tagReviews & EssaysDead Fish Swim with the Stream

Dead Fish Swim with the Stream




Wealth dies, kinsmen die,

A man himself must likewise die;

But one thing I know which never dies -

The verdict on each man dead.


In history, and in story telling, Heroes and Villains, the one not so very different from the other, are placed on pedestals designed to portray a selective point of view. The process has inevitability in its resolution; in history, other than very recent history, the historian's interpretation is a synthesis of events viewed from the perspective of the victor. In story telling, the writer imparts an ideology conditioned by personal perspective. In both cases, the audience interprets the written word, or the imagery, according to the values of their culture and their position in the hierarchical structure of the society in which they live. The perspective of the minority culture in any society will interpret history and story telling differently from the majority culture, with the inherent risk of polarizing opinion.

In the twenty-first century through the exponential increase in the application of electronic media and its introduction into our homes2. Headline news updates occur so frequently there is barely time to assimilate the information before the next 'event' arrives. We rush headlong from event to event and assign ideologies to individual words and images creating allegories of cultures and societies without recourse to conscious evaluation. The convention of labelling ideologies is the norm; sorting fact from fiction requires application beyond the resources of all but the most diligent researcher.

The practice of labelling cultures or societies by individual words is not new, neither is the custom of dissimilating information for political gain. In fourteenth century England, in the reign of Edward III, a network of messengers, 'espies', carried the news of the capture of the King of France to 'county courts, fairs and markets'3 across the land; in later years these same messengers return to the Royal Court with information from innkeepers 'reporting suspicious guests'3 and from bishops on 'the presence of foreign incumbents in the parishes of their dioceses'.3

Viking culture, viewed from a non-Scandinavian vantage point, is classically grounded in misplaced iconography, a process started by Christian scribes through the ninth to twelfth centuries, continued by the Romanticists in the eighteenth century, extemporised by Wagnerian interpretations of The Edda4, and elevated to iconic status by J. R. R. Tolkien5 and Peter Jackson's film 'The Lord of the Rings', it is the Heroes and Villains of Wagner and Tolkien who occupy the centre stage and feed our desire for fictional accountability.

Twentieth century media has played its part with mixed results, it is too early to measure the impact of the expansion of media upon the legacy of the twentieth century. Access to information inhibited transgression in Political and Economic fields but did little to curtail excesses in Religious and Ethnic arenas with consequent Humanitarian tragedy. The Rwanda genocide of 19946 took place under the glare of the world's media spotlights - world society elected to look the other way.

The political and cultural agenda of a nation state is set through its media by the politicians and not by the organs of media as media magnates often maintain. This practice is rooted in tradition and history, The closer we view History, the easier it is to separate Hero and Villain, they exist within the current ideological frame of reference of the observer, one persons Hero is another persons Villain, but destroy the ideology, and the victor's historians will name the Hero.

The Heroes and Villains of the victor are scattered through history. A society inherits its Heroes and Villains, they become part of the culture of the majority and acquire an identity and status over time that becomes difficult to refute. Historical records were and continue to be cleansed of any contamination that might portray the Villain in any other light.

The freedom of information permitted by the Internet offers the potential to redress the tendency of the victor to cleanse history and simultaneously offers the ability to paint our personal Heroes and Villains on the world stage. It is a powerful tool with few rules and relies upon iconoclastic labelling of contemporary issues to attract an audience and promote an opinion. The very nature of the Internet is to offer a polarised view, it is no different from any other form of advertisement.

Sorting the wheat from the chaff and the profound from the deceitful requires a discipline, a discipline ever eroded by conventional media (newspapers and television) who struggle to hold audiences for serious content. Newspaper readership is in decline in all but thirty-five developing countries7. Conventional media is vulnerable to the intrusion of the Internet and tends toward a more polarised opinion to hold market share in a competitive environment. The 'arts review' sections of 'quality' English newspapers have expanded significantly since the mid 1990's and carry depth in analysis and reporting when compared with political sections of the same newspapers. Political reporting continues, but is reduced to the same iconoclastic and cultural labelling as befits the advertising industry, it is an enactment of the Propaganda Model8 expounded by Herman and Chomsky in 1988 applied by the Nation State rather than the corporate entity.

Political parties use the media as 'organs of state' to project state promoted moral values that are little more than political doctrine. The Political victor imposes doctrine under the mantle of electoral mandate that by its very nature is proactive; social morality is perceptive and tends toward the reactive, it has little place in a culture steered by doctrine.

The May 2005 British general election focussed upon the concerns and issues of a minority of eligible voters, some estimates indicate as low as 2% of voters. This minority is believed to have determined the outcome of the election. In British politics, the main political parties have entrenched ideologies supported by core voters in the 20% to 30% for each of the three main parties. The Blair government won the election with a commanding majority and with less than 22% of eligible voters supporting the Labour Party, the lowest mandate in more than fifty years. The mechanics of this 'victory' are yet to be analysed in depth.

What is clear is the necessity, by politicians, to polarise issues doctrinally that encompass the cultural as opposed to the moral objectives of the community. This necessity becomes essential when dealing with minorities at the margin of the culture. Thus the British general election is reduced to a tableau of proactive key word ideologies: Iraq, Taxation, Immigration, Health, Education and Policing; only in the aftermath of the election is the reactive moral imperative invoked, social welfare, 'yob culture', and the need to 'listen' to the electorate.

In the political landscape, doctrine paints its Villains and largely ignores its Heroes; Heroes are replaceable. Villains are a necessity. Villains in any guise are an essential component of the proactive stance carefully engendered to subjugate minorities and project a common cultural ideology regardless of the moral imperative. In such a way, we, represented by the governments of the USA and the UK9 justified the use of Depleted Uranium weapons on the battlefields of Iraq. The morality of using DU armaments is excused by the need to 'deal with the villain'. What is inexcusable is the resolute refusal, by US and UK governments,9 to cleanse the battlefields of DU debris. Scientific argument attests to the relative safety of DU debris10 in a military environment ignoring that the residues lay in a civilian environment. The brutal truth is that it is cheaper to deal with a handful of civilian casualties through spending on health services in Iraq compared with the cost of cleansing DU debris, and as one member of the MIT conference11 stated, 'DU weaponry is a cost effective method to dispose of low grade nuclear waste'.

Out of this turmoil, I have a choice, I can be swept along with the flow or seek my place as an individual and stand up to be counted and take a stand against insidious censorship that pervades our lives. I am part of the consensus but remain an individual and I seek my Heroes and my Villains through calm and considered reflection. Only the dead fish swims with the stream.

- - - - - -

1. Hávamál - 'Words of the High One', Poetic Edda - Codex Regius, circa 13C Iceland, believed to be composed of Viking stories and verses passed orally from 9C before being written down by Christian scribes in 13C.
2. www.internetworldstats.com/stats4.htm - European statistics show almost 50% of population has internet access.
3. The Hollow Crown - A History of Britain in the Late Middle Ages, Miri Ruben 2005
4. The Edda or Prose Edda - Snorri Sturluson, poet and politician, c1220
5. www.tolkiensociety.org/tolkien/biography.html - John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973)
6. www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/evil/ Rwanda genocide mid 1994 cost up to 1 million lives after Politicians urged ethnic Hutu to slaughter ethnic Tutsi.
7. 57th World Newspaper Congress - 2004
8. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media - Edward S Herman & Noam Chomsky - 1988
9. USA and British forces used an estimated 140,000kg of Depleted Uranium tip ammunition in the 2003 Iraq war. Source - MIT conference March 6, 2004, Michael Kilpatrick, Deputy Director of Deployment Health Support in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.
10. www.royalsoc.ac.uk/document.asp?id=1401 Royal Society, UK 2004
11. 10. MIT conference March 6, 2004

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