It has been nearly two years since I last blogged and yet the post I want to sit down and write is essentially an update to that last post – which was, in itself, merely an evolution of earlier blogposts. All of those blogposts were discussing why I – and many others – blogged about dishonest newspapers and the narratives they sell so successfully to the public.
I know that blogging against established, monied, powerful and sadly extremely mainstream cultural institutions is, in many ways, pointless. Even when this blog had a fairly decent readership, it was almost always preaching to the converted and despite some very limited mainstream coverage of a couple of issues, it had no real impact.
I didn’t expect it to, but what I did try to do as much as possible was make the argument that whilst this blog – and the many like it – had no real importance, their exploration of how our press distorts reality does matter – and I am writing this now, because now I think we’re all really waking up to that fact.
One of my key frustrations when writing this blog was the argument that I would lead a happier, healthier and more productive life if I just stopped reading such media outlets. There is certainly some truth in that, my personal happiness has been greatly improved by not reading the Daily Mail or Mail Online, but that is missing the point. My counter-argument was always that this ‘ignorance-is-bliss’ approach would only be successful in the long run if the Daily Mail et al couldn’t have any other impact on my life.
But they do.
My analogy was always that you don’t have to smoke a cigarette to inhale the toxic fumes, but merely share the same atmosphere as a smoker and you’d get those fumes second-hand – passively, but just as deadly. This is true of media narratives, I don’t have to read newspapers to be profoundly impacted by the poisonous lies they craft. Those narratives shape our politics, distort our referendums and support the hatred and bigotry that we all encounter in our lives – either as victims or witnesses.
Perhaps if we had a political class prepared to base policy on sound evidence and not the editorials of our always outraged, reactive and regressive newspapers, we would not now be facing Brexit. Perhaps if newspapers had not spent decades deriding the European Union with lie after lie, or blaming it for problems firmly made in the UK and only fixable by our own government people might have voted differently.
But here we are, two years on, and the only thing that has changed is that newspapers are now more confidently racist, more openly hateful and more smilingly contemptuous of the public. The UK is a darker place, socially, politically and culturally than it has been for a very long time. We can no longer pretend that it is enough to simply not pick up a newspaper and we’ll be OK. That doesn’t work when those who are happy to believe the narratives are the majority and they have changed our society so dramatically.
The only real option left is to fight against the idea that we now live in a post-factual society, where opinion is all that matters and we’re sick of experts, figures and the truth.
The only real question is how?