Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sponsored narratives

Almost all public narratives are sponsored. For centuries life was dominated by narratives sponsored by religious and political elites, although the word sponsored is perhaps a little mild for those rough and ready days.

The only other narratives must have been private local narratives conducted in the home, in the fields or the alehouse away from censorious ears. Mostly forgotten now.

These days the situation is much the same. Virtually every public narrative is politically or commercially sponsored although that particular dividing line has become blurred. Sponsored religious narratives are less common than they were. Sponsored academic narratives may or may not have political or commercial backers, but this is a complex area.

Sponsored narratives aren't necessarily false or even misleading, but sponsorship casts a shadow over their veracity. It corrodes the altruistic possibilities of human discourse, inserts covert sympathies, manipulates emotions and loyalties, inserts the levers of power into the very heart of our language. 

Sponsoring a narrative isn't purely a financial matter though. Money certainly comes into it, because publicity comes into it, but so do the endless subtleties of social caution and that ingrained fear of new ideas we all know too well. Above that we have the advisory phone call, the discreet lunch, the country house party, the raised eyebrow, the nudge, the wink and the old school tie. 

Even Marxism soon became a sponsored narrative after the Russian revolution. Many fell for it and quite a few wormed their way into UK governments. As working conditions improved, socialism morphed into just another sponsored narrative. Sponsored by unions, powerful bureaucracies, charities and well funded pressure groups. Eventually sponsored by government itself - all governments of whichever political hue.

So perhaps we who immerse ourselves in the fascinating possibilities of unsponsored narratives are not likely to achieve much apart from a few pinpricks. The reason is obvious enough – it’s why narratives are sponsored in the first place - to ensure that most people only encounter them.

For example the BBC only broadcasts sponsored narratives. I’m sure this accounts for its servile treatment of the Royal Family and why it still broadcasts shows such as Songs of Praise. In spite of the BBC’s left-leaning political sympathies, vague sympathy for the monarchy and the C of E are still sponsored narratives. On the whole, republicanism and atheism are not.

For the same reason, the BBC was bound to broadcast the orthodox global warming message simply because this is so obviously the sponsored narrative. In comparison with Big Green, climate scepticism is an unsponsored narrative, although there are hints that energy policy debacles may yet change all that.

UKIP too has problems with sponsored narratives. The supposed racism of UKIP voters is clearly a sponsored narrative, as is the fruitcake meme. UKIP will have to do something about that, most likely by avoiding genuinely radical reform. In other words, by avoiding unsponsored narratives and by easing its way towards more sponsored narratives. UKIP will have to become mainstream in order to become mainstream

Sponsored narratives are fact of life. We’ll never get away from them.


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Sackerson said...

May I say, very well written?

A K Haart said...

Sackers - thanks, I wondered how people would take this. You never know do you?