Mass media directing the masses
by Luke Innes
Fri 14th Sep 2012
With a degree of inevitability, society is slowly growing more and more faceless. Modern technology allows access to an endless portal of information that few people had available in days gone by. In the past, fashion and music crazes would sweep the nation one or two at a time: Disco, 2Tone and Punk fashion all took their turn. Now multiple fashion scenes can exist side by side through the internet.
This is not just the case with fashion trends. Historically, it was easier to define who and what you were (for example: I’m Luke, I’m working class, I like pizza and I hate capitalist society). Now, despite the endless abyss of information available at the click of a button, thousands of people are slowly becoming idiots.
A lack of education on what it means to be who you are and to identify with where you come from means that countless people completely misunderstand their past and present situation. This has affected the working class in particular.
Look back to any mass struggle of recent history, the Brixton uprising, the 1984-85 Miners’ strike, the Poll Tax riots or any other social disturbance during Margaret Thatcher’s term of office, and you can see that a dense tapestry of working-class upheaval and disappointment has formed. Put simply, in Britain, the history of social struggle is the history of the working class. But now, something strange is happening. The working-class are losing their lust for change. In fact, the working-class are slowly ceasing to show their faces at all. So I ask, where have the working class gone?
Seeing how we, as a collective race, spend most of our time letting our minds be dulled by television, this seems a logical place to look for clues. I often voice my dislike of satellite network ITV2, owing largely to what I consider a ‘superiority complex’ that it attempts to manifest in the minds of its viewers.
With a combination of the painful-to-watch, the Jeremy Kyle Show and the X Factor, viewers are taught that it is acceptable to view others with disdain on account of their perceived inadequacies, inabilities and afflictions. With quasi-inspirational trash, such as 'The Real Housewives of Orange County' and the programme that may well end all known civilisation, 'The Only Way is Essex' (TOWIE), a sense of strange aspiration is created in a world where stupidity is fine as long as you are physically attractive.
Perhaps, like me, you are dumbfounded by the paradox this creates. Without any trace of irony, there seems to be a middle ground forming in a lot of people’s minds. The aspiration to become wealthy and successful seems to outweigh the benefits of living a happy and healthy life in the company of people you love, making it acceptable to step on the toes of the people around you.
The historical significance of Essex, the go-to place for working-class new money, is also highlighted by the television series. There is a definite and unashamed sense that people must aspire to be like these characters and ‘aim higher’ than being working class, aim higher’ than being the backbone of this nation.
Of course, it is all well and good to make people feel ashamed of their class, but this would never go far enough to stretch the gap between rich and poor.
The need within people to become middle class seems to have led to the creation of various job titles to make positively working-class jobs sound fairly refined and middle class. Electricians are now ‘Callout Electrical Engineers’ and building site foremen are now known as ‘Project Overseers’. This humorous rebranding of job titles is almost comparable to the media-style rebranding of an institution. At times, I feel nostalgia for a time when Starburst were called Opal Fruits, Snickers was called Marathon and when Drainage, Irrigation and Central Heating Operatives were called Plumbers.
Of course, television is not entirely to blame for the disaffected portion of the working classes, however seismic a role it has played. Newspapers also need to shoulder a slice of the blame.
Take two examples of popular tabloids, The Sun and the Daily Mail . Both have taken up roles in the destruction of the working class reputation in this country. Both have been massive bastions of the ‘Broken Britain’ notion, reducing the image of the working class from a cheeky chappy, good time bunch, to being viewed stereotypically as excessively violent, loutish binge-drinkers who put a strain on the economy and spend their days committing petty crimes. Of course, as with all media stereotypes, this is not a genuine truth, more of a ‘stock character’ that fits into the persistent media narrative of our nation, easy to spot out quickly in news stories and make assumptions about for the sake of saving time, much like the damsel in distress or the Byronic hero in fiction.
The Sun is ironically aimed at a mass working class audience, dealing with topics that marketing groups assume the entire proletariat is interested in, such as sport (with a massive emphasis on football), celebrity culture and reality television. The Sun is also a fairly cheap paper, selling for around 30-40 pence, making it seemingly the weapon of choice for manual workers in factories, building yards, wood and metal shops and garages up and down the country. And unlike most stereotypes, this one appears to be true.
Walk into any of the places I have mentioned above, and not only will you find yourself surrounded by copies of The Sun, but plastered all over the wall you will find cut-outs of ‘Page 3’ girls from previous editions, baring all to see. I remember spending a day at work with my dad, a carpenter, at the age of 13 or 14, and finding myself darting my eyes awkwardly around the room, looking for any patch of the wall not covered by such cut-outs from The Sun.
The Daily Mail, however, works in a much different way. Its readership is largely divided between the working and middle classes. As such it takes a slant more inclined to making the working class reader feel ashamed of their background. It often runs stories on ‘teenage yobs’, ‘Broken Britain’ and the ‘benefit culture’. The Mail’s criticisms are almost always of the aforementioned stereotype of the benefit-claiming, loutish thug.
The Sun and the Daily Mail alike both print stories that are far from the truth. It is no coincidence that they keep bashing the working class. Both papers are multi-million pound institutions owned and run by rich people. They do not want to have an active thinking working class in this country.
The best way for them to eradicate those they consider lower than themselves is to demoralise them to the point of dismissal, leading to their disinterest in any form of class politics and thus removing any real chance of a social backlash.People need to realise that the media is run by the rich for the rich whose primary aim is to attain greater profits for themselves.
In a sense, the working class are also partly to blame, having allowed themselves to be indoctrinated by television and printed media. As a result they have failed to educate their children on class issues and why they should be proud of their background. The proletariat have spent too much time listening to the bourgeoisie and buying their papers, rather than buying more empowering and pro-worker papers such as the Morning Star.
Having a sense of pride in being working class is a separate matter from politics. There is nothing political about being proud of yourself for managing to live your life and be happy without having to conform to the middle class theory of material happiness. Is it truly so terrible for the proletariat to show a sense of unity and pride for simply being who they are? People are more than willing to shout about how proud they are of things such as nationality, ethnicity and religion, so why shouldn’t they shout about how working class and brilliant they are? Remember, the history of social change is the history of the working class. You are the backbone of this nation. You are the ones who get the job done. Be proud.