Alain de Botton heads the editorial team behind The Philosophers’ Mail, a new website that aims to make us think about why some aspects of the news prove so captivating (and why we shouldn’t neccessarily feel too guilty about enjoying them)…
Borrowing from the Daily Mail school of lengthy headline-writing, there’s also an Onion-esque ring to some of the writing on The Philosophers’ Mail with articles ranging from the world weary (“Best not spend too long on all this”), to wordier ruminations on the merits of Tyler Swift’s legs (above).
Written by a group of philosophers, the site has been produced in support of de Botton’s forthcoming book, The News: A User’s Manual, which is published next month by Hamish Hamilton. But far from being a satirical take on the World’s Most Popular News Website, it’s clear that The Philosophers’ Mail heralds a different approach to online news and gossip.
It’s more philosophy-led contemporary news analysis with celebrities providing the jumping off point. (“Simon Cowell, on holiday in Barbados, proves suffering part of the human condition,” for example.)
Dig deeper and an article headlined “Not as much news as previously thought”, is in fact an interesting piece on why celebrity stories captivate readers.
These kinds of tales are, TPM argues, mostly recycled stories, ‘archetypes’ that repeat down the ages. And rather than honing in on the details of every case – what the particular MP/actor/singer did and to whom – the more important thing to gauge is why these things happen like this. If readers can become more conscious of the story archtypes, says TPM, then we would have a lot less news to take in. In a way, we can then look at celebrities in order to realise some form of truth:
“When we’re stressing to fit the baby car seat in the back or when we get a take-away coffee and have to drink it in the rain, we realise that we are not – as we might normally feel – suffering an irritating indignity or a banal humiliation – we are in fact sharing the life of the stars; not because we are making ourselves like them, but for a deeper and more moving reason: they are like us.”
While it promotes the ideas in de Botton’s new book, the site is written and published by The School of Life, the London-based “cultural enterprise offering good ideas for everyday life”, which runs “a variety of programmes and services concerned with how to live wisely”. (It is listed as TPM’s “sponsoring organisation”).
A release states that each day the publication will look to record the stories that “everyone is interested in – a double suicide, Miley Cyrus, a paedophile teacher, Gwyneth Paltrow’s marriage, a fireball on the runway, but then [apply] its own very particular spin, in the direction of traditional philosophical interests: calm, complexity, dignity and wisdom.”
It will be interesting to see how the site develops amid the noise of the top level gossip websites – their stories, after all, provide TPM with its material. But as a taster of some of the ideas de Botton is set to discuss in his new book, The Philosophers’ Mail already offers much to think about.
The News: A User’s Manual is published on February 6 by Hamish Hamilton.