Monday 27 May 2019

A-haa! A time when politics went totally Alan Partridge

The world has gone insane and it's our generation's fault, writes Brendan O'Connor. Maybe it's time to give the millennials their turn at running things

DANCE ROUTINE: Theresa May at the Tory party conference last week. Photo: PA
DANCE ROUTINE: Theresa May at the Tory party conference last week. Photo: PA
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

Sometimes, when things happen slowly and gradually, in an incremental drip drip, you can fail to notice that the world has gone completely crazy. Each day your tolerance for the insane is pushed a little bit further, the boundaries of your credulity are stretched. Each day, a new normal is created that is only slightly less abnormal than yesterday's normal. So we can fail to notice how surreal it has all become.

And then one day you turn on the news and you see that they've caught a bunch of Keystone cops-style Russian spies who were sitting in a rented car outside the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the Hague trying to hack into the WiFi, and you see that one of them had a taxi receipt for the ride from a GRU base to Moscow airport.

Maybe it's on top of seeing Theresa May's mortifying Dancing Queen routine but suddenly, you couple these things with Trump and Brexit and our seeming inability to do anything properly - we're having trouble organising an arts festival now, in Galway, which is pretty much an ongoing arts festival. But you suddenly realise that, through a mixture of madness and incompetence and an obsession with image and providing people with the constant dopamine/outrage hits they need, the world has turned into a circus, or at the very least, some kind of spoof James Bond farce.

There's no doubt that much of the current madness is driven by the new structure and dynamic of communication as dictated by the internet. McLuhan's maxim that the medium is the message has never been truer. Everything from hard factual news to political campaigns are now tailored to fit the internet model of consumption. People want things in bite-sized chunks now. They want moments, rows, people losing control, brief hits, a single image for sharing, a soundbite to repeat - Chuck Chequers. This is why certifiable lunatics like Trump and Boris Johnson thrive in 2018. They've rewritten the playbook, and left the others behind.

The others don't even understand the new rules of the game, never mind knowing how to use them effectively. Let's take Theresa May jerking on to the stage at the Tory party conference, which was one of the images of the week - it would have been the image of the week or the year up until recently but the ante has been upped on that too. People are churning out insane images at an ever increasing rate.

So we can all imagine the thinking behind getting Theresa May to do the jerking. Theresa May's position in the Tory party now is that of a terminally-ill relative. People feel sorry for her, they support her, they will her to do well. Any sign of normality, any sign of life is cheered on as some class of a miracle. But ultimately everyone knows how it ends.

The big question last week was not about the substance of Theresa May's speech or about what she might have to say about the substance of the very critical issue facing her, her party and her country.

Theresa May has been hawking around a Brexit strategy that everyone knows is completely unrealistic for months now. What mattered about Theresa May's speech were the optics. What we remember from last year is that she couldn't speak, got pranked by a comedian, from whom she meekly accepted her P45, and the writing on the wall behind her fell off. So the bar for success this year was that she would get through the speech without anything like that happening. But then the ante was upped slightly by the fact that Boris breezed into the conference and electrified a crowd at a fringe event. So now the big issue for May was not what to do about Brexit, potentially the greatest act of self-harm any country ever committed, and something that no one yet knows what it is, despite voting for it two years ago.

The big issue last week was whether Theresa May could electrify the party faithful like Boris. Could she create a standout moment that would go viral and show that she was not dead yet, a moment that suggested energy and grabbed everyone's attention? Clearly, given what we ended up with, it didn't really matter what the moment was. It didn't need to have any meaning. It just needed to get attention.

So the advisers got out the Trumpian playbook and tried to come up with an immature, attention-grabbing moment, one that would maybe show the lighter, more relaxed side of May. Presumably they went through all the options: lifting up her blouse, saying something racist or sexist, being carried out by four hot topless men; before coming up with the great wheeze of her jerking robotically on to the stage to Abba music. Abba is an easy shortcut to fun and music for people who know nothing about fun and music, like young Tory advisers.

So we got this bizarre, real-life Alan Partridge moment. All it was missing was her shouting "A-haaaaa" at the assembled faithful. And the most extraordinary thing? It was viewed as a success, albeit a qualified one. Though in fairness, anything short of her dropping dead on stage is going to be a good result.

These are the people who run everything now. The kind of people who think that's a good idea. The kind of people who let their country vote Brexit in despite having no idea what Brexit is. The kind of people who still don't know what Brexit is. People like Donald Trump. And the kind of people who instead of trying to create an alternative to Donald Trump before the next election are obsessed instead with being hurt and angry that he won. The kind of people who don't think women's medical information is those women's business, who can't agree on who should tell the women about having cancer or about scans that should have sounded the alarm. The kind of people who can't manage a project to get broadband rolled out, who can't find anyone who wants to do the job. The kind of people who are obsessed with how they look on social media filling a dishwasher or going to gigs. The kind of people who refuse to put candidates up for the presidency so that we end up with three guys from the same TV show running for this dignified position.

The baby boomers, and Generation X, my generation, demonstrate every day in different ways that they have neither the substance, the maturity nor the competence to run things.

Not only do many of them behave like narcissistic teenagers, but they have put all politicians, all politics, into the same space. And of course, we're not blameless in all this. We take part in the whole charade too, and reward this nonsense.

We all love to dismiss the millennial generation as entitled, work-shy snowflakes. But you know, in many ways, they are nicer, more together people than the generations that preceded them. Watching Generation X turning the world into a giant showbiz Twitter feed gone wrong, you have to think that the sooner the millennials get their turn, the better. Because they just might ruin everything slightly less than we have.

Sunday Independent

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