Bitch Fights and Tomorrow’s Top Model: Prepare For a High Chair Rebellion
Baby boomer Richard Neville laments our infantilized media culture and can’t understand why younger generations aren’t protesting when the world is going to hell.
As baby boomers lay down their weary tunes and fantasize about communal psychedelic retirement yurts, while actually destined for nursing homes reeking of urine, several new generations have taken the stage. Indulge me while I generalize about these interlopers; bristling with six packs, fussed-over hair and an encyclopaedic knowledge of pop lyrics, now giving the world a make over, one step at a time. Fabulous food, cheap travel (for now), reality TV, A-list porn stars, activism lite… and so much more. And yet:
· The natural world is disappearing.
· “Free world” governments are devolving into police states.
· Nations which claim to carry the torch of freedom are still wreaking havoc in the lands they occupy against the majority will of their inhabitants.
· U.S. Senators and Congressmen have collectively reaped over $196 million from stocks they own in war related industries.
· The five permanent members of the UN security council are the world’s five biggest arms dealers.
· All the international laws, treaties, conventions, protocols, etc, that have been created since the United Kingdom’s hard won Bill of Rights in 1688, including the outlawing of torture, the targeting of civilians, the use of disgusting weapons, etc, right up to the UN’s latest resolution to “eliminate future sexual exploitation and abuse in United Nations peacekeeping operations”, are now honored more in their breach than the observance.
In short, despite all the eco heroes and an explosion of creative artists and innovators, these are dangerous and disgusting times, with much of its horror kept hidden. Murdoch’s News Corp is a propaganda machine; while the Sydney Morning Herald is merely pragmatic, “But the reality is we are selling newspapers”, notes its boss Brian McCarthy, “Iraq to me now is a boring subject on page one.”
Yep, nothing more boring than the plight of 5 million Iraqis displaced by our invasion, half of whom are trapped abroad without rights, struggling for their next crust. “Those who are unable to flee the country”, notes an Iraqi journalist, “are now in a queue, waiting their turn to die”. But in the Herald editor’s nook, it’s still a yawn.
Hold on – let’s open the newspaper’s online issue and check the promoted stories: 1) Pamela Anderson’s “bitch fight” with Jessica Simpson, 2) Glamorous teenager wins this year’s Australia’s Next Top Model final, 3) Twins on the way for Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, who is, alas, “not expected to give birth immediately”. This is not news. It is not journalism, it is not even entertainment. It is a virus known as infantilization, which shields us from uncomfortable truths and panders to consumer narcissism.
Infantilization exalts the trivial, laces it with brothel slang, then adds a dash of Hollywood and a heap of misinformation, serving it up as a vital scoop. According to academic Benjamin Barber, this disease is “affiliated with an ideology of privatization, the marketing of brands, and a homogenization of taste”. It works to sustain our unsustainable consumer capitalism at the “expense of both civility and civilisation and at a growing risk to capitalism itself”. While capitalism once contributed “marginally to democracy, responsibility and citizenship”, according to Barber, he believes today’s version is allied with vices that undermine democracy. And let’s add that it undermines the eco system. As Mike Davis wonders, “to what kind of future are we being led by savage, fanatical capitalism?”
For a start, the rights of citizens are being stripped away, with barely a murmur from the media or any concerted direct action. Maybe the NSW Government will finally trigger rebellion with its bizarre attempt to stifle protests at the World Catholic Youth Day soon to engulf Sydney. Police are empowered to arrest and fine those who annoy the pilgrims, display provocative slogans or hand out condoms. At least these powers are temporary. When it comes to the permanent dismantling of human rights safeguards by Western states, the re-introduction of torture and even the massacre of civilians, both the media and the masses seem to shrug it off.
Rupert Murdoch seems partial to an authoritarian warrior state. His Wall Street Journal was so enraged by the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Boumediene v. Bush, which upheld the principle of Habeas Corpus in relation to the kidnapped inmates of Guantanamo Bay, that it launched a vicious attack on the presiding Judge. This is classic Murdoch character assassination. Judge Kennedy was excoriated for his “willfulness”, lack of modesty, his usurpation of war making power. (Yes, look whose talking). The Journal claimed that all Guantanamo prisoners were guilty of “trying to kill Americans”, whereas most were hapless victims of hysteria and bounty hunting. The editorial expressed “confident horror that more Americans are likely to die as a result” of the court’s ruling on human rights, whereas it is the barbarous treatment of the inmates that escalates the resolve of America’s enemies. Murdoch World saw the ruling as akin to the court signing a “suicide pact” with terrorists.
Meanwhile, the unwarranted intrusions into daily life roll on like an avalanche. It may interest those enthralled by Sex in the City and turned off by savagery in Baghdad, that for several years, officials have been searching and seizing laptops, digital cameras, cell phones and other electronic devices belonging to passengers arriving at U.S. borders. No-one quite knows why. “I assume they just copy everything,” moaned one freelance journalist whose laptop was confiscated.
Is this a taste of the future? Random acts of discourtesy and plunder on the ground, greed and torture at the apex of the pyramid? When we embrace the consumer society, with all its distractions, luxury and fun, we need to ponder the hidden traps. Where will the era of opulence and excessive waste take us? How can we transcend peak oil, peak water, relentless misinformation and nuclear build up? By routing the real enemies of freedom and restoration, of course.
For this to be effective, new cohorts need break out of infantilized media cocoons and re-assert direct action. The UK environmental network Plane Stupid was set up to protest Heathrow airport’s planned third runway, and, according to The Guardian, it has no official leader or formal hierarchy, or media figurehead, which hasn’t stopped the staging of illegal protests. A condition of membership is a willingness “to get nicked”. Mass civil disobedience is on the agenda.
Perhaps we are heading to a time when many more will leap out of the high chair, gliding gracefully into targeted direct action, watched amiably by addled boomers sinking into the midnight.
Richard Neville is futurist and social commentator.