Things have been a little hyperreal of late. It all started three weeks ago with the Damscene conversion of Tommy Robinson and his decision to quit the English Defence League (EDL).
Cynical at the time, I agreed with Matt Goodwin who pretty much dismissed the whole façade as 'disingenuous nonsense'. As he put it, the only remarkable thing about it was what did not happen.
That sense of hyperreality returned this week while watching more of that same disingenuous nonsense, BBC1's 'Quitting the EDL: When Tommy Met Mo'.
This was evident within minutes as Nicky Campbell's softly intoned voiceover told me how Robinson was a victim of circumstance who despite years of aggressively ranting about any old Muslim (focus and specificity were never his strongest traits) was a misunderstood man. This, according to Campbell, was Robinson's chance to put the record straight.
But let's be honest, he didn't.
Instead of refuting any of his grossly misrepresentative claims, instead of showing remorse for the misery he inflicted on communities across Britain, instead of distancing himself from the ideology that underpinned the EDL's as also his own Islamophobia, the film gave Robinson a new platform from which to uncritically voice all of the things he and the EDL have been bashing ordinary British Muslims about for years: his myths about mosques, shariah law, halal meat, Muslim women, grooming...the list went on.
The foil for Robinson was 'Mo' - Mo Ansar - a figure who made for uncomfortable viewing throughout but especially so in two scenes: the first, where he was grilled about stoning and chopping off hands by the Quilliam Foundation's Maajid Nawaz; the second, being excluded from the press conference where Robinson spoke about his decision to quit.
In terms of the latter, it seems bizarre that the 'Mo' in the title was so publicly excluded - and humiliated? - from this crucial moment. For me, this was evidence enough that in the bigger picture, he and many of the other British Muslim 'allies' appearing in the film were little more than convenient stooges.
As regards the former, Ansar was a rabbit in the headlights as Nawaz savagely tore into him about his hypothetical views in relation to shariah law, something that would seem to be markedly different to the approach taken by Nawaz about Robinson's actual views about Islam, Muslims and more. Don't forget that just a few weeks ago, Nawaz was claiming that Robinson's decision to quit the EDL without even rejecting an ounce of his insidious ideology, was a "very positive change for the United Kingdom...a very proud moment for Quilliam".
And this is why it was all so lacking in reality.
Hyperreality is a term that has been used to characterise our inability to distinguish reality from fantasy. Those such as Jean Baudrillard have defined hyperreality as being a means of viewing 'reality by proxy', one where the viewer of 'reality tv' for instance - or 'When Tommy Met Mo' - begins to believe and live in a constructed, non-existent world despite that same constructed world failing to offer any accurate or realistic depiction of life or living. In hyperreality, reality is non-existent; replaced by something that purports to be real and is duly accepted as such.
And none more hyperreal is the resurrection and subsequent veneration of Tommy the Messiah. Adored and worshipped by his newfound troop of advocates and followers, many of whom are desperate to tell us about how their bad-boy-turned-good is now a changed man; one who has rejected his sinful past for the sake of the common and everyday man and woman who can now partake in his glory via the medium of populist entertainment and mass audience delectation.
And here's the rub. As leader of the EDL and his preference for street level protests, Tommy the Messiah was unable to achieve this. Yet by the hyperreal act of quitting the EDL, he's been able to find a whole new audience for sharing the 'good news' with, a message that seems to be being endorsed by all and sundry including some you would have hoped would have known better.
In a society where the cult of celebrity is widespread, this is all maybe somewhat unsurprising. We venerate the most-shallow of idols, adoring them for their apparent excesses and greed in turn desperate to find out what corner their unfolding hyperreal 'real' lives will turn next. And as a consequence of this, we show cultural antipathy and disdain towards intellectualism a process that promotes and reinforces a collective nihilistic and myopic rejection of social and personal morality.
And Tommy the Messiah is a product of all of this: the most-shallow of idols who in spite of what the BBC, various counter-extremist folk and a handful of unlikely Muslim allies are currently falling over themselves to tell us has at no time distanced himself from those same insidious and hate-fuelled ideologies that he has promoted and been driven by for the past half-decade.
Don't believe the hype or the hyperreality,
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