This is the second instalment of a three-part series in which Connor Kelly analyses our political transformation and the choice presented by vaccine passports: collaboration or resistance. In part 2, Connor analyses the 2020 pandemic as a media spectacular, introduces the concept of ‘cultivated hysteria’ and compares the treatment of approved ‘media events’ to events, like the huge anti-lockdown protests, which are not permitted to officially exist. You can read part 1, about the psychological tricks that led us into 21st century fascism, here.
The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 did not take place. That is to say that the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 was a media event. People died of a respiratory illness, of course. But were it not for mass mediation, mass massaging, it is likely that most people would have been totally unaware that there was a pandemic. In the days before mass televisual media, people knew there was a plague because people were dropping dead on the streets. Since this particular disease does not lead to masses of people dropping dead on the streets, images of people dropping dead on the streets (in China) were crafted. Whether these were stupid hoaxes or by design is unknown. What is known is that these images – distributed in a rapid fashion through social media channels – were the initial impetus for panic in much of the western world.
Since everything that has happened in between, few people even remember these images or the dread they produced. Similarly, you will remember (or perhaps not) the images of massive disinfection trucks going round Chinese cities spraying buildings with disinfectant. It seems laughable now. Then, the Wuhan lockdown which was for us a completely mediated event. This was followed by the (non?) event of the national health system of Italy collapsing – which in the mediated form that we received it, felt like a Hollywood disaster movie – an event which wasn’t replicated anywhere else and served as the first justification for lockdown. We are so far gone now it is actually difficult to remember back to the halcyon days of initial panic, our Reichstag Fire so to speak. After the Italian fiasco, the mainstream media in the west flipped (under government influence) from ‘it’s just the flu’ and turned coronavirus into a truly global media spectacular, which has matured into the never-ending coronavirus pandemic we know and love today, and invented a new media-model in the process: cultivated hysteria.
Ever since, the pandemic has remained a media event and cultivated hysteria has become a roaring success. The lockdowns reinforce this process. Since people are atomised (truly atomised, in a literal sense cut-off, separated from society) their means of experiencing society is necessarily mediated. Instead of understanding what is happening in the real world by looking and seeing what is going on around them, or discussing things down the pub, or in meetings, or going to mass or the mosque, or any of the other thousands of ordinary dirty social technologies cultivated for hundreds and thousands of years, all information about what was happening in society was filtered through media organisations, then social media or television (same medium), through our screens and into the sterilised atomised household.
The ‘pandemic’ existed as a dashboard of figures and graphs, as press briefings, as carefully crafted scare stories, dancing nurses, as catastrophe ever looming on the horizon and even when it (allegedly) comes, no breakdown, nothing but a strange, quiet and dull terror. This is because none of it is real – not in the sense that we think it is. In the same way Captain Tom Moore did not exist. He was a media event. Invented. I’m sure a man called Tom Moore existed somewhere in the country (whether he wrote two books in a few months is debatable) but that is not the man that we encountered. The man that we encountered was a media chimera – a crafted, cultivated, cartoonish signifier conjured up out of spare parts of the 20th century for the needs of the fascist moment. But even as a symbol, there was no depth – it was just references for the sake of references to distract from the total spiritual emptiness of the moment whilst the ongoing parade of references itself hypnotises us into forgetting that there ever were real things that the references referred to. There is nothing there. Just a spectacular momentary carnival of nihilistic idol worship without content before he was discarded and we move on to the next event:
VE Day. Cummings shocker. British BLM and the absolute immediate importance of the destruction of Statues of Power. ‘You’re not still watching lockdown TV are you – switch the channel! It’s tear down the statues hour! Keep up!’ Tear down the statues hour was cancelled after one series – but the second series of Pandemic: Granny Murderer had even higher ratings than the first. Sarah Everard protests which transformed overnight (literally) into Kill The Bill, a momentary flash in the media pan which didn’t evolve into a proper campaign (the bill was not killed) because it was not intended to, as the majority of those involved were fully wedded to and supported the Covid police state which was the actual reason the original Everard protest was shut down. Being unable to protest against the Covid legislation (which they supported) they instead protested against a bill that was not yet law, and had nothing to do with the stopping of the protest, but pretended that it did.
Women gather to express disgust over the murder of a woman by a policeman. Under Covid fascism the police shut down the gathering, out of this new protests are called protesting a proposed bill which had nothing to do with either the murder, the expression of feeling, or the shutting down of the protest. But Kill the Bill was an approved media event so it flourished, briefly, before people got bored with it. And of course TrumpVision, a miracle of televisual art that was unfortunately cancelled after the death of its star. No one remembers TrumpVision now. Meanwhile one of the largest and most politically radical demonstrations in British history happened in London where hundreds of thousands of people marched against lockdowns, vaccine passports and the police state. I jest, that didn’t actually happen. It was not a media event. If there are half a million people marching in London but no TV crew around to report it, does it really happen?
‘Activism’ in our new fascist state consists of either signalling your moral outrage online, or gathering for a photo op and calling it a protest (so you can put the photos online to signal your moral outrage). This is ostensibly because it is morally very wrong to gather in large numbers to protest (like lockdown protests), except when it isn’t (approved media events). Since all of this relies completely on social media, and since social media is malleable, we have the remarkable phenomenon of people believing that if they (or their social media tribe) do not comment on something, or do not see it then it isn’t happening. This annihilation by omission has been quite something over the last 18 months, and is likely to become a feature. In their atomised states, activists and political theorists, when they get a whiff of something happening that threatens their mental order, just pretend that it is not happening. The abuses of the Covid state – dead air. The beating of lockdown protestors – dead air. Asylum seekers from red list countries being banned – dead air. Vaccine passports – dead air. It is as if they believe that if they can’t see these things -that are the consequences of the things they have been calling for – then they do not exist. And in a real sense they don’t. For mediated people – and political activists are surely the most advanced cases – now exist in an environment where they curate their own reality. They like to think it is only the whacky Trumpland Qanon conspiracy quacks that curate their own reality, but the Qanoners think the same of them. They are both correct. But whereas both see it as a moral failing of the other tribe, it is what media is doing to us. Nobody knows what to do, or even what they ought to do, but nevertheless, as Nietzsche said, they are being done at every moment. Things that are unwelcome in our media environment, which is more and more our reality, are simply banished. As if we can just change the channel on reality.
People like to say that we have no ‘attention spans’ anymore. But what is really happening is that people become bored more easily, because they feel like they have seen it all before, on TV. It has recently been discovered that Pandemic 2020 is merely a bad and infinitely more boring rewrite of a 2011 movie starring Jude Law. In a very real sense ‘Contagion’ primed us for coronavirus. It is doubtful that if that film was not released that Pandemic 2020 would have played out in the same way. And Pandemic 2020 would have been completely impossible without the total media saturation of our new digital world.
Reality itself becomes reviewable. Reality reviewed through the lens of television. Anything can reference anything, everything references everything. As a result of treating the real world as if it was a television show (and vice versa), political activism simultaneously becomes more and more concerned with image and cultivating ironic detachment (we are drowning in irony and snark) whilst treating each cause / media event as a moral emergency that demands total (earnest) commitment and is briefly absolutely the most important thing in the world ever. Until the next thing. And the next.
It is as if after being catapulted into the moral void of total media saturation, the human response – being social creatures in need of recognition of our virtues – is to cast one’s entire moral being into each momentary phenomenon, even if the values of one contradict the other. Like a form of moral promiscuousness. An accelerating procession of political fandoms. And in the same way as binge watching TV series results in amnesia and a blurring of events and characters, so binge watching Reality TV results in amnesia, blurring of events and people and a general feeling of listlessness and meaninglessness. Boredom.
We are told now that the ‘pandemic is not over’. This is quite true in that it never really began. A media event will not be over until the ratings crash, until a bigger, better, more vivid event comes along to take its place. The pandemic is special however, it is a spectacular – the first of its kind (9/11 was just a trailer). From the perspective of the mainstream media, the pandemic still has quite a lot of mileage left in it though it hasn’t been without its hiccups. At times, people got bored and started switching the channels to shows like ‘friends’ and ‘family’. But thankfully the introduction of the new characters, Delta, Indian, Lambda and Long were a hit with the viewers. But eventually the mainstream media will cancel Pandemic, and move onto something else – perhaps even running a spin off series called ‘Unvaxed: Mortal Danger’. Not to worry, we will still have the pandemic extended universe to play with for years to come, and there will be plenty of fun to be had and money to be made with Bio-surveillance TV, the new pandemic themed global order.