The Massage is the Message By William Bowles

26 January 2005

On yesterday’s BBC1 lunchtime news, diplomatic correspondent James Robbins declared that US relations with Iran were “looking very murky because of the nuclear threat”. (BBC1, 13:00 News, January 20, 2005)

On the BBC’s 18:00 news, Robbins again spoke of Iran “where the President is confronting the nuclear threat”. (BBC1, 18:00 News, January 25, 2005)

A previous alert from MediaLens on Iran serves to remind us of the role of the intelligentsia in creating the ‘right kind’ of space for further imperial adventures as the innocuous-sounding quotes above aptly illustrate. But just who are they talking to? After all, if one is to judge by the surveys of the BBC’s news/current affairs listener and viewer-ship, it’s overwhelmingly white, male and over fifty, so frankly, who gives a shit? (see also the follow-up to this).

But this is only part of the picture, for this is essentially the same audience that actually manages the capitalist state and as such it’s a key component of the opinion-forming industry that informs the rest of the media what the ‘line’ is. This is why the Gilligan/Kelly balls-up created such a furore as it not only burst the bubble of ‘objective’ journalism by revealing just how carefully stage-managed the process of ‘news’ creation really is, it also revealed how fragile the relationship is between the journalist and the state. Just one ‘slip’ revealed the precarious path the ‘objective’ journalist treads in creating the appearance of truth in reporting whilst peddling an ideological line.

And whilst dumping on Andrew Gilligan serves no useful purpose, the guy who fell off the narrow path and almost gave the game away, the plain fact is, Gilligan is the end-product of a long process of manipulation/indoctrination that starts with an education system that makes sure that no matter what your class origins are, you are firmly one of the ‘boys’ when it comes to the job of representing the state’s interests. And after all, when all’s said and done, it doesn’t do to bite the hand that feeds you as the hand quite quickly turns into a fist or a ‘pink slip’ as Dr Kelly and Andrew Gilligan found out. But don’t worry about Gilligan as he quickly did a book deal and moved on. Dr Kelly wasn’t so lucky, he paid the ultimate price.

There was a time (and not too long ago either) when such key jobs were filled with ‘boys’ from a tiny handful of educational institutions designed to produce just the right kind of reliable servant of the state, but perhaps due to inbreeding or the lure of ‘filthy lucre’, the state has had to cast its net wider for ‘reliable’ fellows who could do its bidding. Perhaps this explains why the ‘standards’ are slipping? You just can’t get the right kind of help anymore can you?

Perhaps it’s my working class background with the accompanying ingrained sense of inferiority to my ‘betters’ that has produced such a deep dislike and distrust of the intelligentsia and their smug know-it-all attitudes, virtually all of which is simply based on a superficial command of language harnessed to an ideological mindset supplied to them by their superiors, like fleas on a fleas back, but ultimately, it’s not rocket science it’s all down to the manipulation of language and an unstated but implicit acceptance of the status quo. A subtle manipulation typified by the two examples above. After all, what could be more ‘objective’ or innocent than the word “threat”?

The problem for the Left comes in dealing with such an incessant onslaught, with each salvo finely tuned to be received by a specific constituency. So we have our Noam Chomskys, who having been through the same academic mill have their own ears finely tuned to the nuances but who reads Noam Chomsky? How many people have even heard of him? And in any case, he deals with the ‘intellectuals’ who populate the pages of the NYT and their ilk, he even talks their language! Ultimately, he’s one of ‘them’. But who deals with the nabobs?

Oddly, given the centrality of the media to controlling the populace, there are very few organisations devoted to countering the propaganda blitz. There is FAIR in the US that does a pretty good job on one level of challenging the corporate press and here we have MediaLens that performs a comparable service (but without the print journal or the marketing savvy, pointing to another weakness we have in the UK, that of an amateurish approach to the political process, even relishing in it). And of course there’s the excellent Indymedia network of Websites.

And in any case we end up mostly talking each other which goes a long way toward explaining why we invariably end up bickering amongst ourselves about how many imperialists you can fit on the head of a pinhead.

On an academic level, we also have the excellent Glasgow University Media project but again, its work targets a narrow audience and focuses almost exclusively on a formalistic approach to media analysis, having chosen to take on the ‘enemy’ on its own terms, thus excluding the vast audience that the intelligentsia target on behalf of their masters.

There will be a lot of people on the ‘Left’ who will dump on me for saying this I know but given the centrality of the media to the maintenance of capitalism, that the entire enterprise depends on the creation of an illusion that embraces everything, the problem is more than simply presenting a critique of capitalism but of devising a means that can connect meaningfully with a population that has, by and large, a cynical and resigned attitude toward the political process.

Yet there is no getting away from the fact that since the end of the ‘evil empire’, the failure of capitalism to deliver on its promises of a peaceful and more just world, more people than perhaps since the period after the end of WWII are questioning the society we inhabit and its alleged values. But in spite of this, we seem incapable of escaping our past and indeed some comrades seem intent on trying to return to a past in what I can only view as an expression of the politics of desperation. So what is to be done?

Before I collapse into a blubbering blob of self-pity, check out ‘Final edition for the press’ by Ignacio Ramonet in Le Monde Diplomatique, an insightful piece on the parlous state of the press under corporate, hegemonic capitalism that now has all the appearance (ironically) of the press of those ‘totalitarian’ states it was continually bashing for decades before moving on to ‘Islamic extremists’ and other points east.

But what seems to have escaped the notice of the ‘Left’ in the developed world is the fact that for the most part, the corporate media has lost most of its credibility (you may have noticed that I’ve tired of doing my regular unpacking of the ‘Independent’, I just can’t stomach the samo samo anymore). And perhaps that’s what we need to do, just stop buying, watching and listening to the endless litany of self-satisfied bullshit. The Web is fast maturing into a viable source as long as we develop and hone our critical abilities just as much for the Blogs as we should have done for the Blather. Indymedia is an excellent example of the potential but at the same time the state is only too aware of the potential danger posed to its hegemonic control over the flow of information and has for a number of years now been busy passing laws that can be used to limit our effectiveness under the guise of fighting terrorism. So to a great degree it’s a race against time, with the state passing increasingly repressive laws in order to ‘contain’ the situation and for the most part a population that seems to be asleep when it comes to recognising the danger posed by the Security State.

And once more we come back to the role of the media’s complicity and acquiescence in the process, largely by accepting the legitimacy of the ‘war on terror’ as a justification for what amounts to criminalising the entire population for what is now a vast and ever-expanding range of laws criminalising activities right down to being sarcastic!

Under the guise of ‘law and order’ even dropping a cigarette end on the street will now get you a £50 fine and if you fail to pay up you’ll end up with a criminal record! And the media have been complicit in the process by selling the idea of the public’s ‘perceptions’ about crime and the vague and all-encompassing term of ‘anti-social behaviour’. The Labour government has created the classical Corporate Security state much beloved of Benito Mussolini, with the population having virtually every aspect of their lives now being regulated by the state claiming that they need to protect us from ourselves.

The degree to which the media are complicit in this process is truly frightening, revealing a corporate/state-run press that is an intrinsic part of the process. The issue therefore of challenging capitalism seems to wilt and fade away before the more pervasive assault and all-encompassing assault on a host of ‘small’ freedoms that make life bearable let alone liveable.

Most important of all is regardless of whether or not come an election, people would vote for a progressive party, there simply are no alternatives. We are locked into a system from which, in the short term at least, there is no escape.

Does this seem pessimistic? If it does it’s because there is no avoiding the fact that capitalism has imprisoned the population in lifelong debt in exchange for a spurious ‘wealth’ of accumulation, that for the most part people don’t need and which definitely doesn’t make them any happier (whatever happiness means). Of course, recognition of this fact does nothing to alter the reality that people are for the most part, trapped, in debt and in lives that are essentially meaningless, bound up largely with consuming in order to keep the entire machine rattling along on increasingly insecure foundations.

Yet there is a recognition of the larger issues whether these be the ability of the planet to continue to support us and our fellow life forms or the degradation of the quality of life in all kinds of small and large ways and of course the increasingly desperate attempts on the part of imperialism to maintain its power.

There is of course no guarantee that in the short or even medium term that we can successfully challenge our rulers but does this mean we shouldn’t try? And not only try but also devise a realistic alternative, not merely slogans.

What then are possibilities?

During the first quarter of 2004 more than 4.7m websites were created. The world currently has some 70m websites and the net more than 700 million users. In developed countries many people have given up reading newspapers, and even watching television, in favour of the computer screen. – Ignacio Ramonet

But the sheer proliferation of ‘alternatives’ creates its own problems, not the least of which is the fragmentation of voices. And in an alienated society, the real problem is organising collective voices in opposition to the overwhelming power of the corporate security state. With the destruction of traditional industries, de-unionisation, destruction of traditional communities and the failure of the Left to face up its failures, the situation would seem to be hopeless.

But I remain an optimist in spite of the seeming obstacles, if only because there are tens of millions of people at the ‘sharp end’ of imperialism who are confronting the situation directly and positively, who need us if for no other reason than to let them know that we do care and within the limitations of our situation, we need to use the resources we do have at our disposal to join in solidarity with them. We are after all, the privileged ones, we have wealth at our disposal that can be used progressively, wealth stolen from them in the first place.

So perhaps in this period the most effective thing to do is to voice our solidarity with those on the ‘sharp end’ which is why I try to focus here on those countries that are meeting (and suffering) the imperium head-on. Countries like Haiti, Venezuela, Iran and obviously Iraq, so far yet so near to us. They need our support more than ever before. We need to expose the hypocrisy of our governments and especially to challenge those who are employed to sell the lies, for without a complicit intellectual elite, there can be no justification for the actions of our rulers.

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