Category Archives: Comprehensions

General advice on answering Comprehensions (Question A).


In a recent blog post I commented that for me, the major difference between mood and atmosphere comes down to this: a mood exists primarily within a person; an atmosphere exists primarily in a place.

Now it’s time to turn my attention to tone. The first thing that springs to mind for most people is ‘tone of voice’. You can tell how a person is feeling by the way they say something, how loud or soft their voice is, how fast or slow they speak, by the words they choose and of course if you’re in the same room as the speaker you tune in to their body language and facial expression as well.

Tone in writing is a more complicated beast.

You are trying to figure out the writer’s attitude and feelings towards the topic at hand but the clues to figuring out how they feel are often more subtle than spoken language and the reader must establish the tone without the help of body language, facial expressions, volume and speed of delivery.

So let’s do a little experiment.

Imagine the school receives a phone-call from a parent complaining about some aspect of my teaching. I decide to reply in writing. I have almost endless options open to me in terms of the tone I adopt when I reply – and for the record I don’t buy into the notion that text messages inherently have no tone. They can capture your feelings if you are careful enough when you compose them!

Now look at several potential replies below. To protect the anonymity of my fictional accuser I’ll just refer to them as ‘parent’!

1. Dear Parent,

I wish to apologise unreservedly for accusing your daughter of cheating. I realise that she is a diligent student who simply wished to have the ‘right’ answer, hence her decision to pass off internet research as her own work. However, if she wishes to improve her mastery of this subject and her overall literacy, in future she will need to use this material to write her own responses rather than relying entirely on other people’s expertise.


Ms. O’Connor


2. Dear Parent,

I am writing in response to your recent complaint that I unfairly accused your daughter of cheating. To be precise I accused your daughter of plagiarism as the homework assignment she submitted two weeks late was copied word for word off the internet. All it takes is a simple google search with one sentence of such plagiarised material to reveal the truth, which is that your daughter did in fact cheat. I suggest in future you spend more time assisting your daughter with her homework and less time phoning our school with baseless complaints which are a waste of my time.

Yours etc,

Ms. O’Connor


3. Dear Parent,

Following your recent communication with school management about your daughter’s homework, I wish to arrange a meeting with you, your daughter and if possible your partner to discuss this issue. I realise that not everyone understands the seriousness of plagiarism but I believe this is an important issue that all of our students need to understand, particularly in this era of ubiquitous content freely available online. 

Yours faithfully,

Ms. O’Connor


4. Dear Parent,

Following consultation with my union and their legal representatives, I will not be responding personally to your complaint about my teaching. However, my solicitor will be in contact shortly in relation to slanderous comments made by you in the comments section of our school’s website and on facebook.

I look forward to resolving this matter fully,

Ms. O’Connor

Now ask yourself, what tone have I adopted in each fake letter? Belligerent? Rude? Arrogant? Apologetic? Conciliatory? Defensive? Aggressive? Patronising? Are some of the letters a combination of different tones? Why did I use different methods of signing off in each example? If this really did happen, which tone should I adopt?

Being aware of your tone is really really important in life, no matter who you are or what job you do. If you come across as arrogant and belligerent people simply won’t like you as a person. On the other hand if you assume that you are always the one in the wrong when conflict arises then people may simply walk all over you!

The important thing is to tune in to your own tone particularly when writing because once it’s published you can’t take it back. Be self-aware and perhaps even get someone else to look over your work before submitting it into the public domain. The fact is other people do make judgements about you based on the tone you adopt both in spoken and written communication so the better you become at identifying and controlling tone the better.

Here’s a link to a very good powerpoint with various examples of different tones in writing:







Mood & Atmosphere

Recently an emailer asked me to discuss the difference between tone, mood, atmosphere. Interestingly from my perspective they also included the term attitude which I’ve always thought of as something completely separate. Tone is such a complex issue I’ll devote an entire blog post to it but mood, atmosphere and attitude should be easy enough to disentangle so here goes.

Let’s start with mood and atmosphere. To my mind, mood most commonly refers to your internal feelings – “I’m in the mood to see a movie” “Don’t talk to me, I’m in a foul mood“. Atmosphere, on the other hand,  exists in a place – “There was a terrible atmosphere at the meeting” “The atmosphere in the control room was fraught with anxiety, taut as a wire-spring, coiled like a viper”. 

It’s easier to remember this distinction when you consider that ‘atmosphere’ is also the term used to describe the “gaseous envelope which surrounds the earth” – in other words, atmosphere is IN THE AIR whereas your mood is IN YOUR BEING.

The main reason people get confused is because we tend to use the words mood and atmosphere interchangeably, particularly in conversation. Consider this example however:

You’re sauntering down the corridor at school. You’ve just won €1000 and what’s more, it’s Friday! Woo hoo! Nothing can destroy the glorious mood you’re in. You walk into the classroom and stop dead in your tracks. Whispered mutterings break the silence but your classmates are all sitting still in their seats, glancing uneasily at the teacher whose skin is blanched porcelain white, pale complexion broken only by a streak of deep red blood across her forehead.  You don’t know what’s going on but this awful atmosphere had just slapped you in the face and your great mood has dissipated completely. Now there’s a ball of anxiety in your stomach. What the hell is going on?

In the real world when mood meets atmosphere and they clash (good mood, bad atmosphere or vice-versa) it’s difficult for the two to co-exist independently of each other. It’s much more likely that they will influence each other – that your bad mood will be lightened and may even disappear if you enter a place with a jovial lighthearted atmosphere. By contrast a good mood can be destroyed by a really negative atmosphere in a room, as demonstrated above.

However, the depth and root cause of your mood has a huge impact on whether or not the atmosphere will significantly alter how you feel. If you are clinically depressed it’s difficult to feel happy or hopeful about anything no matter how wonderful the atmosphere is in your home / place of work. In fact, you may find being surrounded by lighthearted banter very difficult because you feel so out of place in that environment. On the contrary, if you have just received fantastic news then you may be able to withstand a horrendous atmosphere by just tuning out your surroundings and focusing on your own inner happiness and joy.

So where does attitude enter the equation? Your attitude is the way you view something; it’s a combination of what you think about something and how you feel about it. In forming an attitude you will probably combine an evaluation of the facts with a gut instinct. Some people change their attitude towards people, music, ideas, organisations etc… as often as they change their clothes. Others become very entrenched in their attitudes and will not change their fixed attitudes no matter how much evidence and persuasion is employed to change their mind.

If we return to the example above, let’s say you find out that…

A girl in your class lost it completely, punched the wall (hence the blood) and stormed out of the class. The teacher got blood on her face when she was cleaning the wall. Your attitude to the whole thing is that you hope the girl is OK, you hope the teacher is OK, you think maybe there was something else going on that no-one really understands and you hope there isn’t a whole load of random speculation on facebook this evening because that’s all this girl needs right now. You decide you’ll send her a text offering your support later on. Your good mood returns gradually and you start to plan ways to spend your windfall.

However, what if the circumstances were different? What if you find out that…

… Your best friend collapsed, hit his head on the corner of a table on the way down, had a seizure and is now on life support in hospital. You are devastated. You leave school immediately fighting back the tears. Your attitude is one of complete disbelief. How could this have happened? Will he be OK? You need to find out more. All thoughts of Friday and your windfall have disappeared. Jesus Christ, please let him survive. 

In other words. context is everything. Mood, atmosphere and attitude. Interconnected but each individuals in their own right.

Hope that helps!











Stocking fillers…

Eek… it’s nearly Christmas! So here comes shopping, frosty mornings, eating til you want to vomit and then eating some more, boxes of disgusting biscuits, crazy relatives visiting and books, books, books. The best thing for me about two weeks off school is having the chance to sit down and read. So in the spirit of spreading my reading addiction, here are some old favourites that I recommend!

Searching for the meaning of life? Try “The Happiness Hypothesis”  by Jonathan Haidt.

You could also read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig – my favourite book when I was 17… tough going though, requires intense concentration!

If you feel like evolution, science and basically everything in the universe is a bit of a mystery to you, read “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson. You will feel smarter AND know more stuff by the time you get to the end.

In my youth I wrote some pretty bad poetry. It would have been a lot better if I’d had this book because I might actually have had half a clue what I was doing!

I also love love love stand-up comedians and secretly wish I could join their club – except I’m not really that funny so instead I semi-stalk them in print hoping some of their funny will rub off on me (wow, that sounds weird when I read it back…).  Two of my faves are “The Naked Jape” by Jimmy Carr and Tina Fey’s autobiography.

The next lot are books I randomly grabbed off the bookshelf because I love them and they are fab!


Finally, some recent publications. I’ve just had the incredible privilege of having my teacher of the year speech published in Gene Kerrigan’s brilliant analysis of the boom and the bust “The Big Lie”. If you have a vague nagging sense that your head’s still spinning and you don’t quite fully grasp what the hell just happened to our country, this is the one for you!

Meanwhile if you’re the kind of person who likes to look to the future instead of lamenting the mistakes of the past try “An Optimist’s Tour of the Future” by Mark Stevenson (see above!).

Finally, if you’d like to know lots of random fascinating facts about the universe, try “A Neutron Walks into a Bar” and if you’re up for a hilarious take on Irish History try “1916 and all that”

Guest post: The art of photography

When Evelyn asked me write a guest blog for her now famous website, I was both flattered and slightly nervous. It’s been many years since I’ve written an essay for an English teacher! So long in fact that the last time I did this, I was literally putting pen to paper. Now, I can’t even imagine writing an essay without spell check, the delete button and ‘cut and paste’ to edit as I go.

I only slightly digress here, as the delete button applies to taking photos too. To be in a position to review a photo immediately and have the opportunity to change your settings and have a second go at the shot within 10 seconds of the first, makes all the difference.  After all, practice makes perfect. But at 30c a click, the film era was an expensive learning curve for many.

So is that the key to taking a good photograph? Click until you get it right?

By way of background, I’m not a full-time, “professional” photographer. What started as a passion has thankfully led to some wonderful shooting opportunities, but for the most part, I sit in an office practicing law.  For this reason, I’m often reluctant to even describe myself as a photographer (!) which, upon reflection is ridiculous.  Everyone who knows me knows I’m happiest with a camera in my hand and that there’s nothing I love more than capturing a moment in time, a memory or an image that brings a smile to someone’s face.  So yes, I am a photographer. I don’t have a diploma or a degree in media studies, design or art however and truthfully, this is the first time I’ve ever thought in depth about what the qualities of a great photo are. The first answer that comes to mind for me therefore is simple – it’s about how it makes you feel.

Yes, when you get deep into it, there are an enormity of technical considerations, aperture and shutter speed settings and rules on ‘the perfect photo’ out there. There are libraries of books and millions of blogs and youtube videos on a multitude of photography issues. And should you so choose, you can spend hundreds or even thousands of euros on the best gear and courses. All of these things will certainly help perfect your art, but like all art, what makes a good photo is subjective.

So as a photographer, the most important lesson I can offer is this – if you love a photo; if it means something to you; if it reaches you in a way that makes your mind race, your heart pound or makes you laugh out loud; if it stirs a memory or a feeling inside of you or if it you simply like the look of it, it’s a good photo. Sure, it may have faults. It may disobey all the rules and get no ‘likes’ on Facebook.  And worse, it may not sell, not a small problem if your livelihood depends on it. But I do not believe any of that matters.

The photo should be sharp, with the subject in focus. It should have vibrant colours or strong black and white monochromatic tones. It should be framed well and most importantly, it should tell a story. If it doesn’t evoke some emotion at a glance, it has probably failed as a news photo. War images evoke anger and chaos.  Sports images evoke action and reaction. Festival images evoke fun and excitement.

Even something relatively bland like a portrait of a politician at a press conference should complement the news story. Is their face buried in their hands? Do they look angry or content? Are they desperately trying to make a convincing argument with a defeated look in their eyes? It’s actually incredible how a photo can speak volumes in seconds. Have you ever looked at a single image of a musician, live in concert and thought, that looks like an incredible gig? If so, what made you think that? You weren’t there. You didn’t hear a single note and you probably can’t even tell if the venue was half full? For me, it’s a number of things: the dramatic lighting or smoke-filled stage, the beads of sweat running down his forehead or the veins in his neck as he pours his heart and soul into every note that comes out of his mouth. How on earth could it have been a bad gig? Does it matter if it was? No. The photo is an art form in itself and can be judged independently. But if it helps sell tickets, excellent. That said, sometimes the photo won’t be as sharp as you’d like (the dark, crazy lighting conditions of a gig are far from ideal) but if it makes you feel like you’re there, on stage, in the moment, then who cares. It’s a great photo. It all comes back to how it makes you feel.

But let’s step back from what the media are looking for in a photo. You’ve been to a gig or a show. You’ve ignored the conditions on your ticket and you’ve brought your camera. You take dozens of shots and they’re all blurry. And then at the end of one song, the stage lights up, the crowd go wild and click! There it is! You can vaguely make out a figure on the stage, the atmosphere looks incredible and you’re over the moon! Straight to facebook! Mission accomplished.

So does this mean you shouldn’t learn more about your art or try to improve? Of course not. In any case, if you’re passionate enough about photography, this won’t even be a choice. For me, it’s an addiction. And the great thing is, if you enjoy it, like any passion, you won’t even realise you’re learning. You’ll look through your photos and ask yourself, why did this image work while this one didn’t? After all, the camera settings were the same. I clicked the same button. It must be the surroundings then? The more questions you ask, and the more attention you pay to your environment when shooting, and especially to the light, the more decent photos you’ll be posting on Facebook. Because you cannot but learn when you ask questions of yourself and your work and when you practice.

I travelled the world independently for 2 years back in 2006. For the most part, I travelled alone but armed with my 3 megapixel compact camera, I seldom felt lonely. And honestly, I thought the thousand of photos I took were amazing. And they were. They are. Why? Because I still look through them all the time, remembering a place, a time, a face, a feeling of elation, exhaustion or sadness. And I know as the years go on and my memories fade, my journal and my photos will always take me back. So how on earth could I not describe them as good photos?

But as the years go by and I learn more about my hobby, I would be lying if I said I don’t review them with a critical eye. In fact, there are very few in the collection that I wouldn’t shoot differently now and for the most part, none of these older travel shots are on my website because they didn’t make the cut. Back then I knew little or nothing about exposure, light, when to use the flash or tripod. I also had limited functionality with my little compact camera compared to the pro DSLR I have now. I suppose I’ve always had a natural eye for framing a photo which is definitely key. There are some classic images you see over and over again, taken from the same angle because that angle works. (Google “Taj Mahal” for images and you’ll see what I mean). If it ain’t broke, right? Sure, but try something new too. Be creative and think outside the box. What if I get down on my hunkers? What if I frame the subject through a window or door frame? What if I come back at sunset? Or what if I zoom in a little more. I’ve been to over 40 countries and I have hundreds and often thousands of photos from each of them, but there’s nowhere I don’t want to revisit and re-shoot. That’s the passion talking. So keep an open mind and don’t afraid to review your work with a critical eye from time to time.

Of course, there are some photos you will never improve on, because they captured a moment that would otherwise be forever lost. The joy of a marriage proposal. The shock when everyone shouts “surprise!” The anticipation 10 seconds before the final whistle of a big game. The determination of an athlete moments before they cross the finish line. The hopelessness of an Iraqi man standing over the ruins of his shelled home. Or perhaps something as simple as capturing a smile and seeing happiness in a loved one’s eye.

Which brings me nicely onto timing. The beauty of photography, especially shooting a location or an event, is that two photographers will rarely see the same moment or scene in the same way. And even a day late, a scene will most certainly look different, even to the same photographer. An obvious example is the comparison of a photo of Croke Park on an All-Ireland final day versus a photo, taken from the same spot, at the same time the following day. A less obvious example would be a series of shots taken of the same landscape within a 10 minute window. The sun might pop out behind the clouds. A reflection might be cast in the water. Angry rain clouds might gather. A silhouette might appear on the horizon or a horse might step into the foreground. Look again at those google images of the Taj Mahal. In many ways the same photo but each so different. Here’s one of my own favourites from a recent music festival I was shooting. I think you’ll agree this sets a very different scene to the clichéd mud-filled camping experiences we usually see in Ireland. But one minute after this shot was taken, the sun was gone, night fell and the glow of the moment was gone.

Sometimes, it’s matter of luck. Right place, right time, camera phone in your pocket and click! Brilliant. You can make your own luck too, though patience will often be required. Again, this is where the passion comes in. This ‘sixth olympic ring’ photo took Reuters photographer Luke McGregor a painstaking 3 days to get right, even with his moonrise and moonset homework completed well in advance. I’ve stood at a location for hours on end more than once: clicking and waiting, moving position and clicking again, changing a setting, more waiting… Most of my favourite landscape shots involved planning my day to capture the right light and then hours of commitment to getting it just right. For most, that sounds like punishment! Especially on a cold winter’s evening in the Dublin docklands. But each to their own. If someone told me I had to play rugby for 3 hours in the rain, I’d probably cry! I guess there’s no accounting for how people get their kicks in life!

So any other tips? For one thing ‘cheese!’ is overrated! My favourite shots from my wedding day were taken by our brilliant photographer Melissa Mannion, when neither my husband nor I knew the photographer was even clicking. A look shared during the ceremony; a close up of our hands entwined are my favourites: that moment during a ‘formal posed shot’ when my veil got caught in a gust of wind, blew vertically into the air and we broke down in laughter. Priceless.

In framing your shots, try to stick to the rule of thirds (worth a google). But for now, know that cropping someone at a joint, such as a knee, the waist or neck makes for a very odd looking photo, as does placing your subject smack in the middle of the shot.  If your subject is looking to the left, place them on the right of the photo to help create the feeling that we’re looking into the distance with them. Don’t be afraid to zoom in or crop the photo on your computer to draw the eye to the essence of the shot. Or when you’re standing at a historical building about to click, have a closer look. Is there a gargoyle staring at you with its beady eye that deserves your attention? Is there a spiral staircase that creates an interesting pattern when viewed from above? How about waiting for a bee to land on that flower?

All of that takes practice and if the hobby becomes an obsession (guilty as charged!) you may wish to upgrade to a camera with manual settings so that you can take back control. With most compact cameras, the camera makes the decisions. It’s dark, the camera pops the flash. The flower is the closest subject, that’s where it will focus. The more photos you take, the more you’ll realise that you could do a lot better in the driving seat. Like setting a wide aperture to create depth of field. Changing the subject of the photo changes the photo entirely.

Understand when to use your flash and when to turn it off. The flash will only light a subject within a few metres or so (more for the pro flashes). So using it when you’re deep in the crowd at a concert will only light up the heads in front of you and leave the stage (your subject) dark. Of course, without the flash in low-light conditions, the photos will inevitably be blurred. The camera knows it’s dark so it forces the shutter to stay open a little longer to let more light in. But your hand can only hold the camera sufficiently steady at about 1/30 of a second. Increasing the ISO helps, but this will add noise or grain. That’s where the SLR camera’s come in. But if you don’t have an SLR, wait until the stage lights up and you’ve a better chance of capturing a clean shot. Generally setting the flash off can kill the atmosphere. The soft warm light of a room is replaced with the white light of the flash, but sometimes you have no choice, like when you’re shooting people or moving objects in low light conditions. But the flash can be your friend too. Where there is plenty of light in the background, don’t be afraid to light up your subject in the foreground with the flash. ‘Fill flash’ can really bring your subject out without losing the atmosphere or background.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with a tripod. Ever tried to capture a cityscape at night from a distance? But when you try to shoot, the flash pops and you’re left with black skyline and some random rubbish bin in the foreground that you didn’t even know was there ends up being lit up in all its glory! That wasn’t the plan! Change the camera setting to night mode which will keep the shutter open longer to let the light in; stick the camera on a tripod to avoid camera shake and blur and voila!  I’m reminded of the value of long exposures every time I stare at my one of my Hong Kong skyline shots. Sure the buildings are sharp but it’s essentially just a black photo with some coloured lights. At the time of course, I thought I was the bees knees! And I guess it was the best I could do at the time with the equipment and knowledge I had. For example, I know now that leaving the shutter open on a camera for longer periods of time can really add wow factor, as this photo demonstrates. To the naked eye, the sky here was pretty black, but allowing the city lights to flood the sky with an orange glow over 30 seconds, really made this shot. Sometimes it works, more times the weather gets in the way. But don’t be afraid to experiment and try something new. It costs nothing to click and delete.

I could go on and on here. Try shooting close-ups using the macro setting. Put some distance between your subject and the background to create a narrow depth of field. Follow a moving object like a bicycle on a long shuttter speed to achieve a panning effect. Play around with your photos after you’ve taken them using free software such as Picasa. There’s an ocean of knowledge out there!  And if like me, you find that you’re the one in your group of mates who always has the camera at the parties or events, don’t be afraid to dive in!

Before I sign off, one final (non-photography-related) thought. If when the leaving cert is over, your academic pursuits have taken you on a less creative journey than the experience you had in your leaving cert English class (or on this website!), take a moment to bring yourself back to this place in your life. Sure, right now essays are just ‘homework’ but I promise you, life gets VERY busy all of a sudden.  You’ll have a day job, maybe a family of your own and perhaps even an after-hours passion which involves many hours of shooting and even more hours editing. And as you sit at your desk, sifting through thousands of photos, updating your website and backing-up your hard drive, you’ll find little or no time to stop and ask yourself a simple question like “what makes a good photograph?”. And even less time to write a comprehensive answer to that question.

For giving me the little nudge I needed to put finger to keyboard and re-live my photography journey, Evelyn, thank you.

Sincere thanks to the very talented Michelle Geraghty for agreeing to write this guest post for You can visit her website or give her a like on facebook here:

Celebrity ‘News’?

The time has come for me to confess.

I normally hide behind my ability to quote random chunks of Shakespeare at will but that doesn’t change the fact that – here it comes – I find it hard to resist celebrity magazines. I stand in the supermarket queue and get sucked in by the gossipy headlines strategically placed to tempt me into wasting my money. I’ll find myself secretly pleased that the person ahead of me is taking forever – you know the type, the woman who waits until every single grocery is packed and stashed before rooting around endlessly in her bottomless handbag groping for her purse.

Why? Because this gives me a chance to flick to the contents page and then quickly scan the article relating to the most scandalous cover story, just to prove to myself what I already know internally – it’ all fluff. Hyped up, OTT, manipulative nonsense that’s not worth my time or energy.

So why do I still get sucked in? And why am I so determined to resist?

I got some clarity on the issue this week as my Leaving Certs and I revisited a comprehension from the 2005 exam paper – it was a mock celebrity interview with Irish Rock Diva Eva Maguire written by a former leaving cert student. One of the comprehension questions asked “Do you find the style of writing in this magazine article appealing?” – and discussed how this question requires a much more subtle answer than your bog standard “Identify and comment on four features of the writer’s style“. And before you freak out, you don’t need to go into anything like this detail in the exam – I’m just the kind of person who doesn’t know when to shut up!

So what is my answer? Well, yes and no.

First off the article is extremely well written but crucially the language nonetheless remains accessible, meaning it will appeal to a large target audience. The writer creates a vivid picture of Eva who “is extraordinarily beautiful and astonishingly tough, steely and ambitious. Her golden hair frames features dominated by huge blue eyes. She wears a diamond and sapphire-studded ring on her left hand…” This article offers us a clear picture of the woman and her lifestyle but it requires little cerebral exertion on our part to gain this insight into her life.And let’s face it this style appeals to most people when they pick up a magazine in a train station or a doctor’s surgery – at that moment they probably don’t want to have to grapple with complex vocabulary they may or may not understand (in fact this can be an issue for more highbrow publications like Time Magazine, The Economist and Vanity Fair who attract a very educated and literate readership but don’t sell in the large numbers that celebirty magazines do).

Secondly, sensationalist show and tell stories appeal to the gossip in all of us – like it or not it’s perfectly natural to feel curious about the lives these people lead and perhaps to even fantasise that one day it could be us flying in a private jet to our holiday home in the Bahamas! So when we read that “she has achieved head- spinning, global success, winning international music awards, packing concert venues and seeing her albums topping charts all over the world” we get a powerful reminder of why it is that so many people show up to X-factor auditions and why they are so devastated when they fail to make it past bootcamp or judges houses.

Thirdly the use of hyperbole, and the overuse of emphatic and superlative words adds to our sense that these people are somehow bigger, better and brighter than ordinary plebians like ourselves. Here “in a rare, exclusive and candid interview, the 24 year -old rock superstar reveals where she sees her destiny and for the first time shares with “Celebrity” readers some of the secrets of her forthcoming wedding plans“. If we can’t see through the manipulation inherent in the language itself we can end up falling for the excitement and drama of the writing. Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining the modern obsession with being famous – not talented or successful or exceptional – but famous for the sake of being famous. Because there is after all only one thing worse than being talked about and that’s NOT being talked about!

There was one other element of the writing style which appealed to me. Personally, I don’t think this student was paying homage to celebrity magazines by copying their OTT hyped-up style; I think he or she was completely taking the piss, but in a very low key and subtle way. For me this article isn’t a homage it’s a parody! Look at the way it mocks vacuous female celebrities who buy rare breeds of dog (that surely should never have existed) and carry them around in their handbag – in this article the photo shoot “shows her posing with one of her pet miniature greyhounds“. Too ridiculous to be true but we’re almost convinced because this is after all the way many of celebrities carry on! The notion that money doesn’t buy class is again hinted at when we learn more about their wedding plans and are told to “expect six hundred doves to flock the Italian sky at the moment when the wedding vows are made“. I mean ‘puh-lease’! Give me a break!

And that, my friends, is why I haven’t bought a single celebrity magazine in the past four years. Yes, I’ll flick through them at the checkout, but only to remind myself of how empty, vacuous and pathetic they really are. They promise so much yet so rarely deliver. Like this article they promise exclusive access to the inner sanctuary of the celebrity’s home; they hype up the tell-all secrets only they have managed to goad the interviewee into revealing but when all is said and done you learn little you didn’t already know. Maybe that’s why celebrity reality TV shows like the Kardashians are so popular; because they do actually give you no-holds-barred access to the most intimate details of these people’s lives (like one of them seriously gave birth on camera? Just the thought of it makes me feel queasy. That poor baba did not sign up for that!!!).

Finally although it sounds self-righteous and judgemental, there is no denying that this style of journalism promotes superficiality and excessive materialism. It elevates celebrities to a ridiculous status, pretending that their every move qualifies as ‘news’. Spend an evening in our house and you’ll find both my husband and myself regularly shouting at the telly or the radio (or both) saying that’s not news when yet another story about Brad and Angelina’s latest adoption gets higher billing that a mudslide that’s killed hundreds of people. Perhaps this is the greatest crime of all that the oxymoran ‘celebrity news’ commits.  It tells us that we should view the minute details of their daily lives as somehow more significant and important than wars, murders, natural disasters, fraud and world hunger.

Like ‘clean coal’ ‘military intelligence’ and ‘truthful tabloids’ ‘celebrity news’ doesn’t exist! And ultimately, just because it happens to a ‘celebrity’ shouldn’t mean it qualifies as news!