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     Volume 7 Issue 34 | August 22, 2008 |

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Tabloid Tales
Nader Rahman

Walking the streets of London is a strange and wonderful experience and of course depending on where you are walking and what time of day it is, there are a myriad of people and places to see. On a single street one can easily find office goers, goths, new age punks, school children, theatre ticket touts, homeless men, backpackers, tourists, and most annoyingly people trying to peddle scientology. Dressed smartly and well spoken they say, “Can I interest you in a free stress test?” That is as they say, the beginning of the end, after a simple test they try and prove how stressed out you are and then try to pawn some useless books, CD's and DVD's all proclaiming scientology as the answer to all our problems. Just because they fooled Tom Cruise doesn't mean they'll fool me!


Seemingly on every corner of every street there are people giving away something free. New yogurt samples, pamphlets, flyers and much to my amusement 'newspapers'. I use the inverted commas for a reason, by definition what is being handed out for free is a newspaper but in no other sense of the word does it provide any meaningful news. I have heard of tabloids, and rather embarrassingly have read what a lot of them have had to say but this was truly the first time I got one in my hands. To be honest I still can't comprehend why those tabloids are even printed at all. They are full of mindless drivel, sensationalise even the most mundane of incidents and seemingly do nothing other than follow celebrities around to nightclubs trying to get a picture of them doing something saucy or in some state of inebriation. What shocked me the most was that they were handed out free, I could not understand the economics of handing out a newspaper free. But a few pages into the paper and it is all too obvious that mighty marketing men with wads of cash were the real people running the show. Aside from advertisements, products were plugged unabashedly throughout the adjective strewn articles and the only real news was 130 words on how Russia was on the verge of war with Georgia.

After a few days of those papers I realised exactly how voyeuristic our society had become. The lines between the personal and public lives of people have been blurred to such a point that anything goes now. Nothing is too personal to print, that is seemingly the motto of every tabloid I have read. But equally cringe-worthy is the fact that our society now seemingly accepts and condones such behaviour. If there wasn't a demand for such news then the tabloids would never be printed, but the bitter truth is that around the world we are keen to know what our favourite celebrities do when they are not under the spotlight. Inadvertently it puts them under the constant spotlight of the media and thus the tabloid industry propagates itself through our voyeuristic fancies.

The newspapers aside I also noticed something very interesting, almost all the hawkers handing out the free papers were Bangladeshi. Now one might say in a place such as the UK where people from the subcontinent have spread all over, how was I so sure that the people handing out the papers were Bengali. It was just something about their faces, for a Caucasian, an Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi may be just another brown man but to us from the subcontinent there is more than a distinct difference between the peoples of our nations. Within a few days in London I felt I could tell the difference between an Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi. It had nothing to do with the colour of their skin, but everything to do with their faces. I am not saying there is an archetypal Indian or Bangladeshi face. In


fact people from the sub continent all look quite the same, the only way to differentiate between them when walking down a busy street is from something quite intangible, not the structure of their faces, but what their faces say. After a few days of guessing I tried to put my theory to the ultimate test, I would ask the hawkers where they were from.

That itself was not an easy task, in a big city like London there is an unwritten rule that people do not talk to strangers on the street. There is a general sense of distrust and social distance between people which is quite easy to see. When using the tube I happened to be sitting opposite a man with a few tattoos on his hand. I was about to ask him what was written on them when my friend stopped me. He said that kind of stuff is just not done, no matter how innocent. With that in mind I thought I would stick my neck out and ask the nearest hawker who I thought to be Bangladeshi if he was or not.

It was on the corner of Tottenham Court road and he was dressed in a purple jacket furiously handing out The London Paper. I calmly walked up to him as he offered me a paper to which I said I'd only take it if he answered a question for me. He looked a little puzzled and bemused and said ok. I asked him where he was from, and he deadpanned, “I am from Bangladesh, brother.” I smiled, accepted the paper he gave me and walked away. From that day on I stopped reading the tabloids even though I was offered one every hundred yards, but I did do something in return. Whenever a Bangladeshi hawker offered me one, I'd politely say, “na, bhaia.” And no matter how crowded the street was and no matter how many papers he was trying to hand out, I always got a smile and a nod. The streets of London are strange and wonderful in more ways than one can imagine.

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