This June, two important international events vied for news coverage. Despite the fact that one of them was unquestionably more important, being a life-and-death issue affecting millions immediately and the whole world ultimately, it was the other that filled the column inches and airwaves.
While British workers were fed reams of speculation over the state of Wayne Rooney’s foot or the likely impact of David Beckham’s hairstyle on England’s chances of winning the World Cup, little or no airtime was given on news bulletins to coverage of the continuing genocidal assault by Israel on the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank Bantustans.
While English flags waved from houses, pubs and cars; while British workers placed bets or joined office sweepstakes and rushed home to watch the matches, the British ruling class and its executive, the Labour government, continued ‘business as usual’ with the fascist zionist regime. (In one publicised example of this, US planes carrying fresh supplies of bombs to Israel refuelled in British airports.)
Not one minister from the ‘humanitarian’ Labour government felt the need to speak out against the collective punishment being meted out to the Palestinians, whose only crime is to have held, under the barrels of the occupiers’ guns, ‘free and fair’, ‘democratic’ elections (the kind imperialism likes talking about but is not so fond of implementing) and to have had the temerity to elect the ‘wrong’ representatives.
With the honourable exception of Jon Snow, none of the major television or radio broadcasters felt the need to call either the British, the US or the Israeli government to account for its part in maintaining the illegal occupation, persecuting the legitimate resistance and starving the Palestinian population at large, bombing their homes and hospitals, murdering their children and closing their schools. There were no ‘difficult’ questions from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight or John Humphries on Radio 4’s Today about the deliberate cutting off of food, fresh drinking water and electricity to the 1.5 million people of Gaza and the consequent astronomical levels of malnutrition amongst Palestinian children in particular.
Although World Cup vs Starving Palestinians is a particularly horrible and graphic example of the warped and twisted world view our media tries to impose onto British workers, this type of media manipulation, whether by emphasis or omission, is nothing new. One of the main objectives of the imperialist media is to tell us what to think about, and what importance to give to, the various events going on around the world.
The working class in particular is fed a diet of wall-to-wall escapism in an effort to divert it from examining the conditions of its life or getting involved in any movement to change them. Fed up with run-down and overcrowded housing? Read about the Beckhams’ ‘palace’ in Cheshire. Worried about your prospects of ever getting a decent and stable job? Maybe you could get ‘discovered’ on Big Brother or Pop Idol.
So all-pervasive has this world of show-biz celebrity, commercialised sport and general escapism become, that people have forgotten how it started or whose interests it serves. So much so, that even quite politically conscious workers will go along with the popular prejudice that
Beer + Football = Working-Class Culture.
But beer, football and celebrity gossip are not ‘what working people want’ and certainly not what constitutes their culture; they are what working people are systematically fed, pacifiers taking the place of real working-class culture.
The sooner British workers break out of the prison imposed by the bounds of this hollow and mind-numbing alternative to reality, the sooner they will be able to get to grips with the real issues of the day; not Mr Rooney’s goal-scoring prospects, but their own revolution-scoring ones.
To this end, we British could do far worse than follow the example of our republican brothers and sisters in the north of Ireland. They too enjoy a pint and a game, but these activities are a bit of relaxation in the context of the greater struggle, not a substitute for it, and a vibrant culture of debate goes hand-in-hand with a culture – songs, plays, novels, films and art – of resistance to imperialist oppression.