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Sunday, 4 March 2018

I think my TV is broken

I've been talking with people recently about the increasing popularity of ‘long-form’ internet chat shows and wondering: 
a) why this is happening and 
b) why so much of the really interesting political and philosophical content is being produced in America. As far as I can tell, there are very few British equivalents (although I’d be delighted if someone pointed me towards something which would disprove that assertion).

I'm not sure why this seems to be the case, but there are, I think, a couple of ‘broad brushstroke’ observations that could be made. Perhaps because of the way the nation had to win its independence, the American psyche seems more readily tuned to notions of intellectual freedom, particularly to ideas that might, broadly speaking, be described as iconoclastic and /or libertarian (although I realise that these days that, in itself, might be seen by some as a pejorative term). Americans have a positive concept of citizenship which –generally speaking- makes them less inclined to trust centralised authority. 

By contrast, many British folk see themselves as subjects. Our psyche seems more readily tuned to deference and I think this applies as much to institutions and political parties as it does to class. Perhaps as a result of the conditions which prevailed during and after World War 2, our political discourse seems more likely to be framed within implicitly statist concepts and notions. Indeed, some of these have become such articles of faith that many folk appear to be unaware that there might be other ways of thinking about them. To take two obvious examples: Start a thread on any social network questioning the sheer wonderfulness of either the NHS and /or the BBC and you’ll soon encounter something very close to cult-like behaviour (by that, I mean an unwillingness to consider the possibility of any deviation from received views).

I only have an outsider’s superficial grasp of American mainstream media, so I won’t comment on the failings which are causing people on that side of the Atlantic to look elsewhere for nourishment. In the UK, the mainstream channels persist with the pretence of impartiality, a notion that permeates a lot of news content like a bad smell. Just occasionally, political debate ‘red in tooth and claw’ is allowed to break out, but generally speaking, the quality of discourse is dismally shallow.

It is inevitable, once consumers start noticing this, that some will decide to shop around. The popularity of the so-called ‘intellectual dark web’ has come about because people are rejecting the orthodoxies and pieties of the mainstream media, demanding instead content which treats them like adults and which recognises that every story contains degrees of nuance. They want discussion that isn’t stale and managed; they want debate which doesn’t banish some topics to the realm of the forbidden.

With the mainstream media unwilling or unable to provide such a service, some consumers will naturally flock to platforms which allow real conversations, unmediated by spin, to take place between real people. The popularity of these alternative outlets is evidence that there is, after all, an appetite for serious discussion about complicated ideas.

But don't expect mainstream journalists to do anything about it. 
They haven’t even noticed that the television might be broken.

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