Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas in London: Reflections on Recent Media Trends in Britain

Well, though I do find Jeff Danziger's Christmas-in-London cartoon funny, I have to say, our experience here hasn't been anything like this.  We did fly into Gatwick on the 20th, a day after Heathrow had been closed by a snowstorm, and the problems at Heathrow apparently continued for days after that.  Our flight was full of people who had been bumped from other flights.  And we considered ourselves very lucky that it landed on time (even ahead of schedule) without a hitch, while so many other flights were being canceled.

It was definitely unusually cold when we landed at 7 A.M. on the 20th--16 degrees F.  With snow all over the ground, though that melted in a day or so.  And the wonderful, kind, Cockney-to-the-core gentleman who picked us up at the airport to shuttle us to our hotel was delayed, because of the snow, which caused all sorts of traffic snarls on the freeway.

All in all, we've had a wonderful time without any interruptions due to weather.  There was a tube strike yesterday, and it may be going on again today, but what impressed us about it was not how much disruption it caused, but how helpful the tube workers were about redirecting us to the buses we needed to take in order to reach our destination yesterday, the Strand walk from Trafalgar Square to St. Paul's and back.  That cheerful British can-do spirit really does exist, and there's an underlying layer of good manners that makes it work even more smoothly, and which puts our American way of doing business to shame.

Meanwhile, I'm fascinated by the various high-profile debates in the British media right now about religious issues.  From the Catholic side, there's much crowing, of course, about the fact that BBC broadcast a blurb from Benedict during the Christmas season--as if grabbing a radio spot deals a mighty blow to the other side, the nasty secularists and atheists and homosexuals, and vindicates our cause better than, say, living the values we preach in such an exemplary way that non-believers might sit up and pay attention to those values.

There was also a rather silly article in the Telegraph yesterday pointing out that the Archbishop of Canterbury applauded William and Kate in their intent to marry, and don't we just need more high-profile marriages like this to return our society to a sense of the importance of marriage.  The article turned  on that tired old argument that heterosexual marriage is falling into desuetude because people no longer respect the value of marriage, without asking why people no longer respect marriage, or in what precise way spending millions on a lavish public wedding will rehabilitate a failing social institution.  Or how a faltering economy might affect people's wish to marry and raise families.

And that, in general, is what I find most baffling about these proposals from the political and religious right: they put so much stock in public show to do what we ourselves have obviously failed to do as people of faith--to demonstrate the goodness and rightness of religious belief.  So that, the argument goes, the lavish spectacles will cause people to flock back to religion in droves.  This was the rationale for the fanfare over the papal visit to Britain; it's now the rationale for the obsessive focus on the upcoming royal marriage; it's the rationale for the increasingly belligerent tone of right-tending churches in Britain, as they confront secular society and demand front-page news coverage around the clock.

And they're getting the latter, more and more.  As the media response to the papal visit indicates, the British media are, on the whole, eager to give a high profile to religion and to permit right-wing Christians to posture as "the" Christians who have held onto the faith of our fathers, while more progressive groups within the churches have betrayed that faith.  And I suspect that, underneath all of this, there's the same need among media mavens here as there is in the U.S., to try to keep faith groups on the side of neo-conservative economic analysis of the economic woes of our society.

Religion is being used as obtrusively and as insincerely as a prop for the economic exploitation of the many by the few at this point in Western history as it was at the start of the industrial age.  As if we learned nothing from the many valuable critiques of the melding of religion and culture--of the melding of religion and the culture of economic elites--during the 19th century, and as if an alliance of the church with economic elites that ended very badly for the church in that period of history will do anything other than end badly all over again, at the start of the new millennium.

No comments: