Television, drug of the nation… the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy once sang in less complex times. Obviously television is BAD because powerful people control it and it only works one way, they make it and you watch it. It is electronic methadone, it makes you sleepy and it makes you passive and it makes you agree with The Man. Taken to happy extremes, television caused good Aryans to be blinded to the World Jewish Conspiracy in John Carpenter’s They Live, while in Cronenberg’s Videodrome it could make you into a large meaty VHS player. Bad stuff that cathode ray.
Which is why we all sighed a collective and interconnected sigh of relief in the early days of Internet. Now it seemed that every small voice would be heard in a world wide web of animated GIFs, blinking bold italic text and star field backdrops. If you had skull candles to sell you were on par with all the corporations that might try dominate the skull candle market. The Internet went two ways, not one, and that meant look out Conspiracy!
As one of the first people to have a web site, I do have fond memories of those days. Everybody was equally ugly in Netscape. Nobody knew you were a dog. There were only dweebs and their admirers back then, before LonelyGirl15 had to add a number to not be one of the other 14 lonely girls. It wasn’t hard to meet people – just put up a website with a bit of script and you’d get an email from Marc Canter saying howdy. A small town, a bit sheltered but the people were friendly.
Essentially that’s still the case – the signal still goes both ways. You can still sell your skull candles, but the small market you used to attend has gone now, replaced by a large store with PAYPAL in blue neon. It’s across the highway from the tower marked AMAZON, both dwarfed by the big black monolith at dead centre, 1000 stories high, with GOOGLE marked out in childish coloured lettering. The town is a city and it has a crime problem…
But we’ve conquered that old power relationship that went with TV. I mean things are better now aren’t they? You’d think so but, when you look at it, it doesn’t seem like things are any more equitable since the CRT went in the dumpster. Actually, it seems like business as usual. The Space Nazis are still there, beaming their sleepy signal.
Now, I admit that I found the majority of the social and political theorising at university to be one step removed from bible study. It pissed me off and from the marking I got, I pissed it off. Mutual hate, except it is the status quo so I lost. There were one or two bits though that were really interesting, and here I think we can see a principle at work. If I am saying something said better elsewhere, then please indulge my naivety.
In the good old days, there would be a ruler. A king. He was the state. Like TV, you would simply be beamed his wishes. Numerous philosophers thought that was a good deal, so long as the king was enlightened. Same thing for TV, so long as it was the BBC/ABC/CBC/PBS and enlightened, it was OK.
But autocracy fell into disrepute. After some battles we end up with what’s been called the ‘neo-liberal’ state (read Pierre Bourdieu if you really want the full Scripture). Alongside a radical belief in liberalism – that everybody with a broadband connection is equal – you get the manufacture of expertise. Rather than the autocrat setting out the rules – he draws upon the wisdom of ‘experts’, that provide support for ‘policies’ that politicians can then implement, with the assurance that these are best ideas that come up from the society itself. So for example, a Health Minister sets out a survey for Doctors of what to do about Children At Risk, or a Defence Minister asks for advice from Terrorism Experts – assuming of course that these Children and these Terrorists are real in the first place. They certainly are by the time the questions are answered – and so a category of thought is manufactured.
We have in Web2.0. a very simplistic, childish and yet just as effective version of this expertise. Company A is standardising consumption – what do you think? This news item about a criminal – do you think he’s mad or bad? What’s your vote on the uniforms we’ll wear to world war three? The authorities ask you to decide which flavour of their Truth you would prefer, not whether there is such Truth. Endless surveys of the web community allow the consumers to feel empowered at a time where they are simply being streamlined into faster sales. Each product is provided with a bulletin board where the customers can bitch slap over their ‘favourite features’. It’s a bit like sheep haggling over who will make the best cut of lamb.
Facebook went a little too far when it tried to have customers hawking each other soft drink. But they simply retreated a little and started slipping in the mind cage from a different direction.
There certainly is a two way signal path, but unless you are easily misled you must have noticed that it has a much stronger signal coming AT you than FROM you. The people on this side of the fence (the eloi) are splashing around in a fantasy of LOLcats, celebrity photoshop and MP3 torrents. The people on the other side (the morlocks) are harvesting organs. Meanwhile, where are the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy when we need them? Who will come out and say that Google is most definitely not your friend any more than a cat loves a mouse?
Given a binary choice I guess I prefer the autocracy of ‘quality broadcasting’. Openly, brazenly unfair. But better still we can step outside the whole mentality of convincing SexyGirl57 that this air freshener works better than other air fresheners – and begin to think – I don’t need a bloody air freshener – I need fresh air.