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The BBC and other media

BBCOver the years - particularly the last 3 or 4 - I've become disenchanted with most of the mainstream media. Wokeness infests the media almost as much as it does my own profession, but facts are now coming back to bite...hard.

Let's start with a quick glance over the movies. The recent Star Wars sequels, currently showing Harley Quinn, pretty much the whole of the Marvel Universe output - all have embraced the new woke orthodoxy and present us with strong female leads, weak and deeply flawed male leads, preachy storylines and narratives, redefinition of previous cannon in order to make it more ideologically sound. (This practice, I discovered, is known as RETCON - Retrospective Continuity - classic NewSpeak).   The problem is that these franchises have loyal, sometimes obsessive, fandoms.  The wanton destruction of their much loved cannon, combined with the confused, poor quality and stilted plotting and narrative (writing with an ideological agenda CAN be good - witness Orwell, Dickens, Dostoevsky, and many others - but it usually isn't, and when the writing is poor, the acting will usually reflect this), have turned away loyal fans from all of the above franchises - in very large numbers. 

The response of the film-makers was to declare the fandom toxic- sexist bigots whose opposition to the new plots and characters simply revealed their ignorance, and whose outspoken, though frequently inciteful, complaints and criticisms were simply hate speech, to be ignored. Naturally many fans found this attack infuriating, but mainstream critics largely sided with the film-makers against the fans, making the difference between audience reviews and the professional reviews of this media is often so large that it seems that two different films are being discussed.

Ricky Gervais attempted to blow a rocket through the Hollywood wokeistas with his squirmingly funny performance at the Golden Globes, but the woke luvvies are so far up their own backsides that little has changed. The actors - millionaires, whose only marketable skills are pretending to be other people, have the total lack of self-awareness required to allow them to lecture their fans on morality, science. Politics, economics, environment, gender and race theory, and just about anything else their woke little consciousnesses come across. Anyhoo I have wasted more than enough energy on that bunch of self-absorbed mummers and hacks.

Now, to the meat of this article. The BBC has more than a fair share of the woke - largely a result of their Humanities or Arts degrees, gained during a time when many university academics, finally forced to abandon their natural Marxist roosts, were flocking around the post-structuralist poison erupting from a rump of French thinkers (Derrida, Lacan, Foucault et al).  The result has been an increasing contempt, from program makers and writers, for a large proportion of the audience - similar to the contempt shown in the prime US media towards 'Trump voters'. The increasingly strident demand for a particularly toxic and distorted version of equality - 'equity' or equality of OUTCOME - is evident in much of the BBC's output, from long-running series like the Archers, and, now, tragically, Dr Who.  The thing that has been so financially disastrous for the Hollywood studios is now endangering the very existence of the BBC.  The license fee, however you feel about it, is a tax which allows the BBC, almost uniquely in broadcast media, to put out material, even knowing it might have poor ratings. Some would say that this is a good thing, since it allows the BBC to cater for the sort of minority interests that are not easy to cover otherwise. Others say that the financial security provided by the license fee allows the BBC to plan for, and produce, high-quality programming. Some are just grateful for any channels not interrupted by adverts every eleven minutes. Finally there are those who say that the BBC is an important arm of the state - bringing 'impartial' news and comment to many in oppressive or collapsing countries.  The point is that none of these arguments are particularly convincing, so the BBC is going to need all the support it can get if - and I think it is becoming when rather than if - a government decides to review the whole issue of the license fee.

I'll deal with each of the supportive arguments. As far as catering for minority audiences, this argument has become largely obsolete. The huge number of channels available mean that even very obscure interests are catered for. The argument is also too patrician, too 'Reithian' for the modern world. The view of Lord Reith that the BBC should deliver ...

"All that is best in every department of human knowledge, endeavour and achievement.... The preservation of a high moral tone is obviously of paramount importance."[

...grates on modern sensibilities, smacking as it does of cultural, social and political elitism, if not puritanism. Finally, the argument fails under test. A great deal of BBC output is NOT aimed at minorities, it is material designed and produced to compete in the commercial broadcasting world. Soaps and talent shows feature heavily, as do celebrity-obsessed programs on antiques, cooking, and gardening and talent shows. Most of the best drama I have seen recently has come from the US, and standard BBC news coverage is not, in my estimation,  noticeably superior or more impartial to the better offerings from the commercial stations.  These same points apply generally to the 'high quality' argument. There are, of course, many high quality programs on, or commissioned by, the BBC - any organisation with a guaranteed annual budget of over £3.5 billion should be able to turn out some decent programs.

The issue of adverts is close to my own heart. I find it increasingly impossible to settle down to anything other than the least challenging of viewing on commercial channels. The constant advert breaks are, to me, almost unbearable and lead to another deplorable practice - the chunking of programs - a framework of previews and recaps, wrapped around items of content arranged in 4-7 minute chunks.   So this argument, that the licence fee allows broadcasting without instructive advertisements, is the most persuasive, personally speaking.  Is it enough though? I think not. 

Terrestrial TV is being overtaken by streaming, podcasts and similar view-on-demand platforms.  Business models, which are not entirely advert-dependent, such as subscription and pay-per-program, allow uninterrupted viewing of entire series of programs.  The merging of computer, phone and TV technology will continue - we already have TVs which connect to the internet and offer social media, video streaming and much besides.  The strength of the no adverts argument, therefore,  decreases with time.  Many would say it is already obsolete - certainly for younger viewers.

The cost of the license free (£154.50) could purchase a great deal of quality viewing from other providers such as Apple, Netflix, Sky and BT.  I estimate that I watch between 2 and 12 hours of BBC programming per week. A reasonable average would be around 7 hours. So that is about fifteen 24 hour periods per year.

The last argument - that the BBC is important on a world stage - is also becoming less relevant with time. Very few people under 30 get much, if any, of their news and chat from the BBC.  Most use a combination of mags/papers and various streaming, blogging, vlogging and news content on the web. This trend is accelerating - 16-24-year-olds watch more Netflix than the combined output of all 3 BBC TV channels, and listen to more music on Spotify than all the BBC music output on television and radio combined.

The BBC is not, of course, unaware of how things are moving. It has invested heavily into its own streaming services using the BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds, but a continued decline in market share is inevitable.

So is it time to end the license fee?  My own feelings are that it might well be. The BBC has badly damaged itself - not so much over a few unwise changes to established programs, but because of the high-handed, arrogant manner in which it has belittled critical fans, whilst refusing to engage with the serious and valid criticisms they level. 

Trump, Brexit, Boris -  and several other so-called populist shocks to the establishment - result in part from anger and frustration amongst a large part of the electorate who are treated very badly by the liberal media. Their politics are called fascist or 'alt-right', and there is a constant sense - usually unspoken but none the less apparent - that only stupid or bad people would vote for Brexit, or Boris, or Trump, and that any truly moral person MUST believe in equity, including the various nonsensical pieces of magical thinking required to believe in such guff. Black means oppressor, white means oppressor. Woman means victim, man means domestic abuser; gender is whatever we want it to be, and according to many wokeistas, so is biological sex. Saying things some people might not like is now violence, as is refusing to call a bearded biological male a made-up pronoun that 'she' insists upon. If the BBC continues to pander to this narcissistic, bullying minority, who see it as their duty to impose 'social justice'.*

* Whenever someone adds a superfluous word to a perfectly good existing word or phrase, it should raise hackles and encourage scepticism. The goal to achieve justice is noble and worthwhile, but what, exactly, is social justice?   Does it mean that men and women are given roughly the same education, social and economic opportunities, and treatment by the state,  regardless of characteristics like colour, sex, disability, etc.?   That is exactly what I believed and was committed to in the 70s and 80s, when I was cutting my own political teeth.   But now the goal is equal outcome, not opportunity.   According to woke philosophy,  if there are more male physicists than female then this must be due to discrimination, indicating that opportunities are NOT equal, and that some sort of positive discrimination is required.  (Note once again the addition of a subjective and rather superfluous positive to a clear and pretty well defined discrimination, to produce a weasel phrase).  Interestingly, there is little reportage of the terrible gender imbalance in nursing, teaching, veterinary medicine, dentistry, architecture - or any of the other fields in which women heavily outnumber men. Surely we need more girls in Universities ? You might think so if you rely on the news, but the fact is that there have been more girls than boys attending university for years - and the gap is widening. If, like me, you see biological sex as one of many characteristics which influence, but rarely dictate, one's choices and ambitions, then there is nothing sinister, or even odd, in the fact that more women choose to work in areas primarily dealing with people (caring and nursing being two of the more obvious examples) than do men. Similarly, more men choose mechanics, physics, engineering - where the focus is more on 'things' than people.  Of course, as with all generalisations, there are a great many exceptions and overlaps, but that does not render the generalisation either wrong or useless.

The notion that Western European countries have a special guilt, a unique debt, because of the way history unfolded is muddle-headed nonsense, and I refuse to feel guilty, let alone apologetic, for events outside my control, which happened many generations ago, and which there is an almost total lack of reliable information.   Certainly it is possible that a distant relative of mine profited from the slave trade. One could easily construct a narrative where that ill-gotten wealth went on to benefit my ancestors at the expense of other worthy citizens.  But is this what might have happened? Possibly.   However, it is equally easy to construct a narrative where that same distant relative was a slave, not a slaver.  In fact, if one goes back far enough, this becomes a near certainty, just as it is almost certain that an English person, born here sometime in the last 60 years, will be related by blood to King Edward III  (1312-1377).  In fact an internet acquaintance of mine has done some interesting work on this very issue, and he estimates the probability at over 99% (you can check his work HERE).

The simple fact is that if we go back to the period of slavery, the huge majority of people live lives of pain, suffering and hardship.  The difference in power between an ordinary man and woman of that time, or between a white and black man or woman, was very small compared to the difference between those from the ruling classes and everyone else. Of course I am not trying to minimise slavery, but the slave trade is hardly a general issue of black vs white skin colour.

Slavery has a long, inglorious history from earliest recorded history. When Europeans started expanding and colonising in the 17th Century, slavery was a routine part of life in many parts of Africa and Asia. There were well established routes and markets for the trade, which the Europeans were only too glad to exploit. Before then, most Europeans were effectively slaves themselves.  The system of feudalism in Britain, and other parts of Europe, meant that the average man or woman (serf) had masters and mistresses (the Nobility), with as much power of life and death over them as enjoyed by any slave owner.   Serfs were forced to work for their rulers in return for subsistence, and they had little or no recourse to law, politics or other potential levers of power.  Life expectancy was equally short for slaves and serfs. The best estimates I can find place the average longevity of US Slave Blacks at 21.4 years of age in 1850, with the average longevity for Whites at 25.5. Similarly, the study reports more slaves than whites died of old age” between 1853 and 1860 in four Virginia counties.

Please be clear - I am certainly no apologist for slavery, and I am not saying that slaves were treated similarly to working whites of the time.  I am saying, however, that the current ideologically driven, and hugely over-simplistic story, relies far too heavily on retrospective morality/ethics.   Of course slavery is unthinkable, abhorrent, to people of our era. Morality - public and personal - shifts over time and space and for the last few centuries our sense of what is moral/ethical has changed radically.  To a Brit, in medieval times (say the 13th or 14th  Century)  one was born into a particular position/station in life, and that was where one stayed.  There was no concept of equality - the idea was laughable. Farmers were best at farming, farriers at shoeing horses, coopers at making barrels and Lords were best at the nobby stuff - trade, war and similar.  This model was sometimes known as the divine chain of being, the basic idea being that there was a hierarchy of beings between Satan at the bottom and God at the top. Part of it is reproduced below.

ChainOfBeing

 

Slavery in Britain, as in most other places, has a long murky history. We certainly know that during the Roman occupation slavery was quite normal, and we can be fairly sure that the practice stretches back well beyond British history itself.   The Romans left at the end of the 5th century and England began a long decline, lasting 8 centuries. By the end of the 11th century slavery was a thing of the past in Britain. Previously slaves, the working people had now risen to the status of serf.  The practical differences were few.  Like the later chattel slaves, serfdom relied on a mixture of debt bondage and indentured servitude.  Like slaves, serfs were the property of the feudal lord. He could buy and sell serfs as required - though they were generally sold only when the land they worked was also sold.  Serfs had no rights over their own bodies, they could not leave the land they were bound to, and they could marry only with their Lord's permission. Many of the accepted practices of that time, and later times, would seem to us barbaric, uncivilised and cruel - just as does slavery - nevertheless it was an accepted practice with wide participation, common to many cultures, regardless of location, ethnicity or other factors.  At this point I'll try to construct an illustrative analogy in order to clarify.

Today a majority of people in Europe eat meat and other animal products routinely. Many of us are aware of some of the ethical/moral issues involved, but there is no general position on the matter in the UK.   Now, I predict that within a generation public attitudes will have changed significantly - driven by practical rather than ethical considerations.  I can easily imagine a descendant of mine, a mere century from now, in 2120,  reading with increasing disbelief and horror about the diet of her ancestors.  The idea that they used to eat the rotting flesh of animals would, I venture, be regarded as comparable to murder or even cannibalism. The objections would be entirely ethical/moral and there would be no disagreement that carnivorous humans are morally bad people, as well as sickeningly perverted and depraved. I suggest that the very idea would be enough to make an average citizen feel extremely queesy - maybe even to vomit.  So, what started as a practical issue (the need for more food globally and the fact that rearing animals for food is immensely inefficient and, often, extremely damaging to the environment)  would by this time have become a purely moral/ethical issue  (many vegetarians today, of course, might well argue that the 22nd century relative was exactly correct). So within a century, a common practice, regarded by most as mostly not a moral/ethical issue, has evolved into a completely taboo behaviour, with huge moral/ethical judgements attached to anyone involved in the practice.  So is the present non-vegetarian a morally reprehensible creature of debauched character, coarse and barely human sensibilities and a world-view that could be described as horrific, barbarous and cruel ? Maybe ... some thinkers believe this to be true (such as philosopher Peter Singer), but most people would demur, I suspect.   I also suspect that much of what we now consider moral/ethical issues had their origins in similarly practical and pragmatic considerations. 

Two final examples will, I hope, illustrate the problem with applying contemporary notions of morality/ethics to situations far removed in space and/or time. 

In 17th and 18th century Europe, a popular indoor and outdoor pastime was burning cats.  People of the 1770s thought it entirely harmless fun, during any lull in a public entertainment, to stuff a dozen cats into a net and raise them onto a prepared pyre or bonfire before setting them alight and roaring with laughter at the distress and suffering.  This practice occurred in the rougher venues, but it was also common amongst the higher social classes.  Indeed Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603) burned a large number of cats alive as part of her coronation celebration.   To us this seems inhumanely cruel and immoral, but the folk in the 1600s and 1700s would genuinely not have been able to see the problem.

This time the distance is geographic, not chronographic.  If we consider general practices and attitudes in two countries today we can still see huge differences in both practice and theory of morally correct and incorrect  behaviour.  When one steps off the plane in any reasonably sized Chinese town/city, there is an odd low pitched growling sound which is everywhere. You might look round for workmen, speakers, or some other source of noise. It is actually produced by thousands and thousands of Chinese people hawking-up the snot and mucus from their throats and spitting it onto the street. Most Chinese people regard handkerchiefs as filthy germ repositories. Spitting out phlegm/mucus is considered the hygienic way to deal with the matter and they do with relish.  As you walk further down the street, you are quite likely to see the parents of a toddler suddenly pick them up, drop the child's pants and hold them over the gutter so that they can defecate.  I kid you not - this is very widespread behaviour and nobody I met considered it out of the ordinary.

Now you may well insist that these differences are so extreme that there must be deep historical, cultural history at work - and you would be correct.

Cats, to start at the top, were widely seen as satanic creatures - companions to devils and familiars to witches. People regarded the torture and killing of such devil-creatures to be almost a moral imperative, and saw nothing cruel or morally questionable in the act.

Ironically the Chinese probably invented the cloth handkerchief, around 1100 BCE, but they used it as a head-covering rather than a germ-catcher. We know that the Romans were big users of linen squares called Sudaria  (sweat cloths), which were used to wipe the face during bathing or strenuous exercise.  Over time these evolved into favours and tokens used during the gladiator games to show support for a particular man or team.  By the end of the 17th century, handkerchiefs were widespread in Europe. They were mostly a fashion accessory, made from expensive silks, dyed beautifully and embossed with gold and silver. They were certainly not for wiping parts of the anatomy - some were so valuable that they formed major bequests and inheritances through families.  As for using handkerchiefs as rags to wipe the nose and stifle coughs and sneezes - this usage is relatively modern. It dates to World War I.   An American company developed a product called cellucotton, which was supposed to act as a substitute for scarce cotton. Cellucotton was served to soldiers as towels for hygiene and for treating their wounds.  The Spanish Flu pandemic at the end of the war encouraged the use of this Cellucotton to catch and dispose of mucus and fine particles during sneezing and coughing. Several companies went on to develop the product further - using a range of materials to offer the optimum 'wiping' experience.  All of this development and evolution completely bypassed China, so the handkerchief remained a covering to protect the head.

So, you might ask, what am I getting at?  Two main points. 

Firstly, the notion that evangelical media producers can push their agenda through their work is, in the highest degree, suspect.  As we see above, cultural behaviours and norms evolve over time.  The number and complexity of factors is such that any attempt to engineer a particular change is extremely unlikely to produce the planned result. As a simple example, consider trying to make a video which later goes viral, thus earning plenty of wonga. A huge number of people want to do this and there are a large number of people trying, at any particular time.  What we see, in reality, however, is that such attempts nearly always fail, and we get no nearer to modelling this phenomenon, despite the huge resources being allocated to the problem.  What these woke writers and producers actually accomplish is both easy and predictable. They basically kill the franchise in question by putting politics above plot, characterisation and internal consistency.  Established fans are, naturally, horrified and, when their criticisms are ignored, or even presented as evidence of their bigotry, the former fans do what most of us do in such situations - they stop watching and basically cut the show or franchise out of their lives.  This is what we see with all the recent woke productions out there - Star Wars, Star Trek, pretty much all of the Marvel superhero films, the Doctor Who TV series....and on and on.  The snappy phrase associated with this is  Get Woke, Go Broke! And, of course, sooner or later the bottom lines will indeed force a change of direction, no matter how resolute the writers and producers in their determination to make the audience into little SJW clones. When the product is failing to make money - and in some cases actually losing very large sums, there is only a limited period before those providing the capital stop doing so. 

The second point is simply that the notion central to this sort of wokeness is that those who are truly woke are operating on a higher ethical/moral plane than everyone else. Their judgements about what is right and wrong are taken as axioms - things which are self-evidently correct, with no need for evidential or logical/rhetorical support.  In this regard the modern wokerati are very similar to members of a fundamentalist church. Their core beliefs and practices are dictated by beliefs which can never be properly tested and which we know to contain central errors and distortions, and yet which are held to be inerrant and obviously correct. To the woke, it is obvious that women are being oppressed and that this is largely done by men and/or representatives of a global power-elite (the Patriarchy) which uses its power to maintain male supremacy and female subservience. To the non-woke like me, this is nothing more than a conspiracy theory on the grandest scale, with almost no reasonable supporting evidence (other than reports of the 'lived experience' of feminists, which is conveniently held to be the only valid opinion).  Contrary opinion is held by the woke to be not only wrong, but actually immoral. The religious amongst them would be reaching for the words sinand evilat this point, whilst the more secular misuse other terms of abuse - Nazi, fascist, sexist, racist, transphobe,  rape apologist .... and so on. They will also make determined efforts to stop such opinions being expressed.  The academic wokerati have carefully butchered the language, so now words can be regarded as acts of violence. This allows them to plead 'self defence' when they resort to suppression, illegality and violence (which has been a feature of the behaviour of various woke groups, including Black Lives Matter, Anti-Fa, and several feminist groups). Apparently the philosophy of wokeness requires protection from counter-argument and criticism - just as we have seen historically with nearly all religious groups.  Many of the academics driving this dangerous twaddle are, surely, well aware that their views cannot survive serious scrutiny, and that many of their assertions are not just wrong but embrace concepts which, in all other people, would immediately be declared bigotted and harmful.

A central axiom of the woke is the notion that people should be taken seriously, listened to, allowed to express opinions and make contributions to wider debate, ONLY based on certain arbitrarily selected and defined characteristics (such as gender, skin colour, sexuality etc.).  This is simple bigotry - be it racism, sexism, heterophobia or whatever else.  This is so obvious that they have made determined efforts to change the language in order to obfuscate their hypocrisy.  Racism and sexism, they announce, can only be practiced by members of the 'majority' - the imagined patriarchy.   Only members of minorities can be oppressed, they assert, and since racism and sexism require oppression to occur, it follows that those who can claim membership of one or more minority groups, can deny charges of bigotry. They are free to direct bigotted, offensive, and frequently very childish, abuse at the majority - straight white men - without fear of consequence.  The wokerati duly write and shout their misandry and racism to the world, whilst pointing at a bunch of hastily re-written dictionaries of sociology which, they assert, prove that they are not just entitled, but actually morally required, to spout their bile. They assault opponents physically, try to get them sacked or punished by employers, and they use social media to organise supporters to bully and harass their opponents. If they are challenged, they will immediately assert that their victims are actually oppressors and members of a group which all wokerati agree defines them as morally inferior, if not actually evil. They are simply fighting against oppression and this means that their deeds - though indistinguishable from the actions of confirmed bigots - are actually to be encouraged and praised. 

This dangerous and, frankly, pretty disgusting world-view is widespread in our centres of education, our mass media, our political classes, and many important organisations in the hi-tech information technology business (such as Microsoft, Apple and, especially, Google). Free Speech is only supported where it doesn't hurt feelings (since they have redefined the language to ensure that hurting feelings is violence). 

It is weird to many of us that the left - our own political home - now advocates shutting down debate and trying to silence any opinion which cannot be reconciled with their own twisted, childishly simplistic and amazingly authoritarian world-view. The beliefs expressed by many of the wokerati are indistinguishable from real fascism. There is the same insistence on group over individual, on state goals over individual freedoms, on censorship over free expression, on re-education of opponents rather than the tried and tested method of engagement and debate, believing that such a process of thesis and antithesis will lead to progress in the form of a new improved synthesis. We see a return to using a small, rather unimportant and very arbitrary set of physical characteristics to classify people - something that many of us fought during the 70s, 80s and 90s, when we believed and hoped that such behaviour was well along the road to extinction within a generation or so.  That progress has been first halted and now reversed.  We have returned to a position in which we once again use skin colour, sexuality, marital status, gender preference, sexual orientation and/or religious affiliation as the primary means to classify people. 

How depressing....

 

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