Discrimination and Popular Culture was one of those fabulous blue covered Pelican socal science paperbacks. It was first published in 1964 and a second edition came out in 1973. It contained several essays by various authors on topics such as Televsion and Radio, Pop Music, and this still pertinent, perhaps even more so today, section comes from Graham Martin’s essay on The Press.
The unscrupulous paper says: ‘this is a true picture of the world – ignore other versions as false, irrelevant, or boring.’ Nothing is easier than to couple this message, daily dramatized in the whole typographical and verbal structure of the paper, with hearty declarations about freedom of comment. Unrelated to a world of events in which both reader and opinion have a significant role, this freedom is meaningless. In this context, opinions are never ‘relevant’, ‘convincng’, ‘well or badly supported’, but ‘fearless’, ‘provocative’, ‘challenging’, which, havng nothing to do with action, they can well afford to be.
The real key to the political influence of such papers lies neither in the opinions they propagate, nor in the attitudes which, in their preoccupation with ‘human interest’, they endorse or actively feed. It lies in the implication that without their colourful intervention there is no meaningful relationship between the events which they dramatize and the readers for whom the show goes on. In this respect, their ‘style’ has a hidden content. It speaks for readers whom it takes to be politically disenfranchised, for whom the news of polical events is not about a world in which they feel they can meaningfully act. This is the more subtle form of political manipulation since it imposes on the reader an assumption of which he remains unaware. It also makes it easer to speak on his behalf. It is, in sum, the modern way of ‘forming and supplying the opinions of the people’.
Between the illigitimate politics of the ‘populars’ and the newspaper whose primary function is to ‘entertain’, there are certain differences. If the political manipulator entertains, this is always less for its own sake than as a tacit bribe to the reader for allowng himself now and agan to be violently jerked in a definite political direction. But when ‘entertainment’ (i.e. profit) is the goal, political material is both reduced in quantity, and subordinate in place. Typographical devices often submerge what there is into other material; or seperate it off altogether from the major interests of sport, gossip, and crime. In the tabloid presentation, ‘entertainment’ assimilates everythng into a fictional melodrama. Symbolized in the paper’s ‘personality’, the reader becomes the hero of an endless tale, subjecting the world of ‘them’ (i.e. everything whch the rhetoric cannot reduce) to magcal defeats and rejections. What the defenders of the tabloid manner seem incapable of understanding is that theirs is not ‘just a way of puttng it’ – a real victory for the newspaper’s political role under unrewardng circumstances. Whatever the nobly-educative intentions of the speaker, if this is his idiom then the effective content of his message shrinks and coarsens accordingly. Few issues, at any level, can survive this. Is it not better in this situation to abandon the pretence at anything resembling the political role, and admit to the guiding assumption that the audience in question fnds the world of serious politics meaningless because it has no direct continuous participation? In effect, of course, precisely this admission gets made when apologists answer crtics by denying the relevance of extensive political reporting to the audience. On the other hand, with issues that engage the direct interest of the owner the ‘tabloid’ handling becomes indistinguishable from that of the political manipulator.