Feb 23, 2015

Bikes, tattoos, puppies and urinals: on peak Guardian

Can you walk your bike up a hill? Are beards over? Are we too dismissive of the rights of the differently abled? It's time to delve into the world of peak Guardian.

Mel Campbell — Freelance journalist and critic

Mel Campbell

Freelance journalist and critic

The phrase “Have we reached peak [noun]?” originates with debates over "peak oil": a theoretical maximum point of petroleum extraction capability that, should we reach it, could lead to global economic decline. Which brings me to "peak Guardian". You may have noticed people deploying this arch slur when sharing Guardian stories on social media, or even in the paper’s own lively comments section. Last August, the paper itself asked, somewhat wearily, "Have we reached peak peak?" But what do we peak about when we peak about Guardian? What qualities are most associated with The Guardian’s editorial concerns and those of its readers -- and have we, as the phrase implies, had enough? Is it the Peak-Guardianest thing to do to actually say “peak Guardian” -- or, indeed, to investigate peak Guardian? An online search reveals certain recurring tropes in alleged peak Guardian stories. While it’s a subjective epithet whose referent seems to vary depending on the political views of the person deploying it, many cited examples of peak Guardian have a first-person perspective and a fretful, confessional tone. Knowingly or unconsciously, they devote significant intellectual or emotional resources to making bold, sweeping claims regarding something that seems disproportionately quotidian. “I thought my puppy would unite the world. I was so, so wrong”,  wrote Jason Wilson last July, in one of the more daring expeditions into the heady thin air of Peak Guardian. I laughed helplessly just now as I re-read the standfirst: “I never thought my new canine pal, a designer Goldendoodle, would drag me into a world of internet hate -- and teach me valuable lessons about life.” Another of the classics, from August, 2012, is Tess Morgan’s grief-stricken memoir “My son’s tattoo hurt me deeply”: “I have a lump in my throat that stops me from eating. I feel as if someone has died. I keep thinking of his skin, his precious skin, inked like a pig carcass.” Personally, I feel Trevor Ward’s blog post on whether it’s OK to get off your bike and walk up a hill is both literally and generically the purest instance of peak Guardian. Stories accused of embodying peak Guardian also focus on the pursuit of whimsical and artisanal qualities in food and drink, defer to trendy experts, fret about the existential threat modern life poses to cosy traditions, and brood resentfully about how one’s life must look to others. “Beware of cupcake fascism,” warned Tom Whyman in April, 2014, arguing that this whimsical treat reflects an infantilised population’s desire to impose bourgeois regimes of political passivity. While the trope is often reserved for very serious discussions of online trends and habits, personally I feel The New York Times has a much better-deserved reputation for spurious trend reportage, as captured by the hilarious Twitter account The Times Is On It. Peak Guardian instead seems to reflect exasperation with pedantry, internecine fights with low, low stakes, and annoyance at the paper’s hypocrisy in celebrating trends and then declaring them "over" … all salted with more than a little anti-intellectualism. As The Guardian is known for its left-wing humanism, many stories accused of representing peak Guardian consist of self-conscious hand-wringing over race, genderclass and ability privilege. A recent example: “The women suffering for your Valentine’s Day flowers: Behind the millions of imported flowers we buy every year is a mostly female workforce subjected to low pay and poor conditions”. Peak Guardian ridicules a writer’s noble desire to wage race, gender, class and ability war on the battlefield of pop culture and everyday life. “It’s time to take a stand against the urinal”, urged Peter Ormerod this month. “The act of public urination has become a trope of hairy masculinity. Why can’t we just sit down?” Peak Guardian also gently mocks the paper for obsessive and opportunistic attempts to fold trendy political topics into just about any other article. Here’s a magnificent correction from last year’s Oscars coverage, captured on Twitter by alert reader Maddy Potts. It’s especially rich because it also dovetails with the Grauniad’s reputation for subeditorial inaccuracy:


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7 thoughts on “Bikes, tattoos, puppies and urinals: on peak Guardian

  1. Bob the builder

    Crikey, please enough filler pieces by the media about the media!!

  2. Djbekka

    I agree with Bob, here. In addition, as long as we are still living in a capitalist world, I exercise consumer choice and don’t bother to open the culture and life style drivel here characterized as ‘peak’. I just read news about what interests me.

    ps to Crikey – this includes the totally meaningless ratings for last nights TV included within. Yikes!

  3. Liamj

    Ditto last two comments, with a correction re 1st para that highlights the perils of the media’s anal fascination.

    Crude oil production peak was in 2006, as acknowledged by the IEA in their 2010 World Energy Outlook, and was followed by price spike & economic decline. So framing in terms of ‘will it?’/future tense is ignorant, a frequent fellow traveller of the trivial.

  4. Graham R

    My main gripe with The Guardian is it seems to have more click-bait headlines than even the Daily Mail. Left Wing it may purportedly be, but very shallow it often is.

    And as for Crikey’s obsession with the media and its place in it, I have complained about it several times. I have no idea why an email news-sheet with a fairly discerning audience needs to waste precious daily space on the precise numbers of the populace who watch what on broadcast television.

    Crikey is 15 now: surely it is time to think about leaving adolescence behind?

  5. Riany Vokisoto

    Whatever your opinion of the articles and preoccupations in The Guardian Mel, you would have to agree that they lead BTL, Below the Line. I liken it to Speaker’s Corner – often the rabble debating are far more informative and entertaining and sadly, quite indifferent to the author of the piece that has led them/us to their fuming fury. The articles on correct grammar and tea brewing do attract an incredible following.

  6. AR

    I only peek at the grauniad to see if either Steve Bell or the Sainted Dog have returned from too many weeks absence.
    I hope that both are well, I do worry.

  7. AR

    In serious agreement with #1,2 & 3 – esp the utter waste of space of the TV ratings. Discuss the content, if any,maybe but ratings – who gives a flying?

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