More than a spoof

METR0 spoof

Spoofs are nothing new. As a form of parody, they are works created to mock or poke fun at an original work, its subject, author or style by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation. The word 'parody' derives from the Greek parodia, which was a narrative poem imitating the style of epics but dealing with light or satirical subjects. Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin argued, eight decades ago, that parody has a “carnival sense of the world” as opposed to “that one-sided and gloomy official seriousness which is dogmatic and hostile to evolution and change.”

In journalism, parody has been used since newspapers started. In the 18th century, there were several papers specialised in parodying other newspapers, such as the English Lucien in England and the Courant in the US. Present-day equivalents include Private Eye.

Spoof papers are often used to make a political point. For instance, in protest at what popular newspapers tended to publish as items 'of interest to women' (beauty, entertainment, gossip, etc.), the League of Women Voters in the US produced a spoof newspaper in 1920s, called Ballot Box Review, which presented a gendered world turned on its head. More recently, particularly in the context of the anti-capitalist movement, spoofs have become a popular form of subversion or 'culture jamming' targeting corporate mainstream media.

Below we showcase some of these spoofs produced in the UK over the past few years by different groups on different subjects.

Evading Standards (June 1999)

One of the early anti-capitalist spoofs, this 'special edition' of the Evening Standard never saw the light as police swooped and confiscated the copies before they could be distributed. The spoof was meant to coincide with the J18 protests in London, an international day of protest against the 25th G8 summit in Cologne. Under the headline 'Global market meltdown', the frontpage story claimed that "Panic stalks Square Mile following dramatic collapse of world financial markets." An editorial titled 'Game over for apocalypse roulette' explained that "Our front page story may not have told the truth, but one thing is true – things have got to change." The rest of the 32-page paper included commentary and analysis from an anti-capitalist perspective, in addition to call-outs and information for action.

Financial Crimes (September 2000)

A 16-page spoof of the Financial Times produced by activists from Reclaim The Streets, a collection of activist groups who staged events to reclaim public spaces for common ownership, such as mass street parties on motorways. The spoof coincided with an international day of action against the 55th annual meeting of the World Bank and IMF in Prague on 26th September 2000. Printed on the FT copy-righted pink paper, the spoof looked similar to the real paper, except that it exposed and opposed the catastrophes caused and crimes committed by the global financial and governance institutions, instead of justifying them. Despite the humour running through most pages, the articles were mostly serious and factual. Outlining their reasons for doing the spoof, the editorial collective said they "want to contribute to the growth of alternative, non-corporate media" and "disseminate the information that never makes the pages of daily newspapers."

In 2009, climate change activists produced another Financial Times spoof to coincide with the G20 protests in London. FT's advertising strapline "We live in Financial Times" was changed to "We live on Financial Crimes." Set in 2020, the spoof paper was a critique of financial journalism and the complacent business class that is killing the planet for profit. Thousands of copies were handed out to London commuters and the spoof's website, ft2020.com, is still up online.

The Spun (November 2001)

A 24-page spoof of The Sun by anonymous anti-war activists. The front page story, 'Shop 'til they drop', combined a critique of consumerism and the then new 'war on terror', with Tony Blair urging Spun readers to "get out and spend, spend, spend for freedom!" The rest of the spoof analysed the 'war on terror', the war on Afghanistan, economic globalisation and the global grassroots movement against it. The Sun was, and still is, one of the worst war-mongering British tabloids, supporting the UK's military adventures and the 'war on terror'.

The Sun had been spoofed before. On 1st May 1986, a 4-page spoof of the Murdoch-owned paper was produced by anarchists to support the News International printers strike at Wapping. The spoof's frontpage headline was 'Murdoch fucks donkeys'.

Hate Mail (April 2005)

In the run-up to the 2005 general election, activists from Manchester No Borders produced a spoof of the Daily Mail to highlight the tabloids' racist misrepresentation of issues surrounding asylum seekers and migrants. Although the spoofers had in mind all tabloids' "influx of lies and waves of untruths," the Daily Mail was singled out due to its long history of campaigning against immigration and supporting the far-right. Under the headline 'Asylum seeker ate my hamster' (a take on a famous 1986 headline in The Sun, 'Freddie Starr ate my hamster'), the frontpage story mocked the constant demonising and criminalising of migrants by mainstream media. Not the whole 12-page paper was spoof, however; some of the content was serious. A double-page spread, under the title 'You are being lied to', countered mainstream myths about immigration and asylum created by the media. Other articles talk about migrants' everyday suffering and how campaigners can help.

Another Hate Mail spoof had appeared on Mayday 2002, with articles on a wide range of subjects, from capitalism, imperialist wars and monarchy to workers struggles. The front page story claimed that "Anarchy is erupting in the towns, villages and cities of the UK."

East London Adversaries (September 2005)

An 8-page spoof of the East London Advertiser by Disarm DSEi, a group of anti-militarist activists that has been mobilising against the biannual arms fair at the ExCeL centre in London's Docklands since 2001. Although the spoof looked similar to the real paper, the content was serious information about the mobilisation and the arms trade.

Mesho (April 2008)

A 16-page spoof of the Metro by a group of squatters and activists in London and Brighton. 'Mesho' is an anagram of 'homes'. The frontpage story, 'Epidemic hits Queen', claimed that a group of squatters, calling themselves 'Palacites', had been discovered in one of the Queen's personal walk-in wardrobes at Buckingham Palace, causing "outrage" for the royal family and concern for the government that "the news could cause an epidemic of ordinary, law abiding citizens to start taking housing into their own hands." The rest of the paper analysed housing issues, the Olympics "blight", as well as providing advice for squatters and homeless people.

Three separate printers pulled out at the last minute fearing a legal comeback by the Metro publishers. One printer's excuse was that they printed the actual Metro. The same has happened with other Metro spoofs as well (see below).

Metr0 (June 2010)

An anti-racist spoof of the Metro to coincide with two days of action against racist press, called by a coalition of anti-racist and No Border groups under the name Press Action. Tens of thousands of copies that looked very similar to the free daily were distributed at 20 busy tube stations around London by 50 or so distributors wearing white T-shirts bearing the Metro logo and blue baseball caps. Thousands more were distributed in other cities around the country.

Under the headline 'Gordon Brown to be deported to Scotland', the front page story claimed the former prime minister was facing imminent removal back to his "home country", as the new coalition government introduced new immigration rules that imposed further restrictions on "non-English nationals." The rest of the spoof featured a Metro-style '60-Second interview' with a real-life ex-detainee, a myth-buster about asylum and immigration, an 'immigration newspeak' glossary, racist quotes from the mainstream press and a couple of more in-depth articles on immigration controls and protests against them. The Metro website was also spoofed, with a layout resembling that of the paper's official website but with the content of the spoof paper.

The day after the spoofing operation, the Metro owners, Associated Newspapers, obtained a High Court injunction against "all persons responsible for the publication and/or distribution" of the spoof and served it upon different groups that they thought might have been connected with the action, including the people running the Press Action blog, Indymedia UK and the London Action Resource Centre (LARC). After a few months and legal costs running up to £40,000 they also managed take down the spoof site through the domain registrar in the US.