Giving us “what we want”, but not what we choose

19May08

The Sun often runs distasteful headlines

As this famous headline about the bombing of the ship Belgravia during the Falklands War shows, tabloids consistently flout standards of taste and decency. The question is: are we just getting what we want, need, or even demand?

In all markets, from the heroin trade to tabloid news stand, there needs to be a demand – otherwise the product will not sell.

This is indeed a sensible argument, as far as it goes – but the next stage of the hack’s argument is quite odious.

It is this: the demand itself is enough to justify printing anything. It is a re-hash of the “fair game” argument which attempts to justify gross intrusions into people’s privacy just because they have courted the press.

This attitude, you might have noticed, has helped to drive Britney Spears, quite literally, to insanity.

Artificial demand

The trouble is, this demand is very often created artificially – insofar as it is not fostered by enlightened or free consumer choices, but by incessant and belligerent subject-saturation and deception.

Indeed, recent studies by the Media department of Glasgow University proved that most people were misled by both the “factual” content and agenda-setting powers of television and newpapers.

Of course, many do, in a sense, “choose” to buy The Sun, but many of those do so guided by a false premise – that the information supplied is largely correct or honest.

One of the Sun's sacremongering headlines

Choosing a tabloid paper is like a choosing which type of heart disease you are going to die from if you live in one of Britain’s food deserts. By comparison, our tabloid press is a vast swathe of intellectual desert and almost impossible to avoid.

Let me explain, at length:
One problem is that what sells – “Brave troop killed on birthday in Iraq” – is often at odds with the full, representative truth, which is more like this: “The Iraq conflict is a complex thing, involving complex motives and complex actors, corporations and governments”.

Perhaps this sells better, not just because of the laziness of the consumer, but because they have never really been given a decent choice, or because media exposure has re-educated or numbed their sensibilities.

Choose, so long as it’s what they have chosen

Of course, everybody has a choice of sorts: in totalitarian Russia, people were “free to choose” any state-controlled newspaper, and the people of the Weimar Republic “freely” voted for Hitler, even though they were corralled into this decision by lies and economic desparation.

These examples are a far cry from the choices we make at the news stand – but the analogy is correct: freedom consists not only in how we choose but what, why and when we choose.

These are in turn dictated by the narrow ideological spectrum of tabloid-land, whose inhabitants seek, at every turn, to mould our consumer preferences, so we can associate complex phenomena with anodyne tags like “War on Terror.”

Value-consumerism and the printed word

The better we do this, the better we buy in to a readily identifiable, stripped-down set of values.

These values are best imparted by an anodyne, stripped-down lexicon – which is most easily borrowed and reproduced from press releases, or established newspaper language like “WAGS” or “Maddie”.

Some irresponsible Madeleine McCann headlines

The implications for freedom of thought and expression are obvious and far-reaching.

Chomsky once said that “propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.”

The stream of misinformation received through the tabloid press might fit his description: whether the information is lazily reproduced from press releases, or jacked-up to sell newspapers, or an ideology that does not stray too far from a media magnate’s political and economic interests.

Hard-pressed hacks

And the increasingly impoverished printed word is pitted against two things: the oligopolisation of all media, and the increasing pressure on journalists to churn out copy in an industry buckling under the weight of the internet news factory and massive job cutbacks.

These factors indenture the overburdened and underpaid reporter to the official or editorial line, the soundbite, and the press release, which they are ever-less likely to challenge for fear of losing the immediate sources of news they need for their paltry journalistic sustenance.

Resultantly, content is often selected uncritically and therefore is absent of representative and honest facts.

Critics might claim I am patronising the masses by criticizing their ability to choose. They would be right: when, as with Maddie, the Middle East conflicts, to name but a few stories, the public are misled so blatently, the onus is on them to open their eyes and challenge the mainstream media.

Challenging the status quo

The 1960s social revolution proved that people were capable of mobilising and thinking independently, but this no longer seems to be the case.

I do not know why this ability became dormant, but since that capability once existed, we might assume that it can again.

Only if we challenge the barriers to free thought, true knowledge and critical discourse can this be achieved, and this is why our stupefying, lying and inhuman tabloid press needs to be compromised.

After all the problem is, as ever, that we do not have a free press. Said Orwell: “Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Too true.

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2 Responses to “Giving us “what we want”, but not what we choose”

  1. 1 tania

    Não lhe façam mal. Estou pedir-vos que deixem a Maddie para aos pais dela. Eles são so pais dela. Eles precisam dela. Os amigos sentiram mal por causa dela.Eu peço que libertem a menina britânica inglesa nas vosas casas. Por favort ajudem a pequena madeleine toda a gente precisa dela.

  2. 2 yaayes

    i feel so bad for that little girl ,
    im going to dedacate a storie frame for her .
    evan tho i dont know her , i feel very soory for her family.
    R.I.P <33 little girl


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