Tookey’s use of the term ‘art-house’ in his review of Park Chan-Wook’s film Stoker. It also says comments Tookey has made about the fact that Hollywood is turning its back on sex scenes (which it is) are assumptions made without evidence. This is provably incorrect: there is a lot of evidence to support this, and the story was reported in a variety of papers, including the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and the Independent.
As it happens, I completely disagree with Tookey’s general opinions on Stoker (click here for my five star review of the film), but I cannot see how the term ‘art-house’ is incorrect in this instance. Sure, the film was funded by a Hollywood company (Fox Searchlight), but the phrase art-house has undergone several renovations and renegotiations over the past couple of decades, and it is now generally used to describe content that is – or perhaps tries to be – non-mainstream or for a niche audience. This seems to fit Stoker quite nicely.
On the charge of biasing his writing so they fall in line with an alleged Daily Mail political mantra, this can be proved to be nonsense. For the sake of this argument, let us accept that the Daily Mail is racist, anti-gay, sexist, prudish and averse to anything which goes against the conservative norm. I’m not saying it actually is any of these things, but such condemnations have been hurled at it in the past, so let’s just go with it for now. Tookey is none of these. On the charge of racism, Tookey has been clearly opposed to racial discrimination and has levelled severe criticism to films that apparently support it. He gave a 1-star review to 2008’s Taken, labelling it ‘violent, racist, rubbish’. He hated The Hangover Part II’s ‘toe-curlingly racist view of the non-American world’. In terms of homophobia, Tookey has also highlighted what an ugly, undesirable trait it is. He skewered Eli Roth’s Hostel on such grounds and attacked laugh-free Sandler comedy I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry for revelling ‘in homophobic and racist stereotypes’. He is also pulls up American comedies for ‘crude, degrading, Hollywood sexism [Bridesmaids] and really went against the alleged Daily Mail political/cultural line with his rave review of ‘21st century masterpiece’ Black Swan (a film which featured lesbian sex, drugs, and could be considered ‘art-house’).
Predictably, Harris also resurrected that tired ghost, the Daily Mail’s review of Kick Ass. The review, which was penned by Tookey, became the subject of a highly personal internet hate-campaign which asked for Tookey’s firing, and accused him of being and practicing many things which he, to the best of my knowledge, is not and does not, ranging from normal variants of sexual behaviour (such as homosexuality) to the abnormal (paedophilia and bestiality).
It is curious that many of those who raised concern about Kick-Ass’s brand of pernicious violence and evil nastiness received hate-filled responses by fans. The late Roger Ebert received awful abuse from internet comments and bloggers, as did Financial Times critic Nigel Andrews. Even I (less-than national critic that I am), writing on this very website, received bizarre criticisms and accusations for doing and saying things I had not done or said. But nobody received as much hate as Tookey, who (in my opinion, correctly) concluded that this was, at least in part, because he wrote for the Daily Mail.
Whatever one feels about the Daily Mail – and I’m sure there are many reasoned, measured and legitimate arguments that put forward a damning case against it – I have a particular dislike for those who attempt to dismiss and, in some case, smear decent, honest journalists for simply contributing material to the huge range of writing that fills its pages. By all means, take issue with the opinions, offer different points of view in response. But closed-minded attacks on writers like Christopher Tookey, attacks that I’m not convinced would exists if he wrote for a different publication, are unhelpful, unprofessional and play into a kind of journalistic prejudice that weakens our country’s cultural dialogue and shut down valid debates.