Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Tabloid present

The Tense collective: case 1; Media man.

Surely of the great creations of the last thirty years or so- and perhaps Thatcher’s most enduring and least endearing legacy is Tabloid-man. That is for the last thirty years or so the newspapers have been defining a ‘perfect citizen’ for Britain. A citizen that politically matters. for it is this citizen that politician crave to speak to. It is this citizen they assume is the one that they need to win over, and who if they displease they lose power. The tabloid-Man has become the Great political paradigm for our times. It serves the same role as economic man had tradition for ‘classic economics’. Such theoretical men form a rag bag of ‘known facts’ and cod psychology, that form basic assumptions about human behaviour, upon which then economical theory or political ideology is then built. Both men essentially define the Same Tense: Namely the logical present. That is they offer a simple rubric to reckon how any human will behave in any one time. It then offers a slide rule of how they reckon up what they know balance them of and come to a decision. In both case they are Men ‘in the act of making a decision’ in the present in. It is the world as the individual making the decision is conscious of it. It is the process or thoughts or rubrics they use or think that are using (the ones they are conscious of) in making that choice. The trouble of course is that this is a very brittle model, it assumes so much about human thought and human interaction, it assumes it is as reason and conscious would have it. Economic has grown past this assumption, but politics appears unable to move beyond it at all. All of which raises three question, e need to ask of this man of the present. Firstly we should how and why he gained such a power over our politics; secondly it is vital to look at the man and to attempt to see where he is leading us, and finally we need to worry about what is so wrong with this person of ours.
The power of Media-man is rooted in two accidents of history. Firstly there is a long-term claim about the role of the media in politics it is one of the political assumptions of our times, that we need a free, and therefore an unregulated media. Any attempt to regulate or limited excess is therefore seen as political censorship (and so bad.) All the state has a right to do is to ask the media to regulate itself, and that is it. The high argument of oppression of freedom and the rights of the mediator question where it is will (and the dangers of tyranny) is then used to justify page three girls and endless made up stories. The media are free therefore set free by high liberal ideals to pursue there own agenda, and to assume that they are asking the questions that matter, free to make up truth or to lie, and do so regardless of the consequence. Moreover if they are criticised on the ground of taste that other great eighteenth century themes can be bought to bear- That is the rejection of prurience in all its manifestations. To criticise media out put on the ground of taste is then to be a kill joy. Indeed the only bodies allowed to critic the media are then media themselves, who endless do it and do so in the name of short term advantage of market posturing; The media then critique one another in the hope of influencing politicians in their favour, is ok, but woe betide the politician who does it (unless of course thy are attacking the poor of BBC which is fair game). The media have then take the high argument, that legend about the roots of all our freedom, and high jack it for their owner rather short term political and economic purposes, making. It thereby comes impossible to critique their tasteless and pathetic output without critique democracy itself.
The second historical accident goes back to the politics of the late eighties and early nineties, where a horrific campaign was run by tabloids journalists against the Labour party in Britain. This party was then portrayed as never being able to do anything right, and being almost a standing joke. This campaign, which was extreme then took the credit for the repeated Tory victories. A move that may in part have been true. But what is certainly the case is that it has gone in political legend as the case it has become the almost impossible if one is a politician to speak against the media without having this nightmare raised before ones eyes. A threat that in a sense is sense confirming. For if all the parts of the state (including the media) assumes that a politician is doomed if risk the ire of the media and behave according, then that politician is of course almost certainly doomed. Or at least they will be until eventually (and in the end it will happen) a politician arrives who wins an election in the face of the tabloid howl, and so breaks the charm. This last point almost happened last time, where the chosen one Cameron did not win. However the fact that he ended up as prime minister ultimately confirmed the charms power, and made it still hold true.
This long terms political legacy grab and short term power grab, form the backdrop to the role of the media in our society. It matters not that they are logically contradictory. The Eighteenth century claims about liberty absolutely did not include the power of the media to make or break election. The point they were making as about truth and reason, and not merely the rights of one group of society to call political reality. However what really confirms the media in their powers is something rather different. What is hidden from citizen is essentially what a weird job being a politician is. A career that stats in the weirdness of a political campaign where one is forced to confront all kinds and sorts of people and attempt to exhort a vote from them. It then goes to take the victorious and maroons them in the hot house environment of parliament, where ones actions are endlessly reported, and one social exchanges influence ones eventual career (and success),Social interaction, and political careers then merge into one, and one can very loose sight of the world outside. More importantly one loses sight of who ones action are affecting and why; or perhaps it might be true to say that it becomes simply impossible in such a job to keep an idea of who one is acting for. Politicians are then in a job that requires an audience (that is their voters) and ultimately their fate hangs on that audience, and yet they are not given that much real contact with folk. Or perhaps more truthfully all the contact they are given is dictated by the fact they are an MP. They do not then have a real relationship with their voters, as they are in themselves (and not merely how they behave to their MP). They need then to create in their minds an internal audience. A people they are acting for . It is then here where the media comes it The media people in a sense are the ‘public’ the Mp can know, and know collective. A fact then that the neat little lobby groups that typify our system only go to confirm. The journalist are often as not the outsiders the Mp’s meet (and the ones who appreciate what they are doing) a fact that gives their portrayal of the ‘average’ citizen even more power and influence.
The idea of media-man then gains currency as in any very complicated democracy it is of course impossible to know hat everyone is thinking in the world beyond Westminster as well .the Version then of the citizen that the media (really certain Tabloids) create becomes a short hand, for thinking about such a person. It represents is a sense their base concerns, the ones one must allow for, and does so even if one rejects those concerns (and irrespective of whether such a human is believable or likeable). One has then to assume that the political one mass will think that media-man, in order than one can work our what is going on in society at all. The point then of course being that if enough then behave according to what such a person ‘thinks’ or reality, then their reality is confirmed (and the power of the media justified). The media therefore offer a shorthand person, a voter, that makes the system and the debate thinkable, a shorthand and by which we all seem both hypnotized and damned.
The problem of course is that the humans the media want to create – the abstract MAN of their writings is such botched beast, living as it does within the light of the on-going need of newspapers to sell product. They need then a human which is endlessly reactive, and able to focus immediate desire, in order to sell product. One creates then as a perfect citizen of this free society and individual who is always motivated by immediate passions and prejudice, and who never wants to question to much or examine or think about thinks too challenging. Or perhaps it they do, they want that thought only in bite size articles and single thought essays. That is, pieces that give them an immediate idea to play wit for a day, or so, something to discuss down the pub, and nothing more they are not after deep challenging articles or read substantive research. More than that the journalist who are caught up in the news cycle are in no position to create such deep problematic pieces. They need to endlessly produce stories, and so need to write and move on. The result is then a human is created not out of anything logical or even any claim about what a human is, so much as from the need to sell newspapers day on day, and the desire of journalists to always be able to move on to the next story. It is merely then a pity that this take on humanity, with such commercial roots has such a power.
The media person that these pressures create is essential the products of the conscious present. The human that we all create inside us, and think of as ourselves (or at least do so when we are being lazy).This person is the one easiest to write for and to, and has various features firstly just human is always caught up in immediate reaction. They need not reconcile thoughts and dreams, but merely react to them. They are they encouraged to want lower taxes, more public services and yet almost invariably belief that not only they do not get their ‘fair share’ of those public services (free bus passes and the rest do not count as the are their right) . The belief is then that there exists a group somewhere on the margins who get more than their Fair.. The Creature of the light of immediate consciousness assumes that it is fine and everything it does if is right, and all inconveniences belong elsewhere. The other becomes then a figure of suspicion (the course of taxation) and the reason why such an individual has the right to pity themselves (endless) and feel they are oppressed. Any attempt to limit this world view is then despised as too clever by half, and openly attacked. It is then no wonder that feel good new-ageism is the order of the day for such an individual, for it provides an immediate at hand easy to follow self-create manual, that justifies their thoughts, makes then feel clever without ever challenging anything.
Such a human is clearly very brittle. It is never that believable that we have alright to the thoughts we immediately have. They are after all always the laziest of ideas, the most hackneyed, and the most suspect. The media-man is then only possible if they think in packs. That is no tabloid person could exist unless they claimed to be part o a moral majority. For it is that majority that movement that founds and grounds their belief in their believes. Without it the thoughts they clutch would be merely prejudice. Even so this conjuring of a majority(or mob) is not enough, to bolster the brittle person so created. The result of course is than the media-,an is rather prickly, and always on their dudgeon. They are likely then to recent even the slightest tease form a politician, and describe it as an insult . to defend their rights to their projects and their majority status, they heed they to be thin skinned and worries abut affront. A particularly from those either power, or who come under the all embracing ‘other’ category.
And yet all media-men know that there are certainly naughty thoughts their super-egos (for want of a better word) know are out of order. They therefore behave as a good Freudian (there puppet masters might actually know their Freud), and displace or elude to these naughty thoughts as best they may. One is not allowed to be racists therefore openly, but it is fine to bash the desperate asylum seeker. Likewise one ought not to be sexist and yet looking and scantily clad females doing something is alright (it is merely picture don’t you now). Media man has then an elaborate language of double speaking to allow then to not say certain thing, while actually is saying them.
Such an brittle portrait of the immediate conscious mind (the person we live with when we are indulging ourselves) would be politically powerless, and not matter much at most times. The weight of other human needs, or just other humans (all of whom have their own versions) usually stifles off this particular person. Politician then govern not for the individual but on the interests of something else call it state or history or perhaps state, and individuals find then their place within such government. Their role is then something they work towards, not something immediately created within their minds. The trouble is that in our current incarnation of democracy, this working towards an external goal is suspect (it smacks perhaps f an imperial past or future, and any way does not sell news papers). Our democracies model to the man in the street’ has become the gossamer person of the tabloid newspapers. A person who needs endless defending and self-justifications to support at all, and so makes a problematic ‘political unit’. We are dragged away from the real politics of states or interstate relations, the real politics of the effect we as a country have in the world, and what we are doing, and onto a Mickey mouse politics of self construction and justification. The really thing about this world is that probably no one (well save the media barons who makes money out of it) is convinced by it. The public also claim at leas tot want politicians who lead, and politicians clearly would like to do something else (they would not be in politics to merely pander), the trouble is that no one seems able to thin of an alternative. Or more tragically no one has been able to sell the alternative, with h result that it is a politcal non-starter. We are then all saddled with an obnoxious individual as the base line for our politics, an individual we actually despise and yet cannot do with out.
The result is that the country is and remains rather ungovernable. The base line we have set ourselves sells newspapers, makes for good prejudice but lousy policy, and we appear to be able to do nothing much about it. One supposes we can only hope (if it is a hope) that he agony of the cuts to come (made in the man of that other oddity economic man), will shake us a bit, and make have to rethink this person. There might be chance, but it is unlikely to succeed unless the media (and the tabloids start peddling a different person, or perhaps the Politicians work out someone different to listen to, neither of which seem from here at least that likely.