Writing in the weekend edition of the ‘Financial Times‘, artist David Hockney discerns the current times to be the final days of the mass media:
Technology brought in the mass media and technology is now taking it away. Perhaps our celebrity culture is the last gasp of the mass media “star period”. The power of the old media barons is in decline – I am sure Rupert Murdoch knows this – and seems to be passing to the masses themselves, whether they want it or not.
The old media needed stars. In the new media your friends are the stars. Without the old media, how will you get famous on YouTube? Perhaps the corollary to Andy Warhol’s quip about how “in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes” is that in the future nobody will be famous, or only locally.
In student days thirty years ago, the dominance of the mass media was a central theme in political discussions. The Left felt their attempts at raising people’s consciences were constantly frustrated by a mass media, particularly newspapers, that adhered, to differing extents, to a Right-wing agenda. The media were not coy about their persuasive powers. Following the victory of the British Conservative Party in the 1992 General Election, The Sun newspaper ran the headline, ‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It’. Labour leader Tony Blair was so fearful of the powers of the Rupert Murdoch-owned press that he actively sought their approval prior to the 1997 election.
David Hockney is telling us what most of us can figure out if we think about it: if there are hundreds of television channels, then there is inevitably a dilution of the audience numbers for even the most popular broadcasters; if news is available freely from a multiplicity of sources, then the sales of newspapers inevitably fall.
But if the future is a place where nobody is famous, and there is no reason to think that David Hockney’s prophecy will not be fulfilled, then the prospects for those intent on political change are even bleaker than they were in the days of Murdoch’s dominance. Whatever its bias, a mass media offered at least some opportunity of getting ideas out to a big audience; without it the chance of sharing ideas becomes limited.
Without the old media, politics becomes localised and personalised; follow the progress of local election campaigns and ‘big’ issues are almost entirely absent. If ‘fame’ is something entirely local, the chance of gaining the prominence needed to build a mass movement becomes minimal. Without the old media, power becomes concentrated in the hands of a small elite who have access to information and the apparatus of the state. There will be a danger of political opposition becoming not a matter of organised parties, but a matter of street demonstrations and anarchist protest.
Hockney’s vision raises a prospect of a future for reformers where the days of Murdoch will be recalled with fondness.