How They Make The News

On one day in September, this year, a seventh of the world’s population logged onto Facebook, which means that one billion people logged into Facebook on one solitary day. Where those have tried before (eg.Myspace), nobody knows what the formula is that has made Facebook connect with one billion people, not forgetting the rest that didn’t choose to go on the internet that day. Maybe Facebook entered the world at the right time, away from the juvenility of Myspace, the chaviness of Bebo, the middle-classness of twitter.

However, If you’ve logged out of Facebook from your device or computer, you’re greeted  by  the image of generic depersonalised male and female heads like you see on public toilet doors, situated around a picture of the flat-world, with dotted lines connecting them. It is here you realise that Facebook is the true global product. It hides behind its plainness and simplicity, where inevitably, ridiculous, complex computer systems developed by ridiculously intelligent Harvard students, who perhaps mirroring their site, and a potential pioneer of the technology-fetishisation culture (think: turtleneck), do not dress like the billionaires they are, and wear simple, unbranded garments.

It is something that has either helped or has actually has globalised the world, the final cog in the system.  There may be McDonald’s and Coca-Cola on offer in the remotest parts of the world now, but these are anybody’s McDonald’s, or anybody’s Coca-Cola can that has been dispensed on the ground after consumption. This is unlike Facebook, because if you leave Facebook behind in the meta-garbage of the internet, everybody knows that it is yours. Unlike other social networking sites, you have no choice over what you call yourself –  you are merely you. Or at least, you are a representative of the name you were given at birth, unless you eschew this and generate a weird pseudonym for yourself. But even if you were to do that, who would you end up ‘friending ’ anyway? Undoubtedly you would only be wanting to look at the people you know, or people who don’t want you to know who you are, so you can look into their lives for your own conceited purposes. Facebook has completely re-altered the way we think about our private and public selves, and the fact that it promises you with the possibility of looking at somebody else’s private-self it has one hell of a USP.

A modern, hard kernel of identity is a thing of the past coming out of the postmodern era, giving way to the notion that it is something that we’re continually constructing. Of course, Facebook does not allow us to peer into the deep and dark of somebody’s private life, but lets us believe we are. No, the fact we use our ‘real’ names doesn’t hide the fact that we’re not really being ourselves. We’re still trying to make people laugh and  cry. We’re still striving desperately to be liked. The old modern notion that if we take the mask off of somebody we can therefore reveal the truth is not so simple now. We’re wearing more masks than ever, endlessly constructing ourselves in endless situations, and sites like Facebook make this an even more complicated process. Perhaps coming on the back of the wave of reality T.V, where actors are playing ‘themselves’, where is the real of person in all this? We’re wearing masks in private now, so maybe as Žižek suggests, there is now more truth in the mask.

This kind of paradoxical falsity, where the private is not really the private, the social networking site is anti-social is like the global world that is not really global. We still have borders and boundaries, fences and patrols, and nobody is experiencing this lie right now, more than the Syrian refugees. As I write, they’re being tear-gassed and water-cannoned on the Hungarian border. All around Europe, countries and communities are proudly claiming that they welcome refugees. Here, in the United Kingdom however, it is as usual displaying its pandering centre-ground liberal tone of we will let some in but not all of them. Britain is apparently quite full and cannot afford any more nationalities or immigrants. Originally, David Cameron said that the UK would take in 3000 refugees; this is about the size of Framlingham, a tiny town in Sussex. And before you think that the United Kingdom is responsible for taking in more refugees and immigrants than anybody else in the past, think again. It is the developing countries as a whole, that hold the most refugees. Yes, developing, because migration, cheap, circulation of labour, is fundamental to the process of capitalism. And it is perhaps no surprise that two of the biggest economies in the world (America and Germany) are first and second in holding immigrants and refugees.

What the social media world allows you to do of course, is give an immediate opinion on this event. Or, what might be more appropriate, social media allows you to give an immediate reaction. The immigrant crisis is one of the many topics that could be used as an example of the point that is trying to be made here:  that the social media world highlights the contradictions that must be abided by in the globalised world. The image most synonymous with the crisis is that of the dead, three year old being carried away from the shores by officials.  It’s harrowing and defining and it will persist in the collective memory, in the way the protester in Tiananmen square does. There is moral outrage from the liberals saying that this is a result of the rich countries not helping, and the right claim absurdities like, that the majority of these migrants are men, cowardly abandoning their wives and their children, to carry on the jihadist war abroad .  Unfortunately, Katie Hopkins at the UKIP conference, who seemed to be on the cusp of making a pertinent point about the reproduction of the image in the media age (long after the liberals had jumped on her case), bypassed this with her usual, narcissistic, egotistical fame-seeking desperation. The image had served its purpose – it had shocked.  Yet can the left-liberals use it as a wholesale justification?  Surely this is as reactionary as the right claiming that it is sensationalised.

Now let’s remember the collective term for the likes of Facebook, Twitter, etc. Social – media. It is the media effectively created and dictated by its users. Twitter trends become the news.  And what this new form of media has is many thousands, millions of critics and voices with their apparently ‘real’ personas (in the case of Facebook) dictating their ‘real’ or perceived, genuine  voices.  And because we’re behind the veil of our real name, we think that we’re actually embodying our real self on there, yet the correlation between the thoughts and displays of thoughts on social media and the actual living, moving act are unlikely to be the same. The hardline anti-immigrationist Britain First sharing person on Facebook is very unlikely to proclaim these views in real, living life apart from with those they are very comfortable with. Like most people, they will be that liberal, polite, job-going or seeking, tolerant citizen of society.

And here is the paradox: slacktivism became a common term several years ago to describe those who vociferously expound their political views on social media, yet do not replicate this action in real life; yet hey are active, extremely active,  in the generating of the media and news by which others watch and contribute now.

Usually it is the people expounding the right-wing views that are leaped upon by the moral liberals. But it is not something just restricted to the right with its memes that try to justify in its bold type, anti-immigration and wars in the Middle East, at the sake of British troops. This is something that those on the left, or those who believe themselves to be on the left also revel in doing. Curiously, what you might observe is that, those before the election, who would try and situate themselves on the left, would display this by attacking those on the right. This I reasoned in a recent blog post, was because nobody knows what the left is anymore in the United Kingdom. Older voters have long abandoned the notion, for the security of their white collar jobs, and the young barely know what it means. Since then, something cataclysmic has happened in the face of politics, by the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn.  Now those who were leapfrogging from Labour, to the Greens, to other minority parties, now seem to have come back to the red-masted Labour party. You can even change your profile picture, so that it has a banner saying “I’ve voted Corbyn”, which is a curious thing to see considering there were many propounding not to be Labour voters before the election.

Politics is fickle and in doing so, we’ve learnt to be fickle with it. Corbyn’s credentials certainly appear to be left, and indeed it does point to a fissure in party politics that hasn’t been seen in decades. However what kind of left is it? In Baudrillard’s America (1986) he asked: “what situation will result from this progressive disenfranchisement (which is already taking a violent turn under a Reagan and Thatcher)?”  Now we know the answer to that – this world we live in now. “In Reagan, a system of values that was formerly effective turns into something ideal and imaginary”: on Facebook we believe we are endorsing, connecting, doing, when in fact we are doing the complete opposite. And this is not some kind of false consciousness, because we know we are not doing anything. Corbyn is left, but the sweeping tide of disillusioned liberal lefties that have heralded his uprising, have done so without any level of scrutiny by those on the left, because there is not a left, and only those wishing they knew how to be. Instead they have  seized upon the first opportunity that has presented itself. The left was a movement formed out of action, and the empowerment to mobilise the working classes; nobody is going to be able to do that sat behind a computer.

This isn’t one of those Franzen-esque, grumbling Luddite posts about the totalitarianism of the internet. And it is also not a statement that the internet will lead to nothing, because things have happened through the use of the far-reaching implications that the internet can offer. The internet appears to give you a voice, and it does, but only a very small one, and that voice is usually just the echo of somebody else’s (yes, just like this blog-post). Behind the veneer of the online radical lies an office worker, and in reading this blog, how do you know that I’m not sat at my desk-job now, when I should be selling insurance? The mask may be taken away to reveal another mask, that like the rest of them, claims to be the real you.

What happens to the Labour party in the run-up to the next election is now anybody’s guess. There is a light sneaking through the cracks suggesting that the centre-liberal politics that has dominated in recent times, is being broken apart. I don’t think Corbyn is the man (also, anybody who is behind Corbyn owes an unacknowledged debt to Ed Milliband), because Labour isn’t necessarily the party to revive the left anymore, and looks a more Harold Wilson/Tony Benn left. What it requires, is a reformulation of the left as the likes of Žižek continually suggest, and how Fredric Jameson does here, coming out of this neoliberal age: “No future is conceivable however, from which the deeper ideological commitment to politics – that is to say, left politics – is absent…and even a fully postmodernised First World society will not lack young people whose temperament and values are genuinely left ones and embrace visions of radical social change repressed by the norms of a business society” (taken from, Late Marxism… 1990).

To exemplify the liberal – centre position, and how the reactionary, populist media is not just restricted to those on the right, just look how the liberal-lefties, usually ready to pounce on the moral high-ground, took great pleasure in the David Cameron and the Pig scandal; something that has no bearing on the political debate whatsoever, regardless of whether it actually happened or not. Gutter press for one is gutter press for all (and they clearly did not realise that by endorsing the story they were endorsing Lord Ashcroft, a major donor to the Tory Party, so rather than weaken the Tories, in the long-run it would probably have strengthened them).

Žižek, uses the example of Horkheimer’s dictum, and as I’ve used in past, should perhaps follow the reasoning that, those who don’t want to talk critically about being on the liberal-left, should also keep quiet about those on the right. “Then they came for me…” begins the eponymous last line of Martin Niemöller’s famous poem, but now, there’s nobody left to speak for me, because I’m not on Facebook.


Minority Report

Hopes of waking up to a bright new world have been abandoned, at least for some, as implausibly the Conservative Party gained a small majority to become the ruling party of the United Kingdom. As soon as the exit polls were released shortly after ten o’clock, bafflement, and promises of hat-eating were aired live, and no doubt In private quarters, as polls before the election had predicted the closest one in decades. If anything, they were pointing toward a Labour-coalition, because of the number of anti-tory parties that made up the opposition, but they slowly dissipated into a fleeting, pathetic impossibility.

As the night rolled on, as numerous high profile Labour and Lib-Dem MP’s saw their seats go, either to the SNP or to the Conservatives, the dire prediction at the start of the night began to look like a formality. And indeed, it was worse than predicted – there was a majority for the Tories. Initial shock and surprise has now given way to, what could be described as, ‘broadsheet soul-searching’, and woodwork creaking. There was a chasm in the Labour party between the Blairites, and the direction that Miliband was trying to take the party already, but now this division is more obvious than ever. Keyboard warriors on social networking sites resort to the only weapon they know, – right bashing.

We shouldn’t really be surprised that Labour lost, and that the Lib-Dems were wiped out. All through the coalition years this was increasingly looking like it was going to happen. Of course it is easy to say this now, but lets look at the reasons why this happened, and why it will continue to happen, unless a genuine left is engineered in Britain.

I wrote a few weeks ago questioning what was really left any more in Britain, and Ed Miliband potentially represented that. However he came into lead the party at a time the party was so unsure of its direction after 13 years of New Labour, the centre-ground politics that liberalism, and neoliberalism promises. No, the reason that the Labour party is lost, not because the country is viciously right wing and austerity promoting, it is because the apparent opposition is so disarrayed that nobody on either its centre right, centre-left, or even further left trusts it in power. We know what the Tories are going to do now they don’t have the Liberals, but if Labour were in power can we honestly assume and lay hope in the they would take. It can be argued that there hasn’t been a Conservative majority (until now obviously), but since Major won in ’92, but more depressingly, it can be argued that there wasn’t a genuine left government since Harold Wilson.

The right are pulling away from the centre, liberal ground, so now its up to the left to do the same. The next 5 years for the Conservative majority maybe even more tough than their coalition days, with their small majority. Here are several issues that I believe led to the situation we’re In now, and why there is more hope, or at least daylight than there ever has been.

All probably mourning very different things

1. The Same People Vote.

Voter turnout was up this year, and is rising again after a low of 59.4% in 2001. Since then it has steadily grown and up to 66.1% this year (notably highest in Scotland at 71.1%), but is relatively nowhere near 77.7% of 1992, and 83.9% of immediately postwar, 1950. The same people will usually vote for the same parties, and there is only ever usually a 100 seats of the 650 that ever change. The apathism that still pervades the country as regards voting and seemingly in younger people is one of the factors that leads to the same results. One can hardly blame them, as they’re brought up in this neoliberal passivity, where politics is so ‘professionalised’. But by not participating, regardless of the technicalities of the first-past-the-post system (FPTP), you can not have a say. If anything spoil your card; send a message that way that you’re voting against the voting system.

It can only ever go two ways; everybody votes, and a large percentage spoil their card, send a message that they either do not believe in the voting system, or the political parties;  secondly that, the same apathetic people do not vote listening to Russell Brand types about not voting. But the same people will always vote, which is why we get 60-70% turnouts each year. There is no third way: there is probably close to 0% chance of 0% of the population voting. Which leads us to…

2. The Voting System and Farage.

FPTP obviously benefits the two main parties, but it is also why the polls are so misleading. It sends shockwaves when big names like Ed Balls lose their seats and means that, you can vote for a particular candidate if you want them, but not necessarily endorsing their party. And here is one of the double-edged positives about Farage not getting in – the same can be said for the Greens – but Farage holds much more media power. He is a fervent opponent of the voting system, and with UKIP’s popularity growing, he will be more intolerable and detestable as ever, but the rhetoric of the votes they amassed related to the amount of MPs they got in power will persist.

Farage though was depicted as the enemy for this election by those on the left, which was completely wrong – Labour was its own enemy.  They watched UKIP take some of the working-class white voters, further showing the dissolution of Labour’s message. This wasn’t Miliband’s primary fault, when the only glory Labour can remember is the New Labour years, and now, whoever the new leader of the party is, is going to have to contend and subdue these factions.

3. The I-word.

There are two words you could be thinking of here, in a schematic fashion at least. Immigration, and also identity of the national persuasion. Immigration again, Labour saw itself taking the ‘capping’ route in line with parties on the right. The problem with immigration is, and I’ve said this before, is that it is the perfect theory for capitalism to exist; immigration and free labour movement is required for capitalism, but it also provides a perfect ‘other’ of people ready to blame when capitalism ultimately fails us, like now.

Liberalism again, doesn’t allow immigration to be talked about. The petty non-pc that affects the centre, means that its an issue that the liberals can’t talk about. The right, naturally do not want immigration and anything affecting the nation state, where in a Marxist world ‘the proletariat have no country’; national identity is exposed as  fallacy that assists in the capitalist game. Conservatives now will have freer reign on how they control immigration, and play the European Union card further going toward the UKIP position, reclaiming some of those defected voters.

4. The Other I

Feeding into the question of national-identity, this is going to be the most prominent question in the next five years. The United Kingdom, its parliament, has never looked so contentious, down to an inevitable referendum on the EU, but due to the emerging prominence of a particular party in Scotland. The SNP are the ones that have changed the face of politics in the United Kingdom, not the Tories, UKIP, Lib-Dems or Greens. No longer do the Tories have the Lib-Dems to support them in parliament and what they now have is a stronger, lefter opposition thanks to the SNP, who are also calling for more power in Scotland. But this is to overstate the national issue, which is what has been done by the media. The SNP did not emerge because of independence (and Nicola Sturgeon remained very coy on the question), but because they are primarily an anti-austerity party. The newspapers would prefer the emergence of this strong, left party to be down to the fickle matter of nationality, but it is down to the fact that the dominant party in Scotland ie.Labour had no assurances on their economic policy and anti-austerity. Sturgeon is a progressive looking leader of the left, and that is what the Scottish voters saw, and why Labour was ultimately wiped out.

5. Again – What’s Left.

Like a post I did a few weeks ago, the question is what is left? Russell Bland is as effective as flatulence; he proclaims not to vote, and then suddenly endorses Ed Miliband as soon as he gets him in his kitchen, perhaps reflective of his stance on women. Any person on the left must realise that change does not come from a matyristic figure like Brand or Owen Jones – it comes from the collective . Brand is immersed in celebrity world, and his ability to engage with the young, hipsters, via youtube and social media is typically symptomatic of celebrity led politics. People also still blame newspapers and the Murdoch outlet for the result; this is about as fulfilling as saying that a facebook status can influence voter habits. If anything, they antagonise. In the same way that the same people read a facebook status, the same people read the same newspapers and cast the same vote.

This is the problem with the left – nobody has a clue which way to turn. The left has been absent for so long that they’re satisfied with this idea of liberalism, and celebrity voices like Brand’s and Martin Freeman’s telling them which way to vote or not vote. Politics is showbusiness for ugly people, or so It was, now it looks like its showbusiness for good-looking people as well. This is why there are constant swathes of ‘right-bashing’ on social media outlets, because it covers up for what those who do not know their own position. The left, or the liberal-centre left, are their own enemy.

I evoked Žižek in my recent blog post when he inverted Max Horkheimer’s quote about facism and capitalism talking about the Charlie Hebdo attacks, “those who who do not want to talk critically about liberal democracy should also keep quiet about religious fundamentalism”. Well here’s one for British politics – those who do not want to talk critically about liberal democracy, should also keep quiet about conservative austerity. If you do not, and cannot talk critically about your own position, you are in no position to talk about anybody else’s. To echo Žižek further, liberalism itself is not strong enough to save itself against fundamentalism, facism or anything remotely ideological. The right know what they want, and the left don’t, it is the simple fact of the matter. What’s more worrying is that the next five years may not solve the problem for Labour at least. The only answer is a renewed, revived, and progressive left. And there is nothing to suggest that this will be Labour who do it…

6. What next.

John Ashbery, far from anything that could be described as protest poet wrote in his 2013 poem, ‘Suburban Burma’ “Those who remember the past are doomed to repeat it/Plus its part of history.” Liberalism is dead, or in fact is death and stasis. If Labour go back to their New-Labour days, they are doomed to repeat history. This does not necessarily mean that it will not get in power again, but it will further ostracise the voters who defected to UKIP, anti-austerity voters in Scotland, England and Wales, and the youth who have witnessed the aftermath and empty promises of neoliberal governments.

Protests have already sparked, however they seem too immediately reactionary, and a physical embodiment and projection of the vitriol that swamps social networking sites. The reaction needs to be thought out and structured so that when it does happen it will persist in the memory as a movement of the left. Understand that the media will always try and diminish its affect, depicting it as hooliganism (like the 2011 riots). And to invoke Žižek again (from his 2012 work, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, Verso), these riots and protests are not proletarian protests, they are protests against being reduced to proletarian status, which is seemingly what the anti-austerity riots since the election have been (and which is why they will die away without any substance).

Clouds and silver linings? There is a very thin one. The centre-ground is being abandoned, and politics again is becoming political, or so early signs seem to show. All that can save voters who want an alternative is a renewed left. If you want the right then that is fair enough, accept this. Be wary of depiction of the SNP as primarily about nationalism, because those who want European independence realise that Scottish independence already undermines this argument.

To finish with a wordsmith much closer to home, politics is becoming exposed. Politics is a fickle game as will the likes of Ed Balls and Simon Hughes know, their hour of strutting and fretting upon the stage is over for now and for too long the lies weaved in with banal narratives that are being told by them are being exposed as “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” For too long the promises have been empty, the rhetoric misleading, and now it is time for the left to rise again.