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Morley's Fun Page

It's fun to have your worldview shaped by unknown forces

The issues that modern nations face are not issues that an individual can easily come to their own independent conclusions on.

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If someone asks me how much a duck weighs, I can go down to the park with a set of scales and carry out my investigation. If someone asks me if there's too many ducks, I can have a good think about my relationship to the ducks, how their moist down felt in my arms as I coddled its 1.05 kilogram body. Then I can respond "more ducks please" if I'm kind, or "cull, cull, cull" in a low, sonorous chant if I've become evil.

However, if someone asks me if there's too much CO2 in the atmosphere or what's behind the crisis in the NHS, I can't work those problems out on my own. Me, a set of scales and a dayrider just aren't going to cut it. Somewhere along the line I become reliant on someone else to dole out the requisite info into my waiting skull.

The sheer volume of information required to understand the world adds increased significance and demand to those who can aggregate and dispense up-to-date data: newspapers, news programmes, the guy at the end of the Wetherspoons bar with printouts of chemtrails he's seen over Rother Valley.

Most of these news sources have huge structural problems, be they owned by billionaires, beholden to advertisers, drawn into a symbiotic relationship with power whereby they trade favourable coverage in return for access to information - or you've watched them down three prints of Abbott Ale before they spark up a conversation about flouride in the water.

Media organisations are often beholden to incentives other than dispensing true and accurate information to the public. If you are driven by sales, you may boost these sales by sensationalising your news stories. If you rely on interviews with politicians, you don't want to upset them because there is nothing stopping them cancelling future interviews. If your newspaper is owned by a billionaire who offshores money in the Cayman Islands, then it's likely covering tax havens is off the table.

Even if you don't directly consume this information, there are so few news outlets in Britain with such a grip on the national consciousness that it can still seep through.

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Imagine if for one week, every TV show contained a scene in which one of the principal characters thrust their hand directly into an open flame, stared directly down the lens and said in a calm measured tone, "It doesn't hurt. Actually, it feels good." You wouldn't get to the end of Tuesday without seeing people with burnt hands who get awfully cagey when you ask what happened.

Imagine this went on for weeks. There'd come a point where even if you didn't watch TV yourself you'd just burn your own hand for an easy life. There's nothing wrong with wanting to fit in.

In 1967, Paul McCartney admitted to taking LSD in an interview with Life Magazine. Shortly after, he conducted an interview with ITN in which the interviewer accuses him of spreading the message of drugs out into the public. McCartney's counter is that he just told one person and yet every media outlet is amplifying that message and spreading it through their own platforms, even the very interview in which he's saying this is being used to amplify the message further. If it was so egregious that the public knows that I've taken LSD, why is every press and media outlet putting it on their front pages? The interviewer seems to have some kind of cognitive or professional inability to grapple with this idea and the interview lurches forward without acknowledging it.

Nothing has really changed since then. There's no acknowledgement of responsibility in the media industry. They live to pump news without blinking, without slowing. There's a new racist party? Let's get them in the studio. Climate change? Let's get a denialist on for balance. A terrorist attack? Send the camera crews down there now while we put out a report based on almost nothing. The antichrist has emerged? Great, let's get camera two on them now. Let's hear what they have to say. The seas have run red with blood? Perfect. Let's get some drone footage. The leviathan has awoken? Incredible news. Can we find someone living in rural Suffolk who's prepared to say it hasn't?

Everything must be covered, packaged, distributed to every home in the land. The events of the day, regurgitated through the esophagus of a central London idolatrous newsbeast, funnelled and dolloped onto your laps of your parents until their bodies are distended and ripe - ready to be sacrificed on the altar of news.

Next article in issue 142

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