THE BLOG

Why We Should Fear Weapons of Mass Distraction

05/04/2013 12:30 BST | Updated 05/06/2013 10:12 BST

As our television screens and newspapers were filled this week with endless images of Kim Jong-un and Mick Philpott, I wasn't worrying about threats posed by North Korea or narcissistic killers. I was wishing more people read Theodor Adorno.

Having observed the rise of Hitler and then been exiled from his native Germany to America, the sociologist Adorno recognised with horror how the very same methods of propaganda used by the Nazis are used by 'liberal democracies' to create stultified populations.

Focussing relentlessly on what he termed "the culture industry", Adorno spent his life writing about how the media controls the masses. He observed that films, music, art, and written media are used as mesmerising, glittering illusions to distract us from the stark realities of life. Although these media appear to offer novelty, they discourage critical thinking and encourage uniformity of thought, according to Adorno. He believed that the drives of controllers of cultural industries are similar to those behind fascism in that they promote a narrow consciousness in which we are blinded to the manipulations of authorities.

Aspects of culture, for Adorno, encourage us to sleepwalk into servitude. It is the apparatus of mass distraction and deception that works by numbing us to the pain of reality. Because the culture industry undermines our progress towards autonomy and a critical awareness, we can end up with the illusion of democracy rather than true democracy.

It is ironic therefore that news from North Korea should turn out to be one of the 'big stories' that has been our glittering distraction this week. It is also ironic that a story about a killer who spent his life controlling everybody around him would distract us from a terrible story of social welfare being cut and a vast number of vulnerable people being forced to suffer.

There is a horrible irony in George Osborne exploiting the Philpott tragedy to justify taking food from the mouths of children and destabilising homes. Mick Philpott set light to a house in order to look like a hero when saving children - which he failed to do. Osborne has relentlessly damaged the economy to the extent that his posturing about the need to make cuts to 'save the economy' looks as pathetically insincere as Philpott's claim of concern for his children.

The culture industry swung into action to distract people from considering the real impact of cuts and to play segments of the population against one another, using the bogeyman of Philpott. It also used the more exotic bogeyman of Kim Jong-un to distract us from real and present dangers closer to home. Even the supposedly impartial BBC spent considerably more time this week discussing the impossible fantasy of North Korea bombing the UK and showing clips of Mick Philpott on Jeremy Kyle than examining who will be hurt most by welfare cuts.

In my opinion this stark reality is more frightening than a cartoon tyrant posturing in North Korea. The real, unglittering news is that, despite the exploitation of the death of six children by Osborne to make it seem like the psychopath Philpott represents benefit claimants, children in poor families and disabled people will suffer most from the cuts. Hundreds of thousands of families with children will be affected by the bedroom tax and other benefit cuts.

This loss of household income for the poorest people creates instability and it will have an impact on huge numbers of children's lives for years to come. This is the biggest, most far-reaching news in Britain this week but the culture industry - with strong links to politicians - told a very different story. I very much doubt that George Osborne - or most readers of the Daily Mail - could name the six children who were burned to death by Mick Philpott, and yet they were quick to use them to push a cruel agenda towards disregarded children who will suffer as a result of his failures.