Media moguls and politicians alike prey on mob rule to stir the pot, but there’s still hope for humanity underneath it all.
Nearing the end of this year’s MacTaggart lecture, James Murdoch opined that “people value honest, fearless and above all independent news coverage that challenges the consensus.”
It’s a nice thing for him to say. It’s a universally appealing statement, one that compliments the listener and makes them feel important. Swap out “people” for “I” and read it aloud; involuntarily, you’ll finding yourself nod along as you say it, adding the appropriate emphasis.
Sadly, none of this makes it true.
What Murdoch was doing was, in fact, the absolute opposite of the sentiment that he was expressing. He was playing to the crowd, and at that very moment he was right to do so. He’d just spent a good chunk of his speech maligning the BBC, and Ofcom, and he wanted to wrap up his lecture by saying something positive. It didn’t have to be true. It just had to be bold enough to sit fresh in the hippocampus like a warm, fuzzy peach, something to make people want applaud him out of more than just politeness.
“Rome is the mob,” Gracchus wryly observes in the movie Gladiator, and for all the relevance to the tale itself, his observation might as well have been delivered straight to camera. People didn’t go to see Gladiator for its historical accuracy or the tightly-scripted plot. They went because it’s a loud, brash, and dramatic film, and as a result it made a lot of money.
As a mob, our tastes are distinctly base. The public mind at its very lowest, is greedy, fearful, and obnoxious. For better or for worse, both media and politicians play to that mindset, and in a world where profit margins are thinning down, they are right to do so. Riling up the mob mentality sells newspapers, grabs the viewer’s attention, and earns unique page views.
With so much of the honest and fearless news in the world seemingly dedicated to making us as terrified and angry as possible, is this cause to lose faith in the public’s ability to choose?
I hope not.
I was in the United States for the election last year, and it was with a palpable sense of relief that I witnessed Barack Obama’s victory. As much airtime as the “energised” Republican base had earned for itself, as bad as some of the rhetoric had become, the American public recognised that a calm, reasonable message for unity, personal responsibility and change was the right one to take to heart.
People can value honesty, and fearlessness, if we give them the option to do so. It’s a path I really do hope to see more people taking in the future.
But then again in saying that, maybe I’m just playing to the crowd.