Monday, February 4, 2013

Society of the Spectacles

"When social significance is attributed only to what is immediate, and to what will be immediate immediately afterwards -  always replacing another identical immediacy - it can be seen that the uses of the media guarantee a kind of eternity of noisy insignificance."
   - Guy Debord, Comments on Society of the Spectacle, 1987

When Julia Gillard delivered what was her best and most substantial policy speech as prime minister recently - one in which she also announced the date for the federal election - the media's focus was on her new "hipster spectacles".

Coming a close second for attention was a manufactured controversy around the fact that her chosen election date of September 14 coincided with an obscure (to most Australians) Jewish holiday. That elections always are held on the Jewish Sabbath, necessitating pre-poll votes by that community, was lost in the noisy instant outrage.

As tasteful, considered and non-partisan as ever, News Ltd's online publication decided to combine 
these two non-stories. Even better, it managed to choose an image suggesting "Hipster Julia with four eyes on the future" had delivered a 'Sieg Heil'  to Jewish voters (see image below).

 In the days after the speech and election announcement, even the serious media managed to avoid discussion of any of the substance of her address, instead whinging about her calling "the longest election campaign on record" (ignoring the fact that the country had been in a virtual non-stop campaign since the last election) or indulging in tiresome insider musing on what it all meant tactically.

Keeping the pre-ordained narrative of government-in-chaos rolling along was the dramatic arrest in the ensuing days of former Labor MP Craig Thomson. In this case, the convenient tipping off of the media (by unknown law enforcement/political figures) had sinister echoes of the unhealthy cosiness between police and journalists exposed by the UK phone hacking scandal. There looked to be a good story there, but oddly enough, no-one in the mainstream appeared to want to pursue it. (For insight, see this investigation).

But wait, there was more. The resignations of cabinet ministers Chris Evans and Nicola Roxon - despite their plans being known by the PM last year - was taken as further evidence of the government campaign falling apart at the first hurdle. You see it's easy. You just take random events and stitch them together into a story that serves the interests of your corporate masters.

Chipping in from the sidelines and squaring the circle (or should that be swatstika) on the Third Reich references was a perpetually excited opposition politician, who felt that we were witnessing a Downfall moment.  He later retracted the comment....well sort of.

By the start of the new week, the red cordial brigade had switched its attention to Newspoll, which in press gallery circles is treated like the Delphi oracle, such is its presumed proximity to the political deities. And, of course, Newspoll's findings of a savage swing against the government was treated with due reverence, cementing as it did the chosen narrative. Never mind that weeks before - during the summer lull - it had the parties at virtual neck and neck. You pick and choose what suits the story.

Suffice to say, it was a smorgasbord of outrages that kept frenzied fingers typing in the nation's newsrooms, in all service of the spectacle. Throw in other recent momentous events like Gillard's partner making an off-colour "gaffe" about prostate exams and the driving record of the PM's chosen Senate representative for the Northern Territory and it all felt suitably armageddon-ish. Which is what  you want, really.

But irrespective of your political allegiances, just reflect for a moment. How much of this rolling tapestry of meaningless means anything to you? As much as these 24-hour outrages fill news bulletins and occupy the space between the ads in tomorrow's fish-and-chip wrappers, what is the impact on you and or your family of Julia's new specs, or the fact the election is being held  on Yom Kippur or the confected arrest of a former MP on charges of charging ice creams to his expense account or the inevitable reshuffling of the ministry?

Now contemplate some of the issues raised in the PM's policy speech - the impact on your retirement income of the biggest financial crisis since the 1930s, the end of ever rising house prices, the challenges of parenting AND caring for aging parents, the consequences of climate change and extreme weather events, the impact of a structurally higher Australian dollar on the industries where many of us work, the need to find a new driver of growth after the mining boom, the challenge of an aging population and its call on health services, the need to ensure adequately funded public education so children are not disadvantaged because of their parents' lack of means, the structural shift lower in federal budget revenue and how we might fund future calls on the public purse....

Whoever wins the election this year, these policy challenges are not going to go away.  Against that background, the role of the media should be to challenge politicians of all sides about how they will meet them, how they will fund them and what their long-term vision for the nation is - beyond the empty platitudes of mateship and the kitsch Australiana that lazy politicians lean on.

These big questions are what real politics is about. They are hard issues and they resist neat right-left, white hat-black hat analysis. Perhaps that's why our media focuses instead on ephemeral noise, 5-minute outrages, constant polling and clever spin. It's easy, it's cheap and it feeds the spectacle. Because reality is so much harder to deal with. Debord:
" In societies where modern conditions of productions prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into representation. The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be re-established. Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation . . . The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images."
See also:

20 comments:

  1. I used to think it was just bias, but it's clear now there's a very large lump of incompetence as well.

    Journalists, you have a rare chance to inform and make your readers think and understand policy. It's not about who's whispering what in the corridors, it's about informing us in an intelligent way.

    That seems well beyond you on the available evidence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. >Journalists, you have a rare chance to inform and make your readers think and understand policy.

      Aren't they just giving us what we're willing to read? Publish an in depth paper and put it up against the tabloids and see who creates a viable publication (eg covers the printing costs).

      Blaming journalists is taking the easy way out. The readers are equally to blame.

      Delete
  2. The classic large print headline in the Sunday Telegraph:

    RUDD vs GILLARD (the movie, small print)

    In what way does a spurious story about a proposal for a movie/TV series rate a front page non-story in the deadtree news media.

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  3. On the bright side, Grattan has retired from the Age, which should improve its political coverage. Unfortunately, she'll still be infesting breakfast radio, and she'll also be lowering the quality at the Conversation.

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  4. Yes, you must have written this just before you saw the headlines this morning - "Rudd cloder to challenge." Sigh.

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  5. I am sooo sick of 'rudd challenge'.

    Murdoch might want him, but his collegues do not.

    I must admit, I was fooled during the last challenge, I thought he had support, because Rupert said so.

    Now I view all Rudd news as an attempt by Rupert to subvert our democracy.

    Murdoch wants a pawn in the Lodge: Abbot, Rudd or Turnbull will do. That woman, however, is not beholden to Rupert, does not selectively leak to the press: She does not play the game (their way!).

    In addition, she has the cheek to BE female: horrors.

    On a sensible note: I cannot see this stuff stopping until Rupert achieves his objectives.

    However, I repost a thought I wrote a couple of days ago:

    Repost starts

    To all the posters who are utterly convinced that Gillard and Labor are doomed.

    I say

    FOX NEWS BUBBLE

    It appears that the Murdoch media have created their own bubble.

    In it, the Federal government is wracked by crises, is incompetent, groaning under debt, the worst ever..

    Recently, they have added a few memes.

    That Labor is doomed, that Labor will be a small number after the election.

    The most extreme push came recently is a story where Tony Abbott says he won't break election promises

    http://www.news.com.au/top-stories/tony-abbott-says-he-wont-break-election-promises/story-e6frfkp9-1226566250649

    There are 17 comments on the story: 2 accept the headline.

    There are some propositions which cannot be forced down our throats, no matter how many media outlets try to do so.

    reports ends

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  6. Yes Chris Grealy, and in The Age:
    "Numbers shifting back to Rudd"
    http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/political-news/numbers-shifting-back-to-rudd-20130204-2duq0.html

    Ugh.

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  7. The issue that infuriates me is that journalists know how empty is the rhetoric of Abbott and the Coalition and the potential harm of their retrograde policies. Yet. they willfully construct a narrative that ensures the government is viewed as chaotic and useless. I hold them in absolute contempt.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. JulieA - I think the interesting thing I have noted is that if you follow journalists on twitter, it appears that their Pay Masters don't seem to care what they tweet. I prefer to use twitter to get a better picture of what is going on. Pick the right ones and there is a wealth of info out there. It's interesting to compare what they write for their Pay Masters and what they tweet. Many will call the BS on twitter but won't mention it in their articles. There are exceptions of course but they are few and far between.

      The big problem is that no one will mention the elephant in the room - that is most Australians have NFI when it comes to running the country (see comments in Ltd News from people who think Govt should never have debt just like their household budget). How many times to do hear a politician say that "Australians are not stupid." If only it was true.

      Delete
  8. my father describes the current situation as..
    'A Blitzkrieg of Bullshit' to distract us from abbotts failings,

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Blitzkrieg of Bullshit , love it .
      Permission to use that elsewhere?????

      Thanks Mr D , your saving my sanity , I can no longer tolerate anything written by the MSM.

      Delete
  9. Mr.D, that's one of your best posts.

    Shame it didn't get on the front page of our daily rags eh?

    fred

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  10. Restorative. Sometimes it feels like I'm living in a Reality Distortion Field (TM).

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  11. The only reason News Ltd spouts Rudd is because it undermines Gillard/Labor. If Rudd was in, there would be some other manufactured crisis. It really doesnt matter what it is, just that Gillard is sinking, attacked from all angles, flailing and failing.

    The idea is to create an air of crisis. If you cant govern your own party, you cant govern the country - or so they saying goes.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Your opening quote says it all. Anything older than (max) 72 hours is not discussed, nor are issues with long term implications for the country. The easy stories abound - polls, leadership, the gaffe or easy video footage. Today we saw LNP spin about something as absurd as the 'caretaker' situation given huge exposure as a 'real' story on all media including ABC.

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  13. The known date for the election gives the MSM an ideal platform to demonstrate that they are relevant by doing the hard work and asking politicians, on both sides, the difficult questions on policy matters. If they do this the MSM may survive and become relevant, and may be the publics respect for them will rise above use car salesmen.

    Unfortunately from what I can see they are taking the easy way out, according to them the campaign has begun so all reporting, in reality personal opinion, is all about who is winning/losing the game of politics.

    The MSM is writing its obituary if it continues in this fashion.

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  14. And of course the Thomson story only continues because none of the idiot media have realised that the VicPol are simply regurgitating claims from a bogus investigation by FWA, a report so dreadful the investigator was found not to be an investigator at all and the rules for the credit card did not exist.

    The report said over and over, there were no rules, he broke them.

    And not one of the frigging worthless MSM have bothered to read past the brothels claims - how they think Craig could have been travelling in Margaret River Valley in February 2003 and back it up with travel and hotel claims, and in a brothel in Sdyney has never been stated.

    These lazy thugs do dreadful things to our democracy and without independents like David Donovan, Vince Grady, Peter Wicks and others we would all be in the dark being shovelled shit.

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  15. Further information about Craig Thomson's appearance in the Melbourne Magistrates Court reported at

    http://www.independentaustralia.net/2013/politics/jacksonville-41-the-missing-witnesses/

    which reports the prosecution hasn't got their witnesses yet
    The magistrate felt compelled to comment on the inappropriateness of the bail conditions set on Craig Thomson

    ReplyDelete
  16. A list of the Liberal's policies aimed at helping small business here

    http://pbxmastragics.com/2013/02/05/small-business-being-sold-a-free-gift-with-every-purchase/

    ReplyDelete
  17. remember Abbott has had his opponent Pauline Hanson jailed on charges that were found to be lies, Slipper was subjected to criminal proceedings on charges that have been throw out by Mr Justice Rares and Craig Thomson is facing fraud charges from activities from over 10 years ago that have been investigates 11 times before.

    The media should investigate the role of the current Victorian Dputy Premier

    ReplyDelete