Saturday, 9 February 2008
A Tabloid Pravda
Everyone is having fun at the moment "bashing the [arch]bishop" (to quote The Sun), because of his supposed advocacy of Sharia Law in the U.K. According to paranoid reports, Rowan Williams wants us to have public executions, stonings of adulterers, floggings and women chained to kitchen sinks. Newspapers have set up premium phone-lines for you to ring in if you want him sacked. Millions are ringing in voting against him - millions of people who, otherwise, have no affiliation with the Church of England. Never mind, knowing premium rate phone numbers, their votes won't be counted anyway.
Amongst all this hoo-hah, bullying, hysteria, jumping on bandwagons, New Labourish point-scoring, David Cameronish point-scoring, Biblical and tabloidical gnashing of teeth, there is a black hole in the middle of the coverage: the archbishop's actual speech. Everything we hear is second-hand slaggings-off of the archbishop's speech; everything we hear is everything but the speech, which we can only experience filtered through other people. The one thing we're not allowed to see or hear is what the archbishop actually said. That, no doubt, would muddy the issue, befuddle a good story, thinks the press, and the supposedly-more-high-brow media follow suit. Neither in The Star nor in the broadsheets nor on BBC News (more high-brow my foot - all of them are tabloids, really) are we allowed to see the actual full text of the speech the archbishop gave.
Instead, we just hear endless people lining up to gain votes / popularity / readers / viewers / free lunches by attacking what he said. Are we to believe that these people have read and digested the speech that we're not allowed to see, and have come to informed opinions based on the evidence, or (what is more likely) are we to suspect that they haven't seen or heard it either? In this respect, what we're hearing on the T.V. aren't even second-hand reports about the speech - they're third- or fourth- or twentieth-hand.
Now, without being over-the-top here, isn't this weird, twentieth-hand version of reality a form of totalitarian censorship? People can't be trusted to make up their own minds on the speech - they have to have their minds made up for them by idiot columnists and ravenous BBC carrion. People can't be allowed to have access to reality itself; reality has to be sifted, filtered and distilled for them. The reality (in this case, the archbishop's speech) is lost in the welter of stupidities, popularity contests and scandal-hunters. Again, without sounding over-the-top, isn't this all rather similar to what the media does in countries where it is state-run - i.e. filter and skew the truth so that it fits in with whatever political agenda the state needs it to fit in with? How can we go around condemning the Chinese press, looking down on the propoganda-filled papers of certain Middle Eastern states, and old Communist states, when our own press and media are themselves a form of propoganda, refusing us access to truth or reality - when all we've substituted for Pravda in the U.K. is a bargain-basement, intellectual-hating,lowest-common-denominator, scandal-mongering, near-murderous, god-forsaken, rabid, rampant, omnipotent, omnipresent tabloid Pravda which conspires against anyone who wants to be really informed about what is happening in the world?
And in the middle of this, a guy who is an intellectual making intellectual points is savaged near to death. I'm not saying I agree or disagree with him: I'm just saying I'd like us to be given the chance to know what he said before our minds are made up for us. But no, we couldn't possibly be allowed to get to grips with complexity, ambiguity, ambivalence, in our news. No ambivalence wanted here, thank you, and particularly no intellectualisms.
In this climate, I'm afraid, the only real figures who can survive in the public world are journalists, spin doctors, Blairesque politicians and lawyers - that is, people who know how to filter the truth. Anyone with integrity or intellect beware - you will be misquoted, misrepresented and eaten alive. Anyone who believes that the truth may be complex, ambiguous, worthy of debate, for goodness sake, stay in your garret and don't come out.