The Centre Cannot Hold

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
-The Second Coming, WB Yeats

Yeats could have been channelling the spirit of the modern political campaign manager. For nearly twenty years political parties and candidates have been successful in imposing previously undreamed controls on campaigns. There are controls on what candidates wear, where they go, who they talk to and what they say. Locations are chosen as backdrops- rather than as places to visit in their own right. The campaign playing out on the TV screen and in the newspapers always seems to be happening somewhere else.

Participative Politics is a difficult, unpredictable beast. If you’re a professional politician you will be able to exert much more control over your fate if you can limit the numbers and types of voters who (a) get involved with the campaign and (b) vote. Limiting discussion to that day’s talking points introduces controls on the most dangerous area of politics- what is being debated and discussed.

When RTE news discussed VoteTube, Terry Prone from Carr Communications was brought in to solemnly intone that while it was good to have a web presence if you were a candidate, an uncontrolled presence could be desperately dangerous. The report ended with the statement that there were risks associated with the new internet video technology- specifically that voters might start to respond to candidates.

The risk to a healthy democracy comes when voters stop responding to candidates and don’t see any point in expressing their own opinions.

Happily, the net is here to give the rest of us a chance to talk back. It can’t be controlled and like a Hydra, it has a thousand different faces, each recognised by a different set of people as talking to them- little wonder Ms. Prone is so worried by it. As an example of what might yet come, we present a mysterious little video in favour of the Labour Party.

Except it is a Labour Party from a universe nearly the same as ours, where Party Leader Pat Raps is a young American in a suit who makes the life of ordinary working sorts easier by his presence. It’s funny (in both senses of the word) and gets its pro-Labour message across. It would never have been allowed by Labour party head office if they’d been asked for permission. But its creator, James Beckham, didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission. He just said his piece.

The centre cannot hold. But perhaps it is democracy which is unleashed upon the world as a result.

(Also posted, with video, at VoteTube.org.)

1 Comment

  • Celtictigger says:

    I think that future political analysis and social commentators may look at this election as quite possibly the best documented in Irish history – but not because of the politican’s adoption of blogs etc.

    What the ‘new media’ has allowed citizens to do is to take the conversations and crazy skits that would have happened in pub snugs and student residences in previous elections and make them available to the media.

    Whether it is PoliticalThicko’s sharp parodies of political speeches, Dublin Opinion’s commentary on Dublin Opinion, the DoBlog’s pedantic cataloging of ‘bad news days’or IrishElection.com’s thoughtful analysis or the delightful missives from McGarr’s (in between updates on how the constitution is being filleted) then there is a vast web of interconnected content presenting a punter’s eye view of what is actually happening.

    To get that 10 years ago would have required a tape recorder, 100 pubs to sample from and a portable dialysis machine (from day 5 onwards).

    Terry Prone is right to point out that for the politico seeking a slick presentation that has no hooks to hang bannana skins on then some control on the message is required. But as a professional message massuese I’d be surprised if she said differently.

    However, these tools we have today as citizens allow us to counter polish with grit, spin with focus. They allow us to take the message we’re given and wander off messag with it through analysis, lampoon or combination of both.

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