Thursday, 2 June 2016

The Gullible Subject: when facts are fiction.

As most trans people know, media coverage about us is still often wildly inaccurate and misleading at best. It is not just TERFs who churn out deliberate disinformation, straw-man arguments, fabricated information and assertions based on zero data, it is the right-wing "christian" fundamentalists, the Tea Party and the like, predictable "libertarian" white males and former celebs engaging in "greering" (v: to desperately try an maintain the media limelight if you are a celebrity has-been). 

These days it appears that ignorance is news, and is presented as knowledge. From Trump to Boris Johnson and Gove, facts are fiction, the truth is an inconvenience, lies work better. Ideology is more important than reality. We are in a world in which, increasingly, the ill-informed and mendacious but headline-grabbing assertion is mainstream media currency. fact-checking seems to be a thing of the past in most media platforms and is treated as an troublesome inconvenience in the rest.

The idea of "balance" has developed into a source of drama in which those with knowledge and insight are set against someone with no knowledge but a bag full of ignorant "commonsense" one-liners. I am truly surprised that we don't have a flat-Earther on TV  telling us how this is all just computer graphics every time Hubble telescope produces images of a new galaxy or some other celestial wonder.

The dangers of this are clear. Already Baudrillard has argued that the distinction between "reality" and our media-manipulated universe is blurred. The dangers of living in a fantasy world have been manifest throughout history, from Easter Island to the Third Reich. The media's quest to produce Gullible Subjects believing whatever they are fed is exemplified by CN Lester's outstanding article in the Independent. The media has mythologised trans people in the same way for a century to the extent that most of what we see there is so far from the varied and richly diverse experiences of trans men, women and non-binary people that it might as well be fictional.

This is how right-wing fictions of trans people have resulted in transphobic "bathroom bills" in conservative states of the US, by preying on the outdated and fictionalised media representation of the trans woman's transformation being only skin-deep.

However for me there are parallels with far greater fictions that continue to threaten humanity's existence and this was exemplified by Barack Obama's recent visit to Hiroshima. As someone with a strong imagination Hiroshima and Nagasaki were both emotionally painful places for me to visit, as was Dachau, but I felt it my duty as a human being to visit the atomic bomb memorials there since I had the opportunity, after all one of my relatives was a victim of Hiroshima; 6 years old at the time, she was permanently sterilised by the effects of radiation.

The horror of the atomic bomb is exemplified by two things in Nagasaki's memorial park. These offerings to shrines for the dead are buckets and bottles of water, because that was the one thing the victims of the blast gasped for, in the hours after the explosion.  The second is the collection of names in many volumes of books piled up high to the ceiling in the quiet memorial building. 170,000 people have died as a result of the atomic attack on Nagasaki. The chilling statistic is that "only" around 60,000 of these had died by the 31 December 1945. The rest died subsequently, and are still dying now. The list grows longer, by a few names still, every year. and probably most of the victims of Nagasaki were not even born until well after 1945.

We live in dangerous times when fictions can lead to disaster on a huge scale.  The fiction that a President Trump would be anything other than an unmitigated disaster for the United States and the world, the fiction that the UK will be better as an isolated island a long way off the coast of Maine, the fiction that someone might someday "win" a nuclear war, the fiction that climate change does not exist, the fiction that we can close our borders to the rest of the world, despite growing numbers of refugees from war, oppression and poverty worldwide.  The fiction that Britain is still a great power, that our historically short-lived empire made us great, or that it served anything other than economic imperialism based on slavery and exploitation. The fiction that there is, or was ever can be any such thing as "independence" for nation-states.

These fictions are carefully cultivated by our media. In the second world war our survival depended on being able to mobilise the country and get everyone to contribute to the war effort. Today the media-political complex needs to maintain public opinion in a state of gullibility ready to be mobilised to accept whatever consent they decide they need to manufacture to maintain neoliberal neocolonial exploitation of others as well as our own citizens. Hence the production of the Gullible Subject fed a constant stream of fictions necessary to maintain him or her in readiness to accept whatever they want to manipulate them to believe at short notice, whether for military adventures or economic vandalism designed to oppress the very people being beguiled into supporting it. Marshall McLuhan described media as "extensions of ourselves",  in reality that means extensions of those who control the mass media that shape our lives and produce the fictions that create and maintain the Gullible Subject. These are the real enemies, the Viscount Rothermeres, the Rupert Murdochs, the Laura Kusenbergs whose production of Gullible Subjects the media-political comples's power depends. It is their ability to control the mass of Gullible Subjects which represents the source of their power, a power which is being dangerously misused by those who know how to hoodwink, delude and ultimately, if necessary betray the masses.

So powerful has this culture of decision and the gullible subject become now however, that it appears to have gained a life of its own as people now engage in campaigns of self-delusion, independent of the mass media, since it is so much easier to hoodwink oneself with comfortable lies than to face the uncomfortable and often depressing realities of the world. If we are ever to take back control, break the spell of the Gullible Subject we need to be clear ourselves about reality and fiction. "The masters tools will never dismantle the master's house."