By far the biggest news story of the week has been the opening of a café in Shoreditch which serves cereal, at a cost of around £3 a bowl. The volume of Facebook bickering regarding the endeavours of the bearded-twin hipsters who opened a café on Brick Lane seems somewhat disproportionate to the event.
On one side, there are those who say this is just a small business, like any other, selling things for a higher price than they bought them for – and charging a premium for the experience – it‘s capitalism, get used to it. On the other, some claim this represents galling ignorance of poverty, the infantisation of a broken society in which residents of neglected areas like Tower Hamlets, where the café is situated, or Glasgow’s East End are driven out in a flurry of beards, art spaces, cereal cafes and ever increasing rents.
So given the strength of feeling about bowls of cereal, what would the job of a journalist be in all this? Step forward, Channel 4’s Symeon Brown, who went to the area to speak to many of the residents and business owners about the changes that are happening in their community – some were positive, some negative. He also went to the café and put it to the owners that given this was one of the poorest areas of London, 3 quid was a bit much for cereal. One of the owners said he didn’t know it was one of the poorest areas, said poor people wouldn’t be able to afford it and called the interview to an abrupt halt.
The furious reaction from some quarters online, to a journalist asking someone a question, suggests that in our rush to condemn the “mainstream media,” we forget that journalism is something worth defending.
Far from doing his job, it’s alleged Brown was (among other things) a shill for big business, hated the men because they were working class/from Belfast/successful, a millionaire working for a huge conglomerate, try to force people into thinking they couldn’t achieve their dreams.
“It’s like what they did to Russell Brand” cried one angry man. Exactly. A journalist asked a question which, rightly or wrongly, those watching a mainstream news channel might ask, the person whose job it was to address those concerns refused to do so, and then loads of people on the internet started shouting about how it was all a huge conspiracy and how much cleverer they all are than scum who believed what they see on the BBC or Channel 4 or the Daily Mail, which are all definitely the enemy we all have a responsibility to avoid.
This is the most politically charged cereal related story since #PatronisingBTLady and I can’t help but notice that Scotland currently has a disproportionate number of bearded and bruised types, stuck in a never-ending cycle of complaining about the “MSM” and saying we should all just storm off. That’s completely understandable, given the role played by the BBC/entire rest of the media during the referendum campaign. But misunderstanding the media is getting us nowhere and we need to wise up to that.
The argument that we should all cancel our license fees and destroy public sector broadcasting due to the politicised decisions of the government/management or because we’ve now got Bella and the National make no sense. What other public service would we treat this way? We’re all dead caring in the Yes movement, let’s shut down the health service and National Collective can organise first aid courses instead, that’d show the NHS bureaucrats!
I’m also aware that the license fee, however much I’m against its regressive nature, has helped pay for Limmy as well as Jackie Bird, for Paul Mason as well as Nick Robinson. We need investigative journalism, arts and cultural programs, things which make no sense on a commercial network but which are nonetheless worthwhile.
We can choose to shut ourselves off, as we bravely sit about Shoreditch with our cereal, oblivious to the food poverty in our community or stroll down Buchanan Street with our copy of the National under our arms, making the world a better place with our consumer choices. Or we can recognise we’re in a brutal battle with total bastards and we can’t afford to look away for one second. If we abstain from the “mainstream” narrative, we can’t hope to be relevant to people who do dastardly things like buying the Sun or watching the news.
We need to understand the limits of the new media as well as its potential – and when given the rare opportunity to be badgered by a journalist in front on millions of potential viewers, we need to learn how to represent ourselves better – and not just complain afterwards about how the Iluminati/Westminster probably tied our beards together.
The cereal café’s owner could have said that decades of government social policy were outwith his remit or that time would tell whether people could afford to eat there. Russell Brand could have said that he was using his mainstream status helping those less fortunate than him. And we could all have accepted that Brand and the café owners received exactly the kind of attention they wanted.
On a much bigger scale, we need to stop demonising journalists or expecting them to always want to write a puff piece about their amazing cereal experience or how seeing Nicola Sturgeon at the Hydro made them shit themselves – they’ll quite often say you’re a bunch of fucking hipsters or deluded losers. And not always because they’re working for the British state or the forces of global capitalism. If we fail to recognise the difference between critique and propaganda and keep telling ourselves that everyone is against us, we will remain a bunch of hipster losers.
Running a national paper, being on Question Time and filling out the Hydro could be considered pretty mainstream activities. If we don’t value the people who’re asking questions about what our new mainstream are up to, we could revert back to the old ways with new masters very quickly. The battle for a truly free press may be a long way from won but it’s made no more free by shouting down journalists.
We have a chance to build a genuinely new kind of critical politics and a growing and diverse range of outlets which demonstrate the massive changes going on in Scotland. But we need to be more switched on to how the mainstream – and the media – works if we are ever to make them work for us.
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