If you only ever watched terrestrial daytime TV in Britain, you would think we are a nation obsessed with houses, antiques and getting the hell out of Britain. And very much in that order. Starting around 10am we have an abundance of shows aimed at doing up your own home and flogging it. Then, after lunch we switch to shows about selling off family heirlooms, and then to mid afternoon shows about moving abroad.
Basically, the story goes... Someone did up a home to make it look like it was worth more than it was. You foolishly bought it and now can't afford the mortgage repayments. You need to sell that jewelry Gran left you to a man with an orange face. Oh-oh! The man with the orange face really fucked you over there. It's still not enough to pay the mortgage. You could always declare yourself bankrupt? God Lord! Look how cheap property is in France? And now, Deal or No Deal. The whole thing is faintly depressing to me.
If anyone has seen the show I am currently touring, you will know how seldom I feel the desire to praise a multinational company. However, although they are unquestionably otherwise a bunch of total pricks, I am kind of indebted to Sky TV's 'On the Go' facility which allows me a far more broad reaching choice of TV when I am on the road. I can now spend the endless hours in hotel rooms in the afternoon watching shows on my laptop that aren't all about hemming, scamming or emigrating.
I am particularly fond of the Food Network, where I know at any time of the day I can open my laptop and watch a man eat 63 hotdogs in 11 seconds, or something? And if you haven't seen the show 'Man v Food' I heartily recommend it, if only to show you why Americans really love America. Ironically, it's exactly this kind of show which would prove a ratings hit to the early afternoon daytime viewing public in Britain, made up as it is, of depressed, unemployed people. But no! Instead let's watch some poor old lady sell the pride of her mantlepiece to a leathery-faced old crook.
You might think I am being facetious, but I think 'Man V Food' in many ways represents everything that is good about America. Stuffing a 3lb smoked meat sandwich into your face in under 10 minutes may not seem like an overtly political statement either, but really this is what conservative America is all about. It shows an country unfazed (quite literally) by the belt-tightening pontificating of Europe, and it speaks to the heart (again, quite literally) of Main Street Americans, who see both the inherent value and freedom in a 3lb 'Termeatator' meat sandwich. If the hapless Republican Party had their wits about them, they would book the jovial host of this show to turn up at their conventions with another distinctively American food challenge with a giant banner in the background saying 'Mitt Romney Loves This Shit!'
But, for all the subtly conservative Mom and Pop's diner feel of an episode of 'Man v Food', when you think you might be ever so slightly warming to the misty-eyed, Tea Party nostalgia of a bygone America, you need only flick over to the odious Fox News Channel to instill a very firm kick to the reality bollocks.
Rupert Murdoch had already poisoned the political discourse in Britain before launching the FNC in 1996, with the expressed intention of undermining the Clinton Administration. Since then, Fox has increasingly driven the agenda for the right wing media and politics with its 24-hour diet of mistruths, phoney outrage and conspiracy theories, fronted by hosts so devoid of objectivity and rational intellectual thought you sometimes have to pause and remind yourself that this really is a channel that claims to report actual news.
A recent study by professors Clinton and Enamorado concluded that members of Congress from districts where FNC proliferated became more conservative. No shit. Fox has a modus operandi that would garner a standing ovation from Josef Goebbels, even down to its brazen 'Fair and Balanced' refrain. It's commentators are unapologetically aggressive ideologues: from the cosy casual racism and partisanship of Fox and Friends to the laughable 'No Spin Zone' of Bill O'Reilly, who makes more ill-informed blanket statements than the propaganda arm of the Eiderdown Marketing Board.
And then there's Sean Hannity, who is depriving some local Klan of their Grand Cyclops. Hannity has such a tangential relationship with integrity that it's a surprise he doesn't wear a tea party tricorn hat while broadcasting. He yearns for Rockwell's America, but not Norman Rockwell, George Lincoln Rockwell. They've got Karl Rove - the 'architect' - the man who dragged political campaigning from the gutter into the sewer; a succession of blonde 'analysts' who have cheerleader looks and the sincerity to match; regular appearances from Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin, both of whom shamelessly rake in millions by peddling shrill hyperbolic lies and demonstrably false suppositions. Hell, they even offer convicted criminals like Ollie North and G Gordon Liddy the platform to air their inarticulate ramblings.
Probably most insidious is the chorus of dog whistles that permeate each broadcast: whether it's the deliberate/ignorant misinterpretation of terms like 'socialism', 'far left', 'European' or 'urban'; or the more reprehensible hectoring and victimisation of individuals, which can and has led to tragic outcomes - at the very least, O'Reilly owes the family of Dr George Tiller a craven apology.
The result of all this? Did you see the Republican primary debates? You couldn't have selected a more screwball collection of candidates if you'd chosen them randomly from the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - a motley assembly of climate change and evolution deniers, with all the credibility of a Greek pension scheme. Michele Bachmann? Herman Cain? Seriously? In the end, Romney won by being the least bad, the least insane - the shiniest toilet.
The fact that the Republican Party has sealed a Faustian pact with Murdoch, Ailes and the mountebanks at Fox may well ensure that it becomes increasingly marginalised as it drifts further and further out of step with the ideals and demographic changes of modern America, but if Murdoch's record is anything to go by, he will have no qualms about shifting his loyalties if he feels he is backing a lame duck. Fox News has never had to cope with two consecutive presidential defeats, as it may have to in November. This could signal the end of its hegemony in cable news, and with it the last popular outlet for a party so toxic that no amount of reality enemas will allow it to regain a plausible shot at the White House.
Danny Bhoy is currently touring his show 'Dear Epson' round the UK. His DVD, 'Live At The Festival Theatre' is released on the 26th November. Visit www.dannybhoy.com.
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