13 December 2019
This was an election of two illusions.
The first helped persuade much of the British public to vote for the very epitome of an Eton toff, a man who not only has shown utter contempt for most of those who voted for him but has spent a lifetime barely bothering to conceal that contempt. For him, politics is an ego-trip, a game in which others always pay the price and suffer, a job he is entitled to through birth and superior breeding.
The extent to which such illusions now dominate our political life was highlighted two days ago with a jaw-dropping comment from a Grimsby fish market worker. He said he would vote Tory for the first time because “Boris seems like a normal working class guy.”
Johnson is precisely as working class, and “normal”, as the billionaire-owned Sun and the billionaire-owned Mail. The Sun isn’t produced by a bunch of working-class lads down the pub having a laugh, nor is the Mail produced by conscientious middle managers keen to uphold “British values” and a sense of fair play and decency. Like the rest of the British media, these outlets are machines, owned by globe-spanning corporations that sell us the illusions – carefully packaged and marketed to our sectoral interest – needed to make sure nothing impedes the corporate world’s ability to make enormous profits at our, and the planet’s, expense.
The Sun, Mail, Telegraph, Guardian and BBC have all worked hard to create for themselves “personalities”. They brand themselves as different – as friends we the public might, or might not, choose to invite into our homes – to win the largest share possible of the UK audience, to capture every section of the public as news consumers, while feeding us a distorted, fairytale version of reality that is optimal for business. They are no different to other corporations in that regard.
Media wot won it
Supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsbury, Lidl and Waitrose similarly brand themselves to appeal to different sections of the public. But all these supermarkets are driven by the same pathological need to make profits at all costs. If Sainsbury’s sells fair trade tea as well as traditionally produced tea, it is not because it cares more than Lidl about the treatment of workers and damage to the environment but because it knows its section of consumers care more about such issues. And as long as it makes the same profits on good and bad tea, why should it not cater to its share of the market in the name of choice and freedom?
The media are different from supermarkets in one way, however. They are not driven simply by profit. In fact, many media outlets struggle to make money. They are better seen as the loss-leader promotion in a supermarket, or as a business write-off against tax.
The media’s job is to serve as the propaganda arm of big business. Even if the Sun makes an economic loss, it has succeeded if it gets the business candidate elected, the candidate who will keep corporation tax, capital gains tax and all the other taxes that affect corporate profits as low as possible without stoking a popular insurrection.
The media are there to support the candidate or candidates who agree to sell off more and more public services for short-term profit, allowing the corporate vultures to pick hungrily at their carcasses. The media’s job is to back the candidate who will prioritise the corporations’ interests over the public’s, quick profits over the future of the NHS, the self-destructive logic of capitalism over the idea – socialist or not – of a public realm, of the common good. The corporations behind the Sun or the Guardian can afford to make a loss as long as their other business interests are prospering.
It’s not the Sun wot won it, it’s the entire corporate media industry.
BBC’s role exposed
The real revelation of this election, however, has been the BBC, the most well concealed of all those illusion-generating machines. The BBC is a state broadcaster that has long used its entertainment division – from costume dramas to wildlife documentaries – to charm us and ensure the vast majority of the public are only too happy to invite it into their homes. The BBC’s lack of adverts, the apparent absence of a grubby, commercial imperative, has been important in persuading us of the myth that the British Broadcasting Corporation is driven by a higher purpose, that it is a national treasure, that it is on our side.
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