A few years ago there was a minor public outcry when
the BBC admitted to spending millions on the evening news’
opening graphics. These 10 second bursts of visual expensiveness
were apparently intended to convey a sense of importance,
authority and restrained urgency, so the viewers at home would
sit up and pay attention.
Judging from this ultra-high spending, TV bosses are anxious
to have their news programmes taken seriously. This has led
to a presentation of the news which, in its fanfare and gloss,
is similar to professionally staged business seminars and
political conferences. Unlike those events, however, TV news
isn’t meant to be about persuading, hypnotising or dazzling
an audience – so why spend millions on its presentation?
Well, for one thing it costs money to create a convincing
illusion. The news presents one of the most impressive magic
tricks since the Emperor’s New Clothes. The illusion
is of a serious, businesslike, adult world – economics, politics,
stock market indexes and inflation rates – full of “experts”
and presided over by “The Authorities”. Naturally we feel
powerless as individuals to influence this world since it
can be accessed only on TV. The slick presentation of the
illusion – immaculate suits, gleaming studios, intimidating
presenters and those costly visuals – has the effect of reducing
most (relatively shabby) viewers to a state of infantile awe
and low self-esteem.
This news world is built on “conventional wisdom” – ie “adult”
assumptions and clichés which can’t be questioned, because
to do so would be an admission of foolishness or childlike
innocence. Presenters and pundits obviously like to be seen
as authoritative, so they tend to fall back on safe assumptions
rather than explore unknown areas and risk looking naive.
Unfortunately, it’s precisely this lack of naivety and innocence
which leads to the stagnation of media debate. These childlike
qualities are valuable – they have the potential to embarrass
the “experts” and expose the banality behind the adult gloss.
For example, a child might ask: “why is Daddy always so
tired and sad when he comes home from work?”. No economics
pundit has ever provided a satisfactory answer to that question.
Taking such “childish” questions as an inspiring starting
point, I’ve compiled my own list of “naive” questions and
“foolish” answers which I’d like to see featured on a serious
news or current affairs show:
Naive Question: Is school education
a good thing?
Foolish Answer: Yes. It’s producing
exactly what society needs: economically frightened clones
ready to slot straight into low-paid menial jobs.
Naive Question: Do we have
to be tough on crime?
Foolish Answer: Without crime
there’d be no need for police, lawyers, courts or prisons.
That would mean mass unemployment and the end of society as
we know it. The “tough on crime” policy is okay as long as
it doesn’t reduce crime.
Naive Question: Does advertising
make any sense?
Foolish Answer: The huge number
of car commercials on TV makes no sense at all. How can the
UK market for new cars be big enough to justify that amount
of advertising? It’s not as if everyone can afford a new car
– most people have trouble paying their electricity bills.
The saturation advertising for Amoy noodles is similarly puzzling.
Naive Question: Is the “free
market” a good thing?
Foolish Answer: Many people claim
the existing system is not a “free market” but “Monopoly Capitalism”
based on protection rackets (eg land ownership) and usury
(eg banking). This apparently goes back to the Bronze Age,
when spear-wielding thugs extracted rent from peaceful settlements.
These ancient thugs were the first land “owners” (and the
first land “lords”, barons and kings). The people they exploited
and turned into slaves were the true wealth creators – they
grew the food, raised the livestock, made the tools and built
Naive Question: Why do adherents
of the “free market” support the BBC?
Foolish Answer: The market can
be trusted to provide our water, food, transport, electricity,
gas, communications and refuse disposal, but it can’t be trusted
to provide our television programmes. We need the BBC for
Naive Question: Why does the
BBC compete for viewers?
Foolish Answer: It seems that
the BBC is pretending to be part of the competitive market,
possibly to disguise the fact that, with its public hand-out
funding, it’s essentially the country’s largest welfare recipient.
Naive Question: The BBC allegedly
employs 2000 journalists. What do they all do?
Foolish Answer: That will probably
remain a mystery.
Naive Question: Is crime the
biggest concern people have?
Foolish Answer: Statistically,
people are more concerned about their dentist appointments
than about crime.
Naive Question: If
TV reflects real-life concerns, why do crime shows outnumber
dentistry shows by a thousand to one?
Foolish Answer: Exactly! And why
do TV shows never feature landlords or bankers?
Naive Question: Nobody seems
to care when neighbours’ burglar alarms go off. Would it help
to restore our sense of civic duty if the alarms had a louder,
more piercing sound?
Foolish Answer: Research indicates
there would be an increase in violent incidents due to noise-related
Naive Question: Is food safe?
Foolish Answer: If manufacturers
can’t prevent traces of nuts getting into food, then what
other contaminants can get in? To restore public faith in
the honesty of the food producers, warning labels should be
extended to say: “may contain traces of nuts, rat faeces,
rat urine, rat parts, dead insects, live insects, human effluvia,
human skin, human hair, toenails, fingernails and assorted
dormant and active bacteria of known and unknown origin.”
Naive Question: Should we teach
children to be competitive (putting self first), or to be
considerate (putting others first)?
Foolish Answer: Both. Then we
should teach them the importance of behavioural consistency.
Naive Question: Are money makers
the real heroes of society?
Foolish Answer: “Making money”
shouldn’t be confused with “creating wealth”. Real wealth
is what supports and enhances human life, whereas money is
just numbers in a database. Many wealth creators (inventors,
artists, mothers, etc) are penniless, and many money makers
are useless bloodsuckers.
Naive Question: Are banks friendly,
like in the adverts?
Foolish Answer: Banks make large profits
from “unauthorised overdraft” charges. Credit card companies
make large profits from “late payment” fees. But they tell
us not to go overdrawn or pay late. So they’re fucking with
our heads while they rob us blind. But otherwise they’re friendly.
Naive Question: Is it really
cheating if athletes use performance-enhancing substances?
Foolish Answer: Only if the substances
are ingested. It’s not considered cheating to enhance performance
with anything worn or surgically implanted (muscle grafts,
organ transplants, bionic limbs, etc).
Naive Question: Why have breakfast
cereals adopted sensible names (eg “Sustain”, “Perfect Balance”,
“Just Right” and “Advantage”)?
Foolish Answer: Because marketing
consultants determined that 51% of cereal consumers have anal
fixations about diet, health and fitness. Watch out for forthcoming
name changes: Bran Flakes to “Nice ’n’ Regular”
and Frosties to “Blood-Glucose Boost”.
Naive Question: Why are there
so many beggars in a booming economy like Britain?
Foolish Answer: It pays more,
and humiliates less, than work in telesales.
Naive Question: Is there anything
bad about full employment?
Foolish Answer: Not
if you’re happy to condemn half the population to minimum-wage
slavery, flushing creative potential down the economic toilet,
so a politician can tell the country how prudent he is. Or
to quote Henry Hazlitt: “Hitler provided full employment.
Prisons and chain gangs have full employment. Coercion can
always provide full employment.”
Naive Question: How much does
it cost to create a job?
Foolish Answer: The New Deal cost over £5bn, and
has created 50,000 jobs which otherwise wouldn’t exist. That
means each job created cost the taxpayer £100,000.
Naive Question: If labour-saving
technology is getting better and cheaper, why are corporate
employees working longer hours?
Foolish Answer: Because
Naive Question: Is it true
that hard work never hurt anybody?
Foolish Answer: According to a government
report (Mental Health & Stress in the Workplace), working
over 48hrs per week doubles the risk of coronary heart disease.
Naive Question: Why do successful
business people want less regulation and smaller government?
Foolish Answer: Ironically, big
business depends on a complex legal framework and a powerful
state apparatus (to enforce the laws under which businesses
and lawyers prosper). Business people don’t really want less
regulation and smaller government – they just want less state
interference in their own activities. They’re quite
happy to see everybody else (particularly the less well off)
be regulated and controlled. Many business people love the
US system, where the government is powerful enough to fill
the prisons with millions of relatively harmless people who
are then available to corporations as cheap, captive labour.
Naive Question: Is unemployment
high or low at the moment?
Foolish Answer: When governments talk
about their performance in managing the economy, unemployment
is “low”. But when they talk of “cracking down on dependency
culture” or “getting tough on the workshy”, unemployment is
Naive Question: Why is welfare
spending so high?
Foolish Answer: The
total yearly UK welfare budget is £99bn. Roughly half of that
goes on pensions. The amount spent on pensions is increasing
because the population is getting older. Only £5bn is spent
annually on unemployment benefits. The amount spent on unemployment
decreased by £1bn over the last year. As a cost comparison,
bear in mind that a new British-US fighter plane has a development
price-tag of £250bn.
Naive Question: Why should
people get pensions?
Foolish Answer: The cost of state
pensions is huge, yet there is widespread poverty amongst
old people. Many elderly people are able-bodied, so let’s
put them to work. There’s no excuse for laziness and dependence
– if they can use a phone or walk a dog, they can take jobs
in telesales or supermarket trolley shepherding.
Naive Question: Who really
wants strong leaders?
Foolish Answer: Only sexually repressed
people want strong leaders (according to psychologists).