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The BBC's Fake Scandals

The Fake Scandal of the BBC’s Fake Phone-ins

(06 October 2007)

So, have you been following the scandal over the BBC’s fake phone-ins? Of course, the real scandal is the shockingly poor quality of most of the BBC’s output, the dumbed-down drivel that dominates the schedules, the ludicrously over-inflated salaries paid to second rate chat-show hosts like Jonathan Ross, the outrageous promotion of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s commercial operations via shows like How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria? and Any Dream Will Do!, and the bumbling, stuttering, toe-curlingly embarrassing performances of Director General Mark Thompson whenever he makes a media appearance.

This situation bears all the hallmarks of the type of synthetic controversy characterised by the late, great French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. He famously asserted that one of the most notorious scandals – Watergate – was a simulation of scandal for regenerative ends. He maintained that capitalism had rendered America rotten to the core and Nixon hadn’t done anything that wasn’t fully consistent with the unscrupulous, double-dealing, win-at-all-costs nature of the prevailing culture. Rather than face up to the immorality of their society, and the scandalous inequalities and iniquities all around them, the American people chose to manufacture a scandal over a bungled, clumsy, ineffectual non-event. By hyperventilating over this nonsense and sacrificing their president, they believed they had lanced the corruption and redeemed their nation. Of course, nothing had actually changed: the underlying system hadn’t altered one iota. But the fake outrage had done its job perfectly.

Periodically, capitalist societies pretend to be scandalised in order to persuade themselves that they are still linked to morality, that they still have some right to be scandalised. Yet how can our modern culture of binge-drinking, binge-eating, porn, drugs, tabloid newspapers, reality TV, soap operas, hyper consumerism, celebrity culture, the worship of crass materialism, be scandalised by anything? If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that nothing shocks us any more. We have no shame. We invent scandals to maintain the illusion that we have standards and are still capable of being scandalised.

The chosen scandals are usually trivial and a distraction. Look at the recent cash for honours brouhaha. Think of the amount of coverage given to this sideshow while the real scandals – the war in Iraq, the out-of-control greed of the superrich, the education system that doesn’t educate, the burgeoning underclass, the collapse of law and order in many parts of the nation, the cretinous celebrity culture, the slavish pursuit of the pleasure principle, the moronic values promoted by tabloid newspapers and soap operas, the mindless consumerist imperative etc – are conveniently ignored.

Laughably, no one was even prosecuted at the end of the cash-for-honours non-scandal. Yet there will be people who claim that the UK has demonstrated its moral integrity by subjecting even a prime minister to a police interview. Some will claim that the BBC, by virtue of the measures it took against those directly responsible for the fake incidents, has purified itself and restored the high standards set by Lord Reith. Do you see the trick? The smokescreen has been successfully deployed, the scapegoat has worked. The people are reassured that all is well. We can all pretend to be moral again. Yet not a thing, not asubstantive thing, has changed.

If the recent events at the BBC were so outrageous, why didn’t Mark Thompson resign? It all happened on his watch, after all. If he’s not responsible for the corrupt culture then who is? Yet by holding an inquiry and by suspending a few patsies Thompson survives. But it’s too trivial to get worked up about. Why pick on Thompson to walk the plank? Why not practically every CEO in the country? All of them are a disgrace. Their greed and relentless pursuit of their self-interest is destroying our country and no one’s paying any attention.

We have self-confessed drug abusers in the Cabinet legislating against drug abuse and asking us to uphold the law that they themselves chose to flout. There are judges who smoked cannabis and took cocaine at their public schools sending young black men from Brixton to jail for smoking cannabis and taking cocaine. How can anyone take these judges seriously? How can they keep a straight face when they’re making their absurd pronouncements? Where is their shame?

Baudrillard claimed that the Kennedys were assassinated because they were the last politicians of substance. The later presidents were ‘nothing but caricatures and fake film’. Aren’t all of our Cabinet ministers caricatures and fake film? Isn’t Mark Thompson? Why are we still falling for the cheap conjuring trick of the fake scandal? Many companies would probably have promoted the BBC’s suspended managers for demonstrating initiative and fast thinking. In fact, it was probably their risk-taking, dynamic qualities and determination to succeed that got them promoted in the first place. Now they’ve being penalised for the very things that won them their jobs.

Nixon would never have become president if he wasn’t the sort of person capable of Watergate. The people voted for him knowing exactly what sort of person he was then got rid of him when he proved to be precisely that person. His greatest offence was being caught, of course, and that’s the most glaring characteristic of fake scandals. Nixon wasn’t kicked out of office for carpet-bombing Cambodia but for trying to cover up a preposterous break in. He was toppled by a fake scandal. The real scandals remained uncensured. This is the function of fake scandals – to allow the genuine scandals to be overlooked.

When it comes to the BBC, our outrage should focus on how its output is indistinguishable from the lowest-common-denominator programming of commercial TV. We should clamour for hundreds of senior managers to be fired for producing dross, instead of worrying about a handful of unlucky ones who happened to get caught performing tricks that were rife throughout the industry. Thompson should resign because the BBC is no longer a beacon of TV quality but a grubby little enterprise infected by a bums-on-seats mentality.

Have you got the message? Ignore the synthetic scandals and look for the real ones. They’re staring you right in the face.