For some reason – or maybe no particular reason at all – last night I remembered Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast from the 1930s.
Some listeners heard only a portion of the broadcast and, in the atmosphere of tension and anxiety prior to World War II, took it to be an actual news broadcast. Newspapers reported that panic ensued, with people across the Northeastern United States and Canada fleeing their homes. Some people called CBS, newspapers or the police in confusion over the realism of the news bulletins. Some claimed they could smell poison gas or see flashes of lightning in the distance.
Within one month, newspapers had published 12,500 articles about the broadcast and its impact. Adolf Hitler cited the panic, as Richard J. Hand writes, as “evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy.”
And it struck me that, these days, we’re living in a sort of continuous War of the Worlds multimedia experience. I don’t think that back then Orson Welles was trying to start a panic, but these days the broadcasters actually are trying to create panic. We’re under a sustained media blitz that’s telling us that secondhand tobacco smoke is as lethal as mustard gas, and that human carbon dioxide emissions are causing catastrophic global warming. And they’re both fictions. They’re as fictional threats as Orson Welles’ invading Martians.
And this time, instead of it being just one single radio show on one particular night, it’s the entire global media, all the time. And it’s not just the media. It’s also all the scientists and doctors and experts. And it’s all the politicians as well. They’re all speaking from the same script. And it is a script. And it’s why Deborah Arnott’s experience as a TV director or editor matters: as director of ASH, she’s just as much weaving a fiction as she ever was when she worked for ITV. It’s all about getting people to ‘suspend disbelief’.
And you really do have to suspend disbelief if you’re going to start believing that secondhand smoke is dangerous, or that carbon dioxide is causing catastrophic global warming.
And the difference between the sceptics (or ‘deniers’) and the convinced true believers is the difference between those folks who panicked when they heard Orson Welles, and those folks who just kept on playing cards and cooking dinner or whatever else they were doing.
The Deborah Arnotts (and also the Hitlers) of the world believe that Orson Welles had discovered a way of controlling and directing people. They took it very, very seriously. And now they’ve started their own global, sustained War of the Worlds broadcast that’s intended to change everyone’s perception of the world around them, and thereby change their behaviour. And it’s been working quite well. Lots of people are now terrified of tobacco smoke, and lie awake at night worrying about carbon dioxide. They’re still pushing it hard: Today is Earth Day, and their new line is called Connect The Dots of climate change.
But then, lots of other people – f’rinstance me – haven’t suspended their disbelief. The sustained media onslaught doesn’t seem to be working on people like me. Although, in my own personal case, I have the advantage of no longer having a TV set, and no longer having to contend with the fictions it pumps out.
The big question, though, is: Is it going to work? Are they going to successfully mould public opinion, and re-engineer the whole of human society?
And the answer, I’m sure, is: No. Very definitely No. What’s actually going to happen is that they’re going to destroy the credibility of the mass media, and the credibility of science, and the credibility of doctors, and the credibility of politicians, and the credibility of anyone else who happens to be engaged in this vast swindle.
It’s already happening. And it’s going to happen more and more. Nobody’s going to believe a word that any of them say any more. Because what they’re doing is burning their inheritance. The mass media (and particularly the BBC) spent many years building up their respectability and credibility and authority. Same is true of science. And medicine. And also politics. They’ve painstakingly built up all this trust, and now they’re burning it all like a spoilt brat who inherits his father’s hard-won fortune and blows the whole lot betting on horses. And this stupid, misguided attempt to re-engineer human society is just like betting on a horse. In fact it’s much worse than betting on a horse. It’s like betting all your money – every last penny of it – on a three-legged horse which also happens to be dead and buried, and with a big marble horse standing over its tomb.
The future for them is going to be one of derision. They will face complete ridicule. That they lived in a fairy tale world in which they were convinced that dreams came true, if enough people could be got to believe the dreams.
Which brings me on to the EU. That’s also another vast fiction. The only difference between the EU fiction and the SHS/AGW fantasy is that the former is a fairy tale, and the two latter ones are horror stories. The EU is, if you like, Cinderella, and SHS and AGW are her two ugly sisters. And the idea is that, if enough people want there to be an EU, then the EU will come to exist – because, y’see, if enough people want something to happen, then it will happen. Yes, it really will! You just have to believe. You just have to have faith. You just have to will it sufficiently wilfully, and your dreams will come true. It’s called the Triumph of the Will.
And it actually is very attractive, this EU idea: All the people of Europe living together in happy harmony in one big country called Europe, and all speaking the same language, and wearing the same clothes, and eating the same food. What’s there not to like? Isn’t Cinderella beautiful.
But even if you like it (and I can think of plenty of reasons what’s not to like about it), it still remains essentially a political fantasy, a colossal daydream. But the fantasists who are driving the dream don’t know anything else, and so that now that the EU is about as shipwrecked as the Costa Concordia, they’re just going to keep soldiering on, keeping faith in the dream of Europe.
What comes to mind is nothing else but the time when the Ottomans were besieging Constantinople in 1453, and the Christians inside it decided to bring out their heavy artillery. The real stuff, that is. So they dragged all their holy relics and icons from their churches, and displayed them on the city battlements. There was probably the little finger of St Cuthbert, and the left elbow of St Anthony, and several pieces of the True Cross (and possibly a number of bits of Untrue Crosses), and maybe even the Spear of Destiny too. Real spiritual firepower. The unstoppable power of faith and belief. “And did it work?” I hear you ask, breathlessly. “Were the Saracens repelled?” You can find the answer here, although the title is all you really need to read.
The strange thing is, though, that even if the EU fantasy is falling to pieces, another Europe is perhaps beginning to emerge. In the last year or so, I’ve been finding that I seem to belong to a new European community of people like Wiel in Holland, Klaus K in Denmark, Reinhold in Germany, and several others. It’s a community of like-minded people that have been thrown together in this War of the Worlds, like conscript soldiers in a scratch battalion.
And that’s a Europe that I can believe in. Because it’s not a political fantasy being imposed top-down by a bunch of determined ideologues, but something that’s growing from the bottom up of its own accord.
A bit like my tobacco plants.