Sounding like a stuck record is a tough state to be in, both for me as an individual and (I’m assuming) to those that I keep inflicting upon like my regular readers.
I therefore apologise, even if I have to acknowledge my special place in the firmament of human existence as the leading 21st Century prophet of the modern (post-political) era.
Even when we consider the works of H.G. Welles, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell – or even Charlie Chaplin and Ridley Scott – in projecting how human society might evolve in the future, none of us who read Marshall McLuhan’s seminal best-selling The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (1967), almost fifty years ago now, could have failed to have been influenced by its vision or indeed surprised that today we are in a constant struggle to master the intricacies of social media outlets such as Twitter and Instagram in order to keep in touch with our grandchildren and yet still manage to send them accidental naked selfies of ourselves when trying to add an emoji or two to our texts.
The idealistic Western democracy/capitalism model that underpinned and drove the development of the world between 1800 and 2000 is now ebbing away. The law of the jungle – and of both fascism and state socialism if you will – which existed before it will also outlast it, simply because it’s more efficient and quicker to adapt to events. And you know the ‘survival of the fittest’ theory, don’t you?
The irony is that the modern world’s fascination with human individuality has coincided with the all-pervading growth and realisation of McLuhan’s ‘mass media global village’ to the extent that every war-fleeing refugee from Syria, Libya, Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia – and every economic migrant from everywhere else – risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean in a series of sieve convoys for the chance of survival and advancement eventually arrives on some far off Greek beach, swathed in life jackets and rags for clothing … destitute, starving, cold, exhausted … but always clutching their ‘latest generation’ smartphones, from which (inevitably) they’re messaging their friends and family and/or posting videos to YouTube every half hour on the dot.
Which brings me to the subject of my sermon today – this EU Referendum business – which, for me, pretty much crystallises everything I’m talking about.
Let’s just recap.
Politicians are snake-oil salesmen only interested in ‘the political game’, in getting elected, and being in power. To them democracy is an inconvenience. The masses are simply fodder who don’t understand what politicians ‘understand’ – most of them too thick or prejudiced to be trusted to listened to reasoned argument – and therefore are best dealt with (at non-Election times) by being showered with opiates such as Premiership football, celebrity gossip magazines, alcohol, cocaine, ecstasy, nicotine, welfare benefits and a vague chance to win the Lottery.
At times of Election campaigns, of course, things are slightly different. He (or she) who controls and dominates the media battle wins. Never mind who the best statesmen might be. What really counts in terms of emerging as the best leader of a political party, and therefore potentially also the nation as Prime Minister (or, in the USA, President) is which of the candidates is the most telegenic, the most ‘voter-friendly’, the most persuasive to the ‘undecided’ and/or uncommitted.
Cue the EU Referendum, then.
Yesterday, having caught a trailer somewhere, I made a point of tuning in to watch The Andrew Marr Show at 9.00am on BBC1 simply because Boris Johnson was to be the main interviewee.
Let me declare my interest. By nature I am not a fan of Boris per se – in fact I don’t quite know what to make of him as a political figure. He’s a consummate and attractive performer of semi-comic ‘turns’ on the stump, on TV shows and at party political conferences, but – as a serious politician/statesman – er … maybe not. His contributions on his feet in the House of Commons since becoming an MP at last year’s General Election have been muted, under-powered and frankly disappointing.
Put it this way, as I think someone already has: he’s no Churchill – even though, two or three years ago now, he (Boris) knocked off a popular book analysing the magic of the great man.
All that said, I’m a fan of the idea of Boris. In the sense of him being an anti-politician. Or indeed, even if perhaps he is something significantly more subtle and sinister than that, viz. a fiendishly-clever scheming strategist who masks his genius and intelligence behind a mask of bumbling affability in order to deceive.
I’m fascinated by the message and the medium, and how the means of getting a message across via radio and television broadcasts, or advertising, or journalism, or opinion polls, or focus groups, or ‘special electoral winning advisers’ are used by politicians in their efforts to gain and stay in power.
It’s all a game, isn’t it?
I felt Marr had a particularly bad day in the office. From his opening welcome to his viewers he seemed smug and self-satisfied, even positively excited at the prospect of having Boris on his programme. He knew that this would probably add a million viewers to his normal figure and that he would be judged by his fellow media pundits, by the political parties and by the public at large on how he dealt with the challenge. Could he even perhaps skewer Boris and embarrass him?
And so to ‘the interview’. It looked as though Boris had been allocated between fifteen and twenty minutes at the end of the programme – bar some female violinist scraping chalk over a blackboard (or so it sounded) as the end credits rolled.
For me, in most interviews, Marr does okay. He lobs his interviewee the question, allows him to waffle on and develop a paragraph’s worth or two, and then – if necessary – nips back at him with a supplementary, tough or not, designed to help the interviewee get his point of view across to the onlooking viewers. Or else moves on to the next topic.
But things were different yesterday. Marr seemed to want to be seen to put Boris under pressure. In very short order this viewer became very frustrated. Marr opened with a military medium good-length but innocuous ball outside the off-stump, which Boris had no sooner shaped to get into line behind than Marr began harassing him. The interruptions came thick and fast, as if designed to confuse, or disorient, the Boris juggernaut before it could get out of second gear.
I don’t buy the line – since put out by some including Marr himself – that Boris was filibustering from the off and therefore Marr was justified in his tactics. In fact, instead of letting Boris have 30 seconds to finish his answer, Marr’s constant interventions prolonged the exchange on each topic by an average of up to 90 seconds a time in themselves… whereupon he’d then cut in, as if impatient, saying that he needed to move on to another important subject.
The result was that Marr managed to cover approximately five mini-topics with Boris and none of them remotely satisfactorily. Perhaps that was the intention. But I – and I suspect not a few others – had tuned in to see what Boris had to say on the main EU Referendum issues, not witness Marr trying to show off to the ‘Westminster Village’ and his peers.
When incidents like this happen, it’s difficult to credit that the BBC is remaining impartial in the EU Referendum debate. Based on yesterday’s evidence, Marr has clearly dropped all pretence of doing so. Before his coming together with Boris, he interviewed some German political figure [in one of those sessions in which the interview speaks in English and the other replies in German but with an English translation voice-over] about the implications of a Brexit and never once interrupted him, or picked him up on anything in any of his answers.
As I have already predicted, the ‘Establishment’ and political classes will rig the result of the EU Referendum, somehow.
Because in their eyes the issues involved are just too important to let the people have their say. Or rather, whilst they’re prepared to let the people have their say in principle (for the sake of appearances), they’re not going to accept the verdict … that is, unless it’s the right one.
You know this makes sense in the world of geo-politics.