Sunday, August 13, 2006


In a previous post, I suggested that – if you have any sense at all left – that you should get hold of Pierre Bourdieu’s ‘On Television and Journalism’. There is no better time to do so. When I read it the first time (in 1998, when I was suffering the kind of sleep deprivation that baby twins can inflict on you), I had one major criticism.

Not only does Bourdieu refer to his book as a critical analysis. He also calls offers a solution: “…collective negotiations with journalists towards some sort of a contract…”

And it’s a huge weakness that undermines the rest of his case. Exhortation is usually a lazy alternative to the construction of a sustainable social force, and this issue offers no real exception.

In identifying a group of people who are entirely enslaved by the process of ‘demagogic simplification’ that he sketches so persuasively, and then suggesting that they act as agents for change, does not look like much of a plan.

At least, that’s what I thought in 1998. But since then, something has happened. The blogosphere has changed a good deal of this. The ‘demagogic simplifiers’ are finding themselves being ‘fisked’ daily. New historical perspectives that reflect a less crude materialism - such as those found in the Euston Manifesto for example - are being advanced at the expense of the “political microcosm” advanced by the worthless commentators that dominate public debate.

Were Bourdieu alive today, I suspect that he would have been able to look at the way that the blogosphere operates. He would have found his agents for change in Slugger O’Toole, and in bloggers such as Shuggy, Norm, Tom, Chris, and many others. He would have, I hope, agreed with me that phenomena such as Comment is Free represent an attempt to co-opt the blogosphere into becoming part of the same old same-old. And that such co-option was pushing at a few open doors – whether it’s Iain or Guido (our aspiring talk-show hosts) continually wanking onto the cracker that is ‘the political microcosm’ (the winner has to eat it and take a job on one of the dead trees). Or those bloggers that allow themselves to be carried along by the populist Chomskyite bullshit that passes for dissent these days.

In short, a new social force is being constructed gradually. And the attempts by the MSM to co-opt this force – I would argue – are unlikely to succeed. Most bloggers, I would suggest, find it irksome to be expected to go over to someone else’s space and make it work for them. When the excellent OpenDemocracy project was starting up, it aimed not only to provide an editorial venture that remained uncompromised by ‘the prejudices of the proprietor that the advertisers don’t object to*’, it also aimed to build a global discussion community.

At the time, I felt that one of its weaknesses was that people wanted to have a space that was identifiably their own – and the blogosphere has done that subsequently (much to OpenDemocracy’s benefit, I’m glad to say). If OpenDemocracy hasn’t been able to co-opt the global commentariat, how on earth can big media expect to do so?

And in bringing up Chomsky, I suspect Bourdieu will have been laughing in his coffin when Prospect magazine selected the exponent of “one of the most perverse forms of academic pedantry” as our ‘greatest public intellectual.

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