A review of Jay Baker’s Pissing in the Mainstream book…

Whilst I started Jay Baker’s book, Pissing in the Mainstream, two months ago – I ironically finally had the chance to sit down and finish the majority of it over the last two days! Yes, he might be my partner (and yes, even if he wasn’t my partner I would still love his work), but it’s rather eerie how much we agree on without even realising we were writing about similar things at the same time. The book is written from a politically critical but also personal angle, coherently bringing these two connected but distinct aspects together throughout to make the generalised point that we have to, as political (media, specifically) activists, work within the system in order to topple it. As the book illustrates, many people who believe we can only work on the outside are those who often have the privilege and comfort to do so; those who are struggling for survival – where shopping at cheap supermarkets that may eventually screw over the local town, as the local stores are ignored in aid of living cheaper – are often stigmatised for not fighting the system. What is ignored is their potential for living above the poverty line, and surviving within a system heavily governed towards supporting an elite section of society’s interests. Essentially, Jay places a strong belief in the power of alternative media to work within mainstream media, to disseminate information, provide people opportunities and resources in order for their often ignored voices to be heard – this is the central idea behind SilenceBreakers, discussed below, that I have previously discussed before on this blog. 

The first chapter provides historical context to the book, specifically focusing upon the media’s role in important political, economic and social occurrences, illustrating the sheer power of the media within democracies, especially. It reminds me of Louis Althusser’s ideological state apparatus and his discussion of ideology in terms of how state’s utilise an ideological apparatus consisting of forces such as education and the media, and if this fails to construct a false consciousness where people believe the crisis is their fault, for instance (which Jay illustrates through the construction of the term ‘Credit Crunch™’, which he calls “probably the greatest marketing ploy ever” (p.90) in how it symbolised individuals having to take the blame and responsibility for a crisis that was ‘inevitable’ – well everyone except those actually responsible) the state apparatus including the army, police etc. weighs in to instil ‘law and order’ – aka. obedience.

The section also provides a detailed analysis of the problems of capitalism and more recently, neoliberalism, and how institutions such as corporations and the media are shaped within this context. For instance, the BBC famously misrepresented miners footage making it look as though the miners instigated the attacks from the police on horseback by throwing stones at them, when really the stone throwing was a mere act of self-defense; whilst Blair and Bush relied heavily upon the media to justify the Iraq war focussing on Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein’s supposedly strong links with each other despite the fact the former had links to the CIA and the latter was supported in the Iraq and Iran war. Thatcher deregulated the media endlessly in exchange for the press, centrally the tabloids, to indulge in propaganda, rhetoric and bias. The irony here, of supposed deregulation, relates to the current Murdoch News International/Corporation collapse. Deregulation doesn’t ensure a ‘free market’ in the sense of ‘free competition’ nor promote diversity and ideas, instead all it does is close up the ideas, innovation and difference of opinions as all free markets are about is the promotion of specific interests with the most money. The sheer irony of someone who argues they support the free market, such as Murdoch, when really they are crippling the actual idea of why free markets are supposed to benefit us. I am against free markets in principle anyway, but even the idea that they ensure innovation and creativity is rubbish. ‘Free’ markets only curtail freedom of expression and commodity the very basis of freedom itself. In fact, Jay discusses this actual branding of freedom – something Zygmunt Bauman has been very good on. Freedom itself has to be bought. You have to have the resources and commodities in order to access areas of life that many consider to provide self-liberation. However, it’s worth remembering something that doesn’t have to cost, which provides self-liberation and productive activity: political and, as Jay advocates, media activism.

This very commodification and branding of freedom illustrates the problems that Jay discusses of working outside the system alone. This isn’t really possible, as outside expressions that don’t take into account the power of a global neoliberal political economy isn’t going to be able to resist the co-option, these expressions so often face, that well. In fact, many countercultural expressions, as Jay illustrates with analysis of organisations such as Adbusters, often fall fail to utilising the same codes and conventions of a system they pretend to be antithetical to. To be able to access freedom, we often have to buy into a system we’d rather not have. This is a problem, and only through accepting that working within as well as outside the system, will we be able to break such a stranglehold – this is something I have discussed myself in relation to the complementary ethic of inside and outside politics.

To work within a system doesn’t mean to accept it though. It means to acknowledge there are certain limitations that may have to be accepted to penetrate and change people’s lives. Grassroot activism is important, but when considering Venezuela’s cooperatives and communal organisations, something I discussed in my dissertation, it is useful to question how far someone or people can work outside a system without relying upon that very system, to a certain degree. Venezuelan cooperatives and communal organisations were funded largely from oil. Anarchists in Venezuela criticised this, arguing, maybe rightly, that they aren’t very sustainable. However, would they have happened on themselves without backing? The Zapatista in Mexico is a good example of the autonomous action that is possible, but again this only goes so far. Therefore this type of action, alongside accepting that working within traditional systems and also outside ways of working may involve certain levels of integration within the dominant system, may be inevitable when trying to provide isolated people voices.

On this note, Jay argues that “some speak of the ‘individual’, others talk about libertarian and anarchist ideals of diminished government. But that kind of ‘freedom’ got us in this mess in the first place”. Whilst I agree the type of individual ideas associated with the likes of Thatcher are exactly why we have the problems we do, even though statistically support for Conservative ideas have been declining for years, as has the Tory vote share, anarchism is a much broader philosophy than libertarian ideas. In fact, sadly anarchism has now been included within an anti-terrorism report, ignoring how anarchism has been historically about non-violent direct action working towards a new form of democratic governance. Communal-anarchism, in particular, is useful for struggles within and outside the mainstream; especially through its promotion of communal public assembly democratic institutions that provide people a say over what happens in their local community. This to me is just another form of governance, as the assemblies are linked up into confederations at national and international areas. Yes, it may be seen as slightly idealistic but it is practically possible in small-scale areas – and this is something I know Jay agrees on.

The second chapter discusses the importance of meaning when rebelling, instead of rebelling for the sake of it; making the key difference between dissent and deviance – the latter referring to protesting for the sake of it. Essentially, Jay advocates political mainstream pressure beyond superficial counter cultural movements, such as defacing corporate brands, which Anne Elizabeth Moore argues actually, ironically, brings more attention to the advertisement/brand. The problems of capitalism and globalization, obviously heavily related, are discussed in relation to the effects of cheap labour, quick flowing capital and limited restrictions upon corporations. There is an interesting discussion regarding the potential for ecosocialism to work within a heavily pollutant meat-eating intensive society. Ecosocialism is important when recognising the links between capitalism and environmental damage. This is something I have written about in previous blogs, essentially the links between the failing rate of profit, exchange and use values and environmental de-regulation. Essential to Jay’s usage of the philosophy is to illustrate the problems of ethical consumption when there is an ignorance of the wider working class environmental relations – where those working within ‘dirty’ enterprises are cast aside, potentially lose their jobs as the middle and upper class invest in a one-off solar panel or electric car. Really what is needed is a real investment in green energy, something the Green Party advocate and should make clearer in the North when attempting to build a base alongside there heavily progressing Southern background.

For instance, veganism is more than ethical consumption. It costs money, but that’s one of the problems. It shouldn’t be a more expensive option to eat products that don’t involve the massacring of hundreds of thousands of animals so we can satisfy our want to eat meat because “we feel like it”. As Morrissey says, “a death for no reason is murder”, in The Smith’s “Meat is Murder” song. Veganism needs to be framed within a wider political economy where meat is the epitome of endless consumption, false needs and capitalist commodification of living things so they become essentially mere objects. However, people can never be perfect when living within such an engrained capitalist system:

‎Nor do I think one can go around living a holy than thou ethical life, that essentially amounts to an ongoing guilt trip against others. I find it is basically impossible to live a thoroughly anarchist life within a capitalist society. But I do believe that one can try to maintain a high ethical standard. And that is one of the beautiful things about anarchism; it brings ethics into socialism.” – Murray Bookchin.

Sadly, as Jay discusses, there is a culture where those doing something progressive are then accused of being hypocrites for not doing enough when those not doing anything are often ignored – Michael Moore is a very good example of this, as Jay discusses.

The third chapter addresses where to go from here, how to penetrate the mainstream and make a difference to people’s lives; essentially through mainstream movements influencing political change, but also alternative media that penetrates mainstream channels, as John Reith proclaimed re the BBC, to “inform, educate and entertain”. I personally am a Director of Jay Baker’s SilenceBreakers. SilenceBreakers is a working, living construction of Jay’s ideas. Essentially, through a triple bottom line approach of economic, social and environmental sustainability, SilenceBreakers critically works within the system, remaining distant from countercultural’s deviance failing to fundamentally challenge the wider political economic ramifications of mainstream corporate dominance. Rather, SilenceBreakers accepts the flaws of the system, but realises that working within it, whilst outside it (to the best of one’s ability), is essential to provide people knowledge, opportunities and resources – people who are so often ignored and shut out from the ethical consumption or the senseless profit motive the mainstream media often dichotomies as the two ‘rights’. Essentially, things such as the media or as I wrote in my dissertation, ‘beauty’ associated practices such as make-up, aren’t necessarily evil – it’s the wider political economic framing, aka. neoliberal capitalism.

In sum, SilenceBreakers and Pissing in the Mainstream addresses:

The approach of altering the mainstream, oxygenating it by changing the diet of media consumption through a much-needed network of collaborate collective media activism to arm people with the knowledge necessary to fundamentally change the system (p.10).

Jay is working on a paper back version of the book, which will be easier to order; so watch out for updates!  However, you can order to hard back from here, now! 

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