By Patrick Brogan
“One day, men will look back and say; I gave birth to the 20th Century.”
Sir William Gull, From Hell (2001)
There is a lot of sense in that quote. The 20th Century is oft noted for horrific violence, an obsession with notoriety and titillating celebrity culture masqueraded as news. During the Ripper Murders, the tabloid press had a field day. They focused more on the gory elements of the case. Were they just responding to what the people wanted or was it a case of these publications creating a new form of information presentation? News as entertainment. It was probably a bit of both and they fed into each other.
There were a number of assertions made about these murders in the media, then and now. Whoever Jack the Ripper was, they are credited to be the first known serial killer. There is a long line of serial killers in history. This dates back to Ancient Rome and China. Even in Ireland, there were recorded cases of multiple murders by one hand. The Witch of Kilkenny is a stand-out example. Dame Alice Kyteler was a noblewoman born in the 13th Century. Kyteler was accused of killing her four husbands and practising witchcraft. Although with a case as old as this, it is very difficult to prove such claims, it does show us that, even hundreds of years ago, people were familiar with the idea of multiple homicides. The media sensationalised the Whitechapel murders to sell papers and this is something that has continued to this day.
Fake News; A Modern Phenomenon?
A lot of the younger folk will only watch informative television if it is funny. In the States, we have seen Jon Stewart, John Oliver and Trevor Noah become quite influential. In Britain, Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe has a cult following. This an excellently produced show and Brooker is hilarious and always insightful, this shouldn’t be surprising from the man behind Black Mirror. His take on Donald Trump’s campaign is interesting. He is critical of how the media covered this. The media in the US and this side of the Atlantic considered Trump as something of a circus, not really giving him any chance of winning or talking about what would happen if he did so.
However, there were a few contentious issues this programme raised. For example, on its review of the year, Brooker comments on Trump’s claim that he could shoot somebody on 5th Avenue and not lose any voters by saying “Only if it’s somebody Putin wants you to shoot.” Again, we have this narrative of Donald Trump being Putin’s puppet without any evidence. And this isn’t some run-of-the-mill website, this is a serious, albeit humorous, current affairs programme.
The whole fake news debacle came about because of Wikileaks releasing the Podesta emails and what became known as Pizzagate. This was the apparent links between the Clinton campaign and a pizza shop frequented by paedophiles and the suggestion of satanic rituals. Given the Clintons’ connections with Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted paedophile, this may not be as absurd as the media makes out. To my mind, the biggest fake news story of the year was the DNC leaks being perpetrated by Russian intelligence.
I am no Trump apologist. I think he is volatile, cowardly and possibly mentally unstable. I’ll get into this more later on, but there must be some level of balance in reporting and it can’t be when it suits a particular narrative. Although many American intelligence and security services have said they have clear evidence, none of it has been presented to the public. And the media just lapped it all up. Forgive my cynicism, but aren’t these the same agencies that claimed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? The same people behind Iran-Contra? A collective that have brought down democratically elected governments all around the world, not for the sake of freedom, but to propagate American economic interests. Yet, those who are supposed to hold these organisations to account take what they are saying at face value.
This is the problem with somebody like Trump. He is so derisive that people want him to be responsible for everything that goes wrong. He may have benefitted from these leaks, but it does not mean he is either directly or indirectly involved. The implications of this are staggering. Putin would be risking World War III if he tried such a move, regardless of who won the election because Obama’s administration still had a few months left in office. Respected newspapers like The Washington Post and The New York Times keep pedalling this myth without offering any solid evidence. What has become very clear is that the DNC did not take the required security steps and anybody could have hacked them. Anybody.
This idea that the news has become fake is also ridiculous. News has always been fake. Not always intentionally. We all carry biases around with us, even the best-trained journalists. Then are those that have intentionally obscured events for their own advantages and those that distorted stories to sell papers. William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer started a race to the bottom in this regard. This has continued ever since.
Why is it a Big Issue Now?
There a number of reasons for this. Many people became frustrated with how the mainstream media operates. A lot of stories are either not covered or a covered in a very biased way. Thanks to the fluid nature of the Internet, a lot of these people were now able to produce the stories they wanted to see in the media. As I said before, many people carry biases around and the people behind these sites are no different. The problem is that most journalists try to keep some degree of neutrality because the publication demands it. However, the new media was aimed at the like minded so partisan journalism was actually desired.
Then we have to factor in the fact that the two main candidates in the last presidential election had such a polarising effect on people. Indeed, this is apparent in much of the politics in the Western world in a way we have not seen since the lead up to the second World War. If one publication backed one candidate, they de facto hated the other. Both were terrible candidates and there are a huge number of areas where they can be criticised.
Money has a lot to do it as well. Media outlets are under more pressure and financial constraints. This means they can’t dig into the stories as much as they would like. They have to pick one angle and run with that. Time to move on to the next story.
Trump v Clinton
The dust has settled on this a little bit so it might be time to look back at it. A number of issues stood out for me in this election. Firstly, the hysteria that accompanied the coverage. Donald Trump did say a lot worrying and hurtful things, but the reaction to this actually fanned his support rather than dampened it. Many Americans are distrustful of what they see on television. So, when they are told to hate Trump the very opposite will happen. There is enough dirt and ammunition on the incumbent to attack him without overreacting or coming up with non-existent issues. His widespread corruption, abuse of workers and links to shady organisations to name just a few.
Secondly, there was a constant undercurrent of hypocrisy everywhere Hillary Clinton went. The Wikileaks emails showed that she had one policy in public and another contradictory one in private. This came from the horse’s mouth. The Russians are accused of hampering the democratic process when there is no evidence and the emails actually show this is exactly what the Democratic Party did. Surely the Democrats should come in for the same criticism?
As her supporters took to the streets to point out; Hillary won the popular vote. This was a bit of a moot point as everybody was aware of the antiquated and frankly racist way the Electoral College operates in advance of the election. If these people view themselves as the defenders of democracy, where were they when the party they voted for shafted Bernie Sanders? Again, people coming into power that lost the popular vote is nothing new. Look at George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler.
Some of the reaction online after the assault in Chicago
The Online Reaction
The Internet is essentially an open door to a room where everyone hates each other, right? No, it’s probably humanity’s greatest achievement, but there a number of people who are morons and lack any degree of self-control when they are sat in front of a screen. These people are generally more vocal and this often gives a distorted perception of what is going on. For example, at the time of writing, one of the biggest stories is the racially motivated assault of a mentally disabled man in Chicago that was streamed live on Facebook. The Journal, for whatever reason, seems to attract a nasty sort of follower. After this appalling attack, most of the comments focused on the race angle or on how it was the media’s fault. Very few commented on the unfortunate man that suffered this horrendous attack.
That is the issue with the left-right paradigm. Regardless of the side; people take events and mould them into their particular narrative. Serious political discussion has been lacking in the West for a long time now and this is the result. Society has been failed and those suffering the fallout are taking to social media to vent. The actual events and those that suffer are irrelevant, they’re just fodder for the PR war. For many people, all they have going for them is being correct online. It has gotten to the stage where these people are happy for tragic events to happen because it ‘justifies’ there stand point.
If you don't like it, maybe go elsewhere. Also, it's a bit troubling that this avatar uses the picture of someone who went on a very publicised racial rant.
Carrie Fisher, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Alan Rickman… the list went on and on. It was a bad year for celebrity deaths. Or was it? This trend will continue considering the bar for what qualifies as a celebrity is so low. A lot of people claim Kim Kardashian is famous for no reason. This isn’t strictly true. She is famous for having sex; a pornstar. This type of fame would have been unthinkable in Victorian times. Although they were not totally chaste and had their own form in titillation in burlesque, the participants never reached the level of fame of the Kardashians.
Andy Warhol once claimed everyone in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. The often used term 15 minutes of fame, or maybe 15 minutes of shame is apter, as Marilyn Manson put it. This in it itself is not a new neither, as the idea of events or occurrences being widely talked about and then forgotten is centuries old. Many have speculated about what Warhol meant by this, but what is certain is that the pace of technological advancements has made this possible.
When all this is taken into account, no wonder there are so many celebrity deaths. Also, it makes it much harder for people to die in obscurity. There are so many platforms available to people now. YouTube and Instagram have created celebrities famous to specific sub-groups. In a sense, there is no getting away from fame.
Millenials and Other Groups
A few backs back, I was struck by a number different people being critical of a) people mourning the loss of famous people and b) claiming it is younger people mainly responsible for these characteristic. Firstly, what is the problem with praising the life’s work of a talented individual? Too often people are disconnected so if they can contact with other like minded people I would suggest this a good thing. Take David Bowie, for example. I wasn’t a fan, but I could appreciate that his numerous loyal supporters were inspired by his creativity and drew inspiration from his uncompromising vision. Surely people coming together to enjoy such a life is good for a society.
Secondly, an obsessive celebrity culture is far from new. Gladiators were icons in Ancient Rome. Socrates achieved fame in his own time, which played a big part in his sentencing to death. Popes were worshipped and feared in medieval Europe, all of Europe. The difference now is the availability of virtually every person thanks to the 24-hour news cycle and the various media platforms.
The biggest issue I take with this is the branding of people with certain attributes. Not every person reaching adulthood in the year 2000 thinks or acts the same. That is the definition of a millennial, although — and this illustrates my point — not everyone agrees on the definition. Regardless of definitions, categorising people is lazy and can be dangerous. All Jews are part of a global conspiracy. All Muslims want to destroy Western values. All Americans are idiots. Each of these terms are moronic.
And this is a big part of the hate we see online. Nothing is viewed for what it is and people try to make connections to other events that are not there. It is only human nature to look for patterns, but this is pushed to the limit online. In a sense, we have all become miniature Edward Bernays and Ivy Lees, trying to convince people to become part of a certain mindset. And it’s boring. Differences should be celebrated, not feared.
A year many would be happy see go up in flames.
2016 – The Worst Year Ever
It’s not even close. Humans have survived world wars, plagues and natural disasters. For most of humans, 2016 was a relatively tame one. People can despair over Trump, but the reality is his influence has been rather limited and given that there are mechanisms build into most governments that are constantly prevalent, Trump is not going to be the omnipotent demagogue people fear as much as he may want it. He probably will do some damage but, he also could possibly improve American society. His backing of Federal Reserve audit is just one example.
Penn Jillette said something years ago that always stuck with me. It went along the lines of this; there have been two constants in human history. People always say things have got worse and things actually get better. 2016 is a great example of this. A lot of people somehow think we are on a countdown to an apocalypse. Regardless of your political or personal views, Trump getting elected could mark a de-escalation of global tensions. I don’t buy into this idea of Trump being a Moscow pawn, but if he is it is good if you want to avoid a nuclear catastrophe. Obama’s reign saw a dramatic deterioration of relations with Russia and given Hillary Clinton’s track record and rhetoric, it would have gotten dangerously worse.
Was 2016 worse than any year in World War I or II? Was it worse than the Black Death, or worse than the collapse of the Roman Empire or the Great Leap Forward Famine in China that killed over 40 million people? As bad as Trump has been, his actions are not on this scale. Globally, murders, assaults and wars have reduced dramatically in the last two centuries. Although it may spike now and then, on the whole, we are better off. This is not to say we just relax and not try to make things better, we should also not exaggerate. This hyper, over sensitive reaction is part of the problem and never helps.
To Sum Up
Decades of policies created by the rich and implemented by weak and corrupt politicians has resulted in an underclass excluded from society. Whilst these people have always been there, the number has dramatically risen, risen to the point where by sheer numbers they have become powerful. They needed somebody to appeal to them and there is a certain type of politician that thrives off these conditions. They feed off frustration and exploit people or to quote Horatio in Hamlet, they put “Dangerous conjectures in ill-breathing minds.”
Although these people have been betrayed, in their anger they have turned to people who are much worse. Trump, Orban, Wilders. I don’t believe Le Pen and Farage are in the same class, but their policies are divisive none-the-less. Society should be looking at those that made it rich off the back of ordinary working people and eradicating that type of practice rather than electing the people that exacerbated the problem to office. In time, this will be corrected, but there will be more suffering along the way.
Given the closeness of society through years of political integration and the advancement of technology it is difficult to separate the individual from the masses. With the current economic and political structures in place, it can be hard to find breathing space and enjoy life. It’s up to the people to get educated and change this.
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