Friday, 22 April 2011

Look at the Bad Thing

 I've always thought one of the best lines in the better-than-expected adaptation of Alan Moore's V for Vendetta occurs in the scene where a news  report on the TV channel which serves as the propaganda arm of the dystopian England where the story is set refers to V's speech on television encouraging people to rise up against their oppressors as 'a message of hate'.

It's a good choice of language because it captures the way contemporary media propaganda reduces complex issues down to simple emotional, goodies and baddies pap. This You Didn't Win blogger used to work in a bookshop, and we had a similarly goo-goo-doll politics book on our shelves about radical Islam, called Because They Hate, which argued that Islamic terrorism doesn't occur because of, say, the situation in Gaza, the stifiling of more traditional dissent in Wahabist countries, poverty or anything like that - it occurs because Muslims are nasty, nasty men.

This retreat to the language of the nursery is always a good way of identifying when the meeja are trying to sell you a line. It shows that the authorities are unable to convince using rational argument or by pointing out the genuinely deleterious effects a thing will have, and so they are reduced to pointing at the bad thing, then waving their arms and saying 'oooooh, spooky spooky bad thing, spooky spooky bad thing' over and over until hopefully people start to be scared of it.

The March 26th March for the Alternative was a good example of the 'spooky spooky bad thing' school of reporting. Half a million people came together to object, peacefully, to the Britain-breaking agenda which Cameron and the Tories are implementing, despite having no mandate, but because people protesting peacefully and with dignity is not very telegenic and doesn't support the status quo, the media chose to focus again and again on a few examples of violence from a group of 'anarchists'. And, with their close-ups, overhead shots and dramatic camera angles they could make it look really scary.

I walked down Oxford Street just after the banks and rich stores had had their windows smashed. It looked no worse than what I've seen at North East bus stops on a Saturday morning. It didn't look threatening or terrifying; it looked pathetic really, in the way that vandalism often does. And I was in Oxford Circus when the placard fire that looked like such an inferno in the overhead shots shown on TV happened, and again, at ground level, up close, it, too, seemed underwhelming. It looked like an act not so much of violence but despair.

But to the media, the violence had to be hyped up, and so papers and reports were full of pictures of scary masked anarchists and sensational stories about 'lightbulbs filled with ammonia' and 'fireworks filled with coins' being hurled at the police. Spooky. Spooky. Look at the bad bad thing.

So when I read reports like those emerging from Stokes Croft today, telling us with a straight face that police turned up mob-handed to arrest 'a number of people they said were "a real threat to the local community"' and also accuse those people of 'harbouring petrol bombs', and then a crowd of 300 people turned up to protect these ne'er-do-wells, I wonder.

Hundreds of people do not try to impede the police when they're after people who threaten their community. That kind of thing only happens when the crowd in an area sees those targeted as members of their community, and thus regards the police as a threat.

Behind this scary riot story it seems there's another story entirely - a story about a bohemian but highly-cohesive community trying to resist the opening of a Tesco Express store foisted on them by Terry Leahy's retail behemoth and the local council. This is a story about the 'Big Society', surely? This is a story about Cameron's sacred promise to let locals be more involved in planning decisions than councils, right?

Well, no. Because for Cameron's Tories locals should only be empowered when they're the right kind of locals. And the Big Society, evidently, is always going to lose out to Big Business where Citizen Dave is concerned. But is that any wonder, when access to Dave's inner circle, the Leader's Group, costs £50,000? Do you know many Community Associations with that kind of spare cash? Of course not. But people in the corporate world do.

Dig deeper into this story, and it reveals the hypocrisy and dishonesty of our Tory overlords, prepared to send armed police in droves to attack people standing up for the very same thing the Tories claim to believe in. But we can't have that, can we? So don't dig. Don't question. Don't think about why 300 people might turn out to protect some 'petrol bombers' from the police, or why we live in a country where riot squads are being sent in to deal with people who protest against Tesco.

Instead, look at the shouty crowds! The flaming cars! Look, look, a police car being attacked! They had saws! They had shields! They were ripping up cobbles I tell you! Look! Look! At the spooky spooky bad thing! And be frightened!

I'm not frightened. Not of protesters. Not of people trying to defend their community from politicised policing. But I am frightened that our police are being used to quell dissent. I am frightened that police were champing at the bit to kettle peaceful protesters during the March for the Alternative. And I'm frightened that a media which should be challenging these actions is enabling them and repeating the police line unquestioningly.

The actions taken by police in Stokes Croft today, and their uncritical reporting by the media, help to feed the arrogance of the Tories who didn't win the 2010 election, but now seek to use their brief time in power to push through as much of their repugnant ideology as they can. That arrogance needs to be challenged. And that's why, this May 6th, the Tories' arrogance must be challenged by reminding them that they didn't win.

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