Art, otters and media racism

Part of the work of Lubaina Himid, the artist who won the Turner Prize 2017, consists of drawing attention to the ways in which the juxtaposition of texts and images in The Guardian newspaper can reveal implicit racist associations. Her work is infinitely more powerful for dealing with the liberal press rather than the undisguised bigotry of the tabloids. Some of the connections she uncovers are barely visible to the naked eye, and it is only through forensic (self?-) examination that one sees what she sees. Just as institutional racism may be of profound statistical significance but hard to register on an everyday level, it is only through the unforgiving lens of art that more subtle truths emerge. The heightened sensibilities that result from study of her work help us see better. Freud taught us to pay special attention to ‘accidents’ and ‘coincidences’, as they may reveal unconscious thinking. That unconscious can, to borrow from Jung, be a collective one.

What to say, then, of the following juxtaposition from a recent edition of (guess what?) The Guardian?

img-20181221-wa0005The (presumably ‘accidental’) coincidence of the two articles seems to embody two sets of hidden assumptions: one, that certain (or possibly all) species of sea mammals are able to use social media, to understand written human language even of a highly vernacular variety, to experience emotions including shame and outrage, to comprehend that human society regards body weight as a cause for humiliation, to grasp the insult implicit in the misappropriation of a non-standard and low-status language variety to speakers of that variety, and to appreciate the significance of apologies delivered by faceless institutions; and two, that the lives of foreigners don’t matter very much.

You would not believe how shit the Daily Telegraph is

DOqOnnOW4AET7ce.jpgI recently announced that I’d stopped reading the Guardian and adopted the Daily Telegraph as my journal of choice instead. This might seem like an odd decision for someone who spent the days after the Brexit coup listening to this. Partly I was being silly, but I also wanted to step across the divide and try to parlay with the opposition, genuinely listening to concerns which I’m inclined to dismiss out of hand. I admire and respect George Marshall’s exhortation to engage with Conservatives/Republicans, and so made up my mind that I would spend a couple of weeks using the Telegraph and not the Guardian as my principal news source.

I therefore entered into the experiement in relatively good faith. The problem was that I don’t feel the Telegraph kept its side of the bargain. After a few days I started to feel distinctly less informed about the world, such was the almost total dearth of original reporting. The term ‘churnalism’ was coined by the Guardian journalist Nick Davies, who didn’t exempt his own paper from his criticisms; the Telegraph takes it to another level, leaving even that online-only clickbait factory The Independent in the shade. The content seemed to be entirely sourced from elsewhere online and its substance was so thin it barely even did what it clearly aimed to do, viz. comfort the comfortable. As for afflicting the afflicted, which is the least you could expect of an avowedly right-wing publication, it had little to offer. There was the odd column by someone desperate to give the impresion she’d never left Surrey calling anyone who posted #metoo part of a feminazi death cult, the occasional piece by Toby ‘Look at meeee!’ Young or that comedy fascist Andrew Lilico calling for Corbyn to be flung out a helicopter, demanding war rather than negotiation over Brexit or claiming that 19th Century New Zealand will be the ideal trading partner to replace the EU, and, as a special treat, Charles Moore rambling on about Catholicism like Mel Gibson’s grandfather after four bottles of Merlot; however, examples of such effortful trolling were few and far between. One jewel among the shite is Michael Deacon. They must pay him a lot to be associated with such a poor excuse for a newspaper. It was partly thanks to his wry tweets that I thought of the idea in the first place. His columns are an exception. Most of what I came across was just bland.

In a sense, that may not be such a bad thing. Telegraph readers are not kept in a high state of splenetic anxiety like those the Mail and the Express. The focus was instead on lifestyle trivia of a sub-Sunday Times variety. The corresponding comments on Facebook and Twitter were, suprisingly, on the whole quite pleasant and some intelligent and thoughtful people chipped in. They were interspersed with the odd contribution which would be best classified as at least entertainingly horrible. However, such attitudes and opinions were not unfamilar given that so many obnoxious trollery is increasingly the default mode of below-the-line commentary, particularly on the Guardian’s Comment is Free pages.

I eventually got bored with all the promotional fluff, royal gossip and clickbait tittle-tattle and invented a minor game called ‘Bloody Islam!’, which consisted solely in posting that obnoxious but ubiquitous phrase in response to the most innocuous of stories which clearly had no connection with either politics or religion. Nobody ever batted an eyelid, but I was constantly outplayed by unwitting rivals, the kind of commentors who are able to turn a piece about a corgi getting a new haircut into a genocidal diatribe which would give Anders Breivik himself (PBUH) pause for thought. In my turn I would parody (or perhaps that should be troll) them by positing a domestic scenario from their life along the lines of:

‘- Would you like a cup of tea dear? 
– I BLOODY HATE JEWS!!!’

On the whole I was less annoyed with the Telegraph than bored. I’d read in Private Eye how its staff has been cut to the bone by its stingy Bond villain owners to the point where it barely has enough resources to report the cricket scores. In the end I was left with the impression that its staff consist of one bloke with a laptop, one or two interning daughters of the editor’s tennis partners, and a handful of Boris Johnson-imitating professional arseholes who periodically fax in their obnoxious opinions from the Home Counties. Like anyone, I do need to read a range of news sources and encounter opinions and perspectives that challenge my own, but I prefer to read publications which at the very least take their journalistic responsibilities seriously rather than ones that are only really a pale pastiche of what you can truly call a newspaper.

It’s Not Just Me, Then: Fiction, Music, Comedy and the Cl*mate

sin-tituloWhat I’m trying to do on this site is make links between things I haven’t seen connected together elsewhere*. Hence the links themselves are usually more important than what I have to say about them. In the last couple of days I have come across three things which I think vindicate (albeit, inevitably, in an infinitely more coherent and detailed fashion, one based on research and careful thought rather than guesswork and ‘affect’) the thoughts I’ve been trying to articulate over the past few weeks. First there is this article by Carole Cadwalldr which details the ways in which right-wing trolls have been able to infiltrate the algorithms of Google and Facebook in order to create their own reality, one which is increasingly conditioning ours:

The technology that was supposed to set us free may well have helped Trump to power, or covertly helped swing votes for Brexit. It has created a vast network of propaganda that has encroached like a cancer across the entire internet. This is a technology that has enabled the likes of Cambridge Analytica to create political messages uniquely tailored to you. They understand your emotional responses and how to trigger them. They know your likes, dislikes, where you live, what you eat, what makes you laugh, what makes you cry.

Continue reading “It’s Not Just Me, Then: Fiction, Music, Comedy and the Cl*mate”