BY: JOHN WATERS
Media spin about the economic crisis based on a division between ‘victims’ and ‘the guilty’ is a convenient fiction, writes JOHN WATERS
THE DRAMA of a society divided between those who have created our economic difficulties and those who innocently suffer the consequences is staged daily by a media presenting itself as on the side of the “victims”.
This storyline can be heard most clearly in the listener texts read out ad nauseam by radio presenters. These texts are an important revenue stream for radio stations, which may partly explain why these terse and ill-tempered communications are treated as a profound expression of the will of the people. For 30 cent “Tommy from Tullamore” and “Ciara from Clara” can bask in the tacit approval of a media tribunal represented by a presenter who seems never to reflect on the contentlessness of what he or she is reading. As predictable as they are banal, these texts simply affirm some populist intuition concerning the outrage we are all supposed to feel about “them”. If a guest on a programme is one of “them”, or seeks to make a point that does not add to the general excoriation of “them”, he is subjected to a barrage of accusations of being “part of the cosy consensus”.
The texter is “outraged”, “appalled” or “gobsmacked”. The texter wants to throw up. If, on the other hand, the guest has harmonised with “pubic outrage”, the texts will be approving. “Fair play to so ’n’ so”, they will applaud, “for speaking up for us”. The worst crime is to be “out of touch with the man in the street”.
On several radio programmes recently, I’ve been intrigued to observe that presenters think these communications are a reliable weathervane of public opinion. Of course, they represent merely the regurgitation of a repetitive sense of grievance emanating from people with time on their hands and nothing interesting to say for themselves.
This trend has at least four worrying elements. One, it reduces the public narrative to opposition between the “guilty” and the “innocent”. Two, it grounds the common discourse in blame and punishment. Three, it allows the media to hide behind a bogus notion of “public opinion” to pursue agendas which may be to the long-term detriment of Irish society. Four, it avoids the idea that the Celtic Tiger was the consequence of a collective psychology, of which the media was the principal driving element.
For more than a decade from the mid-1990s, the media actively whipped up aspirations, whether by uncritically talking up the property market or suppressing critical appraisals of what was happening in the economy. There is now, therefore, a certain convenience in simply relaying the telegrammatic, selective and repetitive rage of the “man in the street”. The idea of media people being the champions of the disgruntled taxpayer provides an impenetrable protection against any broader analysis.