Monday, August 8, 2011

Truth in the Age of Murdoch

It could be said that Rupert Murdoch is one of the most powerful man in the world. True, it is an ambiguous sort of power, hidden, as it is, in a shadow world between the political, his own business interests and the media. He can claim that his papers are reflective of society rather than an influence for change within themselves. And the truth of this influence is similar to the truth of Murdoch’s power: it is ambiguous, both reflective and influential, similar to Derrida’s notion of “the Archive”, or the process of archiving. And newspapers are certainly in the business of archiving contemporary events. For Derrida, archiving both respects what came before, or attempts to present its subject in its pure form, but it also seeks to disrupt or change it, add to it. In the case of a news story, one could possibly see this in the desire on the journalist’s part to find a certain “angle” to a certain story. Paradoxically, but in keeping with Derrida’s view of the archive, this search for an angle is also an act of respect, and even indicates a view of some essential truth that can be found in the events, or a structure inherent within them. And, so, through the very process of archiving, newspaper’s engage in an ambiguous process. To paraphrase Derrida, we will not know what the meaning of archiving or recording is until after this act of inscription. It is in this ambiguity that Murdoch moves, through the metaphorical back door and also through the very real back door of number 10 Downing Street.

Murdoch’s papers in Britain were provocative, particularly his tabloids. They pushed the boat with regards to what could be printed. They had little regard for privacy. They set people up, such as Max Mosley and his Fascist orgy. Now we know that they hired private investigator’s to hack people’s phones, from the phones of celebrities to the phones of murdered girls. There seems to have been a culture within these tabloids (which stretched past Murdoch’s ownership to titles such as The Mirror) of the acquiring of a story by any means necessary. Even, in the case of Max Mosley, the total fabrication of one, a plausible fabrication due to his father’s links with British fascism. Perhaps this did, in it’s own way, reflect the public mood, or reflected what they wanted. For these stories sold papers. They were salacious and they allowed a glimpse into the private worlds of public people. This subversion of the private and the public dynamic, allowing the private to become the public, is perhaps one of the most basic forms of subversion.

To put this in a wider perspective, the second half of the twentieth century in what could tentatively be called the Western World can be categorised, to a certain degree, as being a time when these boundaries were pushed and subverted. Taboos, old societal rules, were to be overcome, were to be broken. People wanted freedom - freedom of religion, freedom to have sex with who they wanted, racial freedoms, etc. This spread right across society. Even conservatives joined in the rhetoric of freedom, albeit in their own unique way.

Then there was the advent of television, which provided a view into different worlds - the private lives of couples, their intimate details, even sex acts with regards to porn. And there is this sense that what is being viewed on television is a truly private moment, that we are getting a window to the truth. Conversely, when someone decides that the news is biased, it all becomes biased and untrustworthy. Inherent within these extreme reactions is the notion that there should be a truth in there, a private truth hidden behind the mask of the public, the rhetorical, the appearance. Just as much as we can say we live in a time when the public and the private is being subverted, we can also say that traditional notions of truth are being subverted due to an excessive search for it. Thus Max Mosley was set up and could be set up because someone assumed, if only in the realm of possibility, that these fascist sex orgies were what lay beneath his public persona as the head of formula one.

Truth, then, becomes fetishised in this case, a goal to be gotten at no matter what the cost. The correlation with the scientific world view should not be ignored or scoffed at either, as if to save it from an influence in society as a part of it. Like any archive, it’s limits will always remain a mystery, always subverted away from a pure science, a pure search for truth in materiality, a pure search for the truth of things. And is this not what the tabloids search for, even in the case of Max Mosley - the truth of the man as a quantifiable object. In Mosley’s case, the search was for the truth of narrative, what his family history demands, mixed with his own penchant for ladies of the night. We live in an age of truth, and it’s fetishisation.

In the case of Mosley, there is this arrogant assumption of truth, and the assumption is enough. That is to say, the theory is enough, and there is no need for a search to validate the theory. The expectation of truth is enough. Here, there is no uncertainty, even though there should be. There is no doubt, no remorse that comes with truth - a haunted dream that things could have been different.

In a sense, the problem of truth itself is nullified in this case. A journalist, presumably, paid someone to set up Mosley. They assumed this about Mosley, or wondered how a dark aspect of his past haunted his life, and they came up with a story with a certain element of sensationalist logic to it. And perhaps the salaciousness of Mosley’s fondness for prostitutes was enough to trigger this sensationalist logic. And then the story was joined with some other hidden aspect of Mosley’s life, one which has never come to see the light of day (that his father was involved with British fascism) in the sense that it never seemed to effect his life. What is assumed here is that it does and must effect his life. And with the first salacious detail that comes to light, comes this other aspect as a raison d'ĂȘtre for his personal quirk. That the story went so far as to involve him being set up by The News of the World exposes a seeming lack of a need for the truth principle. Or, maybe, a lack of a need for the uncertainty that has always plagued the truth principle. We live in an age of truth - the danger lies with attempts and assumptions in certain quarters of a truth principle without the uncertainty. This is the dream - utopia itself. It is also thoroughly, and profoundly, impossible.

In the case of Mosley, there is nothing but the assumption of a hidden cause or explanation, a residue from an unsavory heritage, a desire to finish a story, to allow it to play out as it should with evidence of some sort of residual mark upon the character of Mr. Mosley - in this case a nazi sex orgy. The desire for the truth, then, is intimately linked with the desire for a story fitting paradigms that are prevalent within our culture. Could I venture even to say that the Mosley story, as presented in The News of the World, fits loosely into the Freudian concept of the return of the repressed, into that paradigm, into that structure which allows for the story’s plausibility? I will venture it, but only as a possibility, only loosely.

So, we can see that, with Mosley, truth’s greatest enemy is defeated, but in this act, truth ceases to be truth. Also, the ‘truth’ of Mosley’s nazi sex orgies are made to fit a certain formula - that of the Freudian return of the repressed - as if it ought to. This is a case not of the testing of theory, but of the application of theory. It is conjecture as truth. It is the truth principle without the uncertainty. And we should always be suspect of this type of truth. And when a newspaper prints such truths, or Fox News presents opinion as news, here is where we see the true problem of our era and our media. It is a problem of the truth - it is the problem of too much truth, or the elevation of its own certainty, allowing it to constantly mix in formulations and theory where even the singularity of the event doesn’t allow it completely.

Nothing comes to us without context. This is different however. This is a conscious type of context, designed to nullify uncertainty. This is a huge problem in the early twenty first century. It is not Murdoch’s fault primarily either. Although, he hasn’t done much to remedy the matter!

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