A slop bucket on every front page
But that's only one of the things I've been up to. To prepare for the broadcast of 'All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace', I've been rewatching old Adam Curtis documentaries. Curtis isn't everyone's cup of tea, but he is mine. And I really, really like tea.
'The Century Of The Self' is excellent. It's been a while since I've seen it - years before I even started this here blog - so how what it says applies to newspapers hasn't occurred to me before.
'The Century Of The Self' covers how Sigmund Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays, influenced the world of marketing and PR by including elements of psychoanalytic theory, and how this in turn affected the world of politics.
Bernays changed the concept of market research by introducing the focus group - moving away from the process of asking logical, rational questions about products towards allowing groups to talk freely about how products made them feel. Emotion became the most important factor in marketing, and Bernays' most famous success was to break the taboo on women smoking by making it a symbol of freedom and emancipation.
Politicians took advantage of these tactics, and the last part, 'Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering' focuses on how Clinton and Blair both used focus groups talking about how they felt to inform their messages and how they marketed themselves. If it were filmed any later than 2002, Curtis could have easily included David Cameron, with his rubbish YouTube videos, cycling to work in front of a huge car driving his stuff and hugging hoodies.
The interesting thing about newspapers is how they sit in both of these worlds.
They're all about selling products - newspapers and audiences. The newspapers get bought by punters in shops and the audience gets sold to advertisers. The audience is probably the more important of these two since advertisng raises more money than the cover price, especially when we're talking about free sheets. Paul Dacre has boasted before about the number of 'quality readers' the Daily Mail attracts. He means ABC1 readers - the ones with money who can afford to buy any luxury items advertisers might want to pay him money to push in his newspaper. No good trying to sell expensive stuff to people who can't afford it.
But they're also about pushing political messages. The political messages are one of the many ways they attract the audience they sell to advertisers. One reason (and it is only one of loads) the right wing press push the anti-global warming message so disproportionately may have something to do with the need to sell advertising space to corporations selling big, petrol guzzling behemoths. It's so much easier to do that when you can say, 'Hey! Our audience is X million per day with X amount of disposable income and guess what? They don't give shit one about how much your new model with the cow-catcher will fuck the world up for everyone else. In fact, they mostly don't believe it'll do any damage at all'.
So, in order to sell an audience whose emotions advertisers can appeal to in order to sell whatever it is they're advertising, newspapers attract readers by appealing to their emotions with iffy political messages that have about as much evidential support as, well, an advert selling you freedom in the mountains instead of the car you're actually being asked to buy.
The anti-global warming approach is just one example. Take today's Daily Mail and Daily Express front pages. 'A SLOP BUCKET IN EVERY HOME' shouts the Mail, and 'DUSTBIN CHAOS ON THE WAY' squeals the Express. Are bins the most important thing in the country at the moment? Are they really?
As you'd expect, both papers' headlines aren't exactly rational or dispassionate. The Mail goes for the jugular with 'slop bucket', a description designed only to conjure up horrible images (how is a 'slop bucket' different from 'a bin' when you can chuck all your food waste in a bin?) The Express decides to tell us about DUSTBIN CHAOS that's definitely on the way. But do either of these tell us anything that would contribute rationally to any debate?
Not really. The real story is that because, wouldn't you know it, actual government is a bit more complicated than armchair pontificating to appeal to people's emotions, the coalition is rolling back its promise to have weekly bin collections. Instead, people might have to separate their food waste from their recycling into bins that councils will be encouraged to collect - wait for it - every week.
In terms of a rational debate, this actually removes one of the arguments of people who get het up about bins. I know this because I subjected myself to reading all Richard Littlejohn's books, which I think makes me an expert about what people who moan about bins say. And about fifteen percent out of twenny more stupider.
This argument goes that it's unhygenic to collect bins only once every two weeks because smelly, dirty food remains are left too long to rot and attract vermin. The new plans should mean that the smelly, rotting stuff that attracts vermin is collected exactly as quickly as the bin enthusiasts would like.
But the tabloid fascination with bins has nothing to do with a rational debate, and everything to do with appealing to emotion. The papers are targeting the 'can't be arsed to do anything extra with rubbish' market, and they're offering ad hoc resoning for why that's an okay position to take. For the Express, this means saying that the new change will cause chaos with no evidence at all, and for the Mail this means the most sophisticated of all rhetorical devices - namecalling.
And the tabloids are so good at selling political positions by appealing to emotions that political parties go beyond just copying the approach. They actually steal the nonsense positions themselves. The reason the new headlines can talk about u-turns and whatnot is that Eric Pickles read the papers and stole one of their wheezes for himself. And it's not the only time he's done this stuff. Who cares whether Christmas was actually banned, or whether elf n safety has gorn mayyyd or if it's even possible to have weekly bin collections if you can attract X number of ABC1s with X amount of disposable income to vote for you if you promise to do something about them?
The thing is, newspapers market themselves as being rational representations of what is going on in the world. Even Richard Littlejohn pretends to be just giving the facts when not even the news section of the paper he writes for does that.
It seems everything's a product, and you can't trust anyone's messages about anything when you're deciding who to vote for or what should be done about anything or even what's happening at all in the first place. And you can expect more of the same in future.
I hesitate to use the term 'false consciousness', but Jesus.