Sunday, 16 March 2008

Newspapers & Social Theory

One of the key problems with journalists is that they are all far too generalist (due to the combination of time pressures, space limitations and journalistic culture). Typically this whinge falls from the mouths of scientist and medical practitioners (The Guardian's ever readable Bad Science column is one effort to add some scientific rigour to the field of journalism) but it also ought to fall from the mouths of sociologists, anthropologists, historians, and every other academic specialism dealing with human group life.
Clear evidence of this bad sociology can be found in Nick Cohen's latest column for the Obs. Cohen was once the reason to read the Observer and it has been painful to watch the decline that has come over his writing in recent years and this comment piece only continues the trend. Watching Cohen grapple with the hegemonic nature of representation in a fashion proper to an E grade A-level media studies student is just painful. The idea that the projected self-image of the dominant group in society has transmuted to include the non-white, non-male, non-straight members of the elite without effecting any actual social change is not a new or complex one. Hegemony is a representational strategy of social power that mobilises representations of different social groups as illegitimate holders of power (because incapable, irrational, or just evil) so as to legitimise the on going dominance of the current elite and the current system of resource distribution. It is after all the point of the elite to deny access to resources to the majority population (we know them as the poor - i.e. any one earning less than median average wages) by any means necessary and representing the poor as chav-scum-benefit-cheats is a mode for manufacturing consent to the continued rule of the elite.
The key point, and the one that Cohen is trying to get to grips with, is that control over resources has always been the requirement of entry into the elite and that the seeming criteria set forth by the elites projected self-image has got nothing to do with it. That image is just a tool for manufacturing consent, it is the image of the social group that ought legitimately to rule not the boundary marker of that group. It is for this reason that all the Pankhursts (bar Sylvia) went onto be such ferocious rightists and sexual hypocrisy is so potentially damaging for members of the elite. It has always been the case that male homosexual sexual hypocrisy has been a problem for the elite because until very recently in our society such actions penetrated the screen of this projected self-image and showed it to be image and only image.
Cohen would be best suited by going back and reading the works of Gramsci before writing any more columns but on the current evidence hoping he watches The Wizard of Oz and pays attention as Dorothy and her companions disobey the orders of the great and powerful Oz to look at that little man behind the curtain is all we can expect.

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