People as propaganda

I’m reading a lot different stuff at the moment. Most of it is currently to do with the culture, capitalism and change whilst looking into the implications for people and marketing. I’m visiting the usual suspects: Naomi Klein, Paul Mason, the Skidelsky brothers, de Botton etc.

Some of it’s pretty demoralising. Some of it’s hard going. And sometimes I go to sleep feeling pretty beat-up. So, in order to help keep the pages turning and to offer some sort of psychological respite, I’ve been reading Scotland’s Jesus by my favourite comedian, Frankie Boyle. His past books My Shit Life So Far and Work! Consume! Die! were the funniest things I’ve ever plugged into my eyeballs so, as I cracked the spine on his latest effort, I already began to feel more relaxed.

The introduction beings the Boyle discussing how he wanted to write a book that would satisfy everyone by scribing a “crime porno” but was forced to create a “slab of bouncy opinion that, with the right cover, might sell well at train stations”. He then descends into a hilariously graphic sex scene from his wannabe crime porno over three pages until, finally, his protagonist forces open a letterbox awkwardly with his fingers and ejaculates in someone’s hallway. And then Boyle interrupts himself, addresses the reader “There we are. That degeneracy should have seen everybody off. It’s just you and me now”.

Below is the full extract the Frankie Boyle dissolves abruptly into. And it’s brilliant. Examining who we are as a people – the commodification and mass-marketing of the self. In fact, it’s probably a lot leaner and more insightful than a lot of the aforementioned authors’ works.

Listen, while nobody’s looking I’m going to try to explain all of human relations as quickly as possible. I imagine that you’re quite young and idealistic – persevering with that porno and thinking that I’d a point to make. Well, if you could do something about what I’m about to say to you later in life, change the world, sort everything out, much appreciated. The question, obviously, is why I chose to include the sex scene. That, I think, is for the reader to work out, and then tell me.

We’ve a bit of a hangover from earlier times. People think of themselves as a ‘self’, a conscious being. In our modern market-driven society the ‘self’ is no longer the ego. It’s our brand identity. Most of what we do is not to serve our ego, our own idea of ourselves, but actually to serve our status, other people’s idea of ourselves.

We’re the first completely market-oriented generation in history and it has destroyed our ability to be free and conscious. We’re not the people we pretend to be. If I invented a time machine, I’d like to think that my first trip would be to go back and kill Hitler. In reality, I’d use the first trip to kill Piers Morgan’s mother at the moment of his conception, and the second one to go back and check.

I remember even as a kid scouring those little brochures you’d get from Woolworths for my parents’ Christmas presents. Like you, I moved on to express myself through the charities I supported, the bands I was into, even the people I hung around with. Around me grew a society where people would turn up for the half hour of adverts before a film and never complain, where we tried to express our individuality through the purchase of mass-produced goods. Even my favourite comedian, Bill Hicks, was peddling that ‘individuality through smoking’ thing. That was just an angle thought up by ad men decades earlier. People started to speak of the ads being better than the TV shows, somehow believing against all the evidence that the TV shows were the principal content and the adverts incidental. Now we understand that everything is to be marketed, even art.

I read the comic-book writer Alan Moore describe art as ‘propaganda for a state of mind’. Who do we create propaganda for? Our equals? No, for the easily manipulated, for those we have contempt for. So to be an artist in the wholly marketed society is to have contempt for everyone. You propagandise your state of mind to others – and it’s not even your state of mind. It’s the off-the-peg set of opinions you got from the part of the culture you tried to buy into, from a set of people who were propagandising to you. They’re not even your ideas. They weren’t even theirs.

Of course, this doesn’t make you happy, so you need to propagandise the chosen state of mind to yourself, through self-help literature, a term I use loosely here, to cover a whole bunch of stuff, including most religions and newspapers. What’s the drive of your little internal propaganda office? Well, it’s to sell the idea of you, to advance your status. By convincing people who you are too guarded to truly know about a bunch of ideas that you don’t fully believe. And in any case, in a world of seven billion people,what’s your status, really? In truth, it doesn’t matter any more than the charge on an electron.

Orwell imagined a coercive totalitarian state but Aldous Huxley probably made a better prediction of our current reality. In Brave New World, people are complicit in their own enslavement; they’re into it. I think we can go further. It’s not just that people are controlled by propaganda, or even that they enjoy being controlled. I think that people are now propaganda. People are no longer the things being controlled, they are the method of control, both of themselves and others. Of course, I’ve written this little serious passage here to advance my own status.

Of course, I understand the inherent irony of reposting Boyle’s comments. I’m agreeing with his ideas. His propaganda. An “off-the-peg set of opinions” that aren’t even my ideas and weren’t even his. Again, I’m even using this post to progress my status and sell the idea of ‘Paul Martin’.

I assume that’s why the post begins with me trying to haughtily convince you that I’m smart for reading “a lot of different stuff at the moment”…


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