Do we live in extraordinary times? Or are you just as bored as I am?
‘We live in extraordinary times.’
This is the kind of platitude we hear over and over again from our news media. But you only need to watch the news for five minutes to conclude that the only thing extraordinary about this political moment is how extraordinarily boring it is. It seems that, for many of the journalists covering Brexit, the whole tumultuous state of affairs can be boiled down to political theatre, the machinations of parliaments and courts, and inane, constantly altering detail.
If you watch something like (possibly the worst programme the BBC has ever aired) Brexitcast, it quickly becomes clear that the only people who find any of this stuff extraordinary or in the least bit interesting are the reporters who cover it. Their analysis is often nothing more than conjecture in the first place, but through focusing on the technocratic components of greater chaos, these journalists actually seem very much in their element. There is an enduring socio-economic system in place that benefits from journalists examining Brexit in this microcosmic manner, as it prevents the airing of larger, more pertinent discussions, such as: What were the economic conditions that led to this outcome? Do these overarching systems work in the first place
Due to its deep establishment ties, with links to MI5 and the Conservative Party dating back to its formation, the BBC is a significant example of this form of framing. There is a revealing video, available on YouTube, featuring (shining light of BBC impartiality) Andrew Marr interviewing the linguist and social critic Noam Chomsky, in which Chomsky puts it to Marr that his pernicious brand of journalism is not born of malice, but general anodynes and lack of meaningful curiosity: ‘I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying,’ says Chomsky, ‘But what I’m saying is, if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting’. This logic can be equally applied to those covering Brexit; by promoting journalists who are more than happy to get bogged down in tedious and often inconsequential detail, the BBC can shirk its responsibility of addressing the underlying concerns of the taxpayers who fund its continued existence.
The BBC is biased: its bias pertains to the current cultural and political hegemony, and the on-screen and (perhaps more importantly) off-screen personnel it employs are utilised to perpetuate this bias. In the case of Brexit, the BBC uses its supposed impartiality as a veil, focusing on relatively trivial policy, and rarely broaching more contentious issues or deciphering the matrix in which the pseudo-revolution of Brexit developed.
I assume I am not alone in being utterly sick of Brexit (it irks me just to write the word), but I do believe it is a vital democratic exercise. Perhaps the UK just needs to get to the other end of this bizarre catharsis, but as long as outlets such as the BBC are able to frame the debate, it seems unlikely we will ever approach the necessary and profound debate regarding what this really means for the UK.
The truth is we do live in extraordinary times, but they are not extraordinary because of a controversial court ruling, or because of Boris Johnson’s use of language. We live in extraordinary times because the economic systems that have governed the UK and Europe for generations are crumbling. Brexit is just a manifestation of that decrepitude. It is clear that we need an economic alternative. Unfortunately, that is the real political taboo the BBC is unwilling to take seriously.