Sometimes you feel like poking your eyes out with a rusty knitting needle. Either that or developing a deep empathy with those Russian Old Believer peasants who set off to live in cabins in the frozen depths of the Siberian taiga so that they could escape from the trivialisation of life produced by modern civilisation. And they were complaining about Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, and Pushkin. We’ve got newspapers that trawl Twitter in lieu of reporting, and which publish puff pieces about slebs instead of news. In just the past seven days the Guardian has published no less than twenty articles about bloody Beyoncé. Twenty. Seriously. And there was you thinking that it was just Scottish politics that they infantilised.
So you turn on the telly and find that one of the lead items on the main news is the revelation that Kate, the female half of the celebrity waving-from-carriages combo WillnKate from the reality show The Windsors, is appearing on the front cover of Vogue magazine to advertise some over-priced fashion chain or other. A manufacturer of designer wellies, I think. Something that you’re not going to be able to afford if you’re one of the many thousands reliant on social security or struggling on a low wage who have had their incomes slashed by the same Tory government that rewards the kind of people who can pay a grand for a pair of designer wellies. So we get some over privileged woman who has never done a day’s work in her life or achieved anything of note except squeezing an heir to the reality show franchise out of her uterus getting her photie taken so that a magazine which promotes unachievable and unrealistic body images for women can sell more copies. And that’s news. On the telly. Really. That’s an event of note.
Turn to the Scottish papers and they’re regaling us with the tale of how a fragrant author of fantasy fiction has broken the Internet by squashing someone you’ve never heard by making a reference on Twitter to Harry Potter. It seems there’s an article about her breaking the Internet in the media just about every other day. David Bowie and Prince had to die before they got equivalent fawning and adulatory coverage in the press. We can only hope that the fragrant author has a very, very, very, long and healthy life. Otherwise we’re all going to be struck down by obituary induced nausea.
Or you can decide to skip that and check out the cute video in the online edition which you’d already seen because your cousin’s Facebook page had linked to it the week before last. Welcome to the information technology revolution where LOLkats are news.
And the people responsible for filling the airwaves, the print columns, and the flickering device screens with this pap, these are the same people who say that bloggers and the new Scottish online digital media aren’t professional.
The latest social media induced outbreak of mass tuttery in the media is the anti-Semiticism scandal in the Labour party. Naz Shah, the Labour MP who did the planet a favour by unseating George Galloway in Bradford, published some childish and intemperate posts criticising Israel a couple of years before she was elected. You’d think that by getting rid of Gorgeous George she’d have earned a bit of slack, but someone went to the time and trouble of going through posts she’d made on Facebook over two years ago and sent them to a media which was only too pleased with the opportunity to stoke some moral outrage. Naz Shah made a grovelling apology to the House of Commons, and was suspended from the Labour party.
That ought to have been the end of the matter, but then Ken Livingstone pissed petrol on the fire by trying to defend Naz by breaking Godwin’s law live on TV. As is well known, immediately that you compare anyone or anything to Hitler you have by so doing lost the argument, unless that person is actually herding starving people into cattle trucks and sending them to death camps in Poland, or they are Iain Duncan Smith.
When you compare Jewish people to Hitler, you not only break Godwin’s law, but you vomit all over the wreckage in a display of tastelessness that hasn’t been seen since a 1970s interior designer decided on large print wallpaper, carpets that produce static, and nylon bedsheets. Ken claims that his remarks were historically accurate, but even if they were that doesn’t mean they’re not offensive. It’s not a defence, all it does is to inflame the situation even further. But then Ken Livingstone has always been a bit of an arse. If you don’t realise that telling the heirs to Holocaust survivors that they’re just like Hitler isn’t a helpful contribution to the debate on Israel/Palestine, you’d really be better off not saying anything at all. It’s like telling a person whose entire family has been wiped out by ebola that they’re a viral plague on humanity. They’re not going to see beyond the offence you’ve caused them to get to the point you wanted to make.
There are plenty of perfectly legitimate ways to criticise the policies of the state of Israel without bringing Hitler into it, and if Ken was as historically astute as he likes to think he is, he’d know that. If you want to make an objective point you can’t do so by framing your argument in terms that are so emotive. The argument you want to make gets lost in the haze and mist of anger produced by the offence you’ve created.
We’ve now embarked upon another bout of Labour self-harming. Labour’s left and right are attacking one another over anti-Semitism and alleged links to Islamic extremist groups. This is one opposition fight that no part of the Labour party wants to abstain from. They’ve always been a lot more keen to go to war with each other than they are to go to war against the Tories, and the media is always happy to turn up the childishness to eleven. The only people who benefit are the Tories and the Labour right. And it all started with a Facebook post.
The media has become a means of producing distraction from the real issues that face us. The yawning and ever widening chasm between rich and poor, the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few, the ruin that we’re inflicting upon our planet and its ecosystems, the death of democracy. But you can read about those things online, the papers are too busy trawling Twitter and printing puff pieces on Beyoncé. Democracy won’t die amidst censorship and repression, it will be killed by a thousand LOLkats.
BARKING UP THE RIGHT TREE Barking Up the Right Tree has now been published and is an anthology of my articles for The National newspaper. You can submit an advance order for the book on the Vagabond Voices website at http://vagabondvoices.co.uk/?page_id=1993
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