One of the phrases one often hears is that the rapid leap in media and communications technology, amongst other things, has brought the world closer together, has helped create a ‘global village’, and enabled people to overcome those old boundaries that once proved obstacles to unity.
Which is all very true, and to that extent is to be welcomed.
However, there is another side. And that other side is the ease at which a central model can now be thrust upon once disparate peoples, an imperialistic imposition that leads to an absurdly homogenous trans-cultural orthodoxy. The result is a bloc-culture in which people think the same things, say the same things, believe the same things, and do the same things – in short, clones of one another. Yet in so doing, it leaves behind all those who don’t buy into the vision, even though they may be in the majority – and this is the crucial bit.
Now to bring this back down to the parochial, I think this disconnect is very much in evidence in contemporary Britain today. Some have the distinction as being between the ‘political classes’ and the electorate; others prefer the term ‘cultural elite’; others will plump for the ‘social and political classes’; others still use the term ‘liberal elite’; whilst a great many will use all of the above. The point is, all these are attempts to articulate a keenly felt anxiety that there is, in some hard to define manner, a difference between a certain segment of the population, often prominent in the ‘culture industry’, and the rest.
It is, of course, almost impossible to avoid falling into caricature at this stage, but perhaps the best concrete example of this is the BBC. Now, as I have blogged in the past, I am an unapologetic fan of the BBC. And I consider the allegation against the BBC of being intentionally biased as unfair. Because if there is any bias, then it is really just a reflection of the people who largely comprise it, rather than any intentional decision to be so. And, as Andrew Marr has recognised, there is a cultural liberal bias at the BBC, that is largely metropolitan in outlook, socially liberal, middle-class, very much geared toward younger fashions and trends, and often (perhaps unsurprisingly) aimed at the techno-savvy population that many people where I come from would dismiss as yuppies. In this sense the BBC all too often reflects its own internal make-up, which means it only addresses people just like itself, and fails to recognise that there are many people who are not like that at all. As such, it trades on its left-liberal outlook as normative (how on earth could it think it wasn’t?), and thereby it irritates the hell out of a great deal of people.
Which is a useful illustration of the point I’m trying, not wholly successfully, to explore – does the media and communications boon, whilst welcome as a platform for the flourishing of human relationships, not also contain within it the seeds of social discord? After all, has there ever been such an opportunity, as there is today, to so completely dominate the public forum with just one worldview? As the BBC example was intended to show, often it can lead to a re-enforcement of the hegemony, thereby giving a disproportionate eminence to what may well be a minority worldview. Or to butcher a Burkean metaphor, how much louder the grasshoppers in the field, how much more complete the illusion of their dominance, were they to be linked up to electrical loud-speakers and sub-woofer sound systems?
I suppose the point I am trying (clumsily) to make is that, when new media networks reach so far into people’s everyday lives, and yet are so often merely reflections of a really quite small and distinct cabal at the head of them, it will begin to chafe. Which might well have the effect of pushing people to those nasty little groups on the margins, those groups who ‘listen’, and who trade on the malaise by claiming to offer a different message.