I often read the “Good to meet you…” column in my old paper, the Guardian. In it, “ordinary people” explain why they are loyal readers. Obviously it is a very good marketing tool for the Guardian, letting other readers know why they made a wise decision to choose the paper for its independence and “different coverage”.
But it is also worth reading to understand quite how entrenched these readers’ identification is with the Guardian. One is used to seeing less aware consumers talk about how much they identify with mass-produced products, whether iPhones or fast food. The Guardian seems to appeal to readers in much the same, largely unthinking way. The following young reader attributes all the most important decisions in her life to her reading the paper.
The culture and women’s sections have arguably shaped the direction my life has taken. The books section introduced me to literature that I would probably never have otherwise discovered. These works influenced my decision to study English and American literature at university. The women’s section gave me the chance to discover a type of feminism for myself, and let me forge my own identity and assert my beliefs.
Has she really forged her own identity, or has she bought into an identity that the Guardian packaged for her to make her feel independent, assertive and free-thinking.
Without a trace of irony, she concludes: “I’ll always be a loyal Guardian reader because I would not be the person I am today without the paper.”
You would think a truly independent, free-thinking paper would be rather embarrassed to be running self-promotion in which its readers declare their absolute and undying devotion to it. That’s why I have referred in the past to the Guardian as a “cult”. For many readers that’s exactly what it is. And the only way to get them out would be to de-programme them.