The billboard politics we deserve
As I see the Nationalist and Labour parties gearing up for another battle of the billboards, I brace myself for another onslaught of simplistic one-liners, photoshopped images of Lawrence Gonzi and Joseph Muscat, distortion of information and hatemongering.
It’s such an unattractive prospect that I feel like calling up the Geek-on-the-loo gracing the ads for an internet service provider and welcoming him back with open arms – all is forgiven and anything is better than the inanity which is sure to follow.
I’m sure I will feel the need to rant about the billboards that will inevitably insult our intelligence and try to blame long-standing national problems on one party or another.
I was getting ready to mouth off about nasty political party spin machines for thinking they can get away with such dross. Then I realised that perhaps they are savvier than I thought and that they’re simply giving the audience (for which, read the electorate) what it wants.
And what it wants is playing the blame game, the politicisation of all issues and instant solutions.
I’ve been noting evidence of this attitude for some time – mostly from the comments boards of the online newspapers.
Once a news report is uploaded, the comments follow in the same, inevitable sequence. The conspiracy theorists, those obsessed with sensationalising every story, the armchair critics, the know-it-alls and the ubiquitous party-obsessed commenters swarm online and engage in a slew of non-sequiturs that cloud the issue.
Instead of informed debate, we end up with the same old cliches and (nearly) always Party X or Party Y being blamed for all ills under the sun.
Take the tragic death of the young student Polina Rahman as an example. Her disappearance quite naturally caused alarm and consternation among us all. We were desperately sorry for her parents and the anguish they feel.
Then the commenters’ inner Sherlock Holmes made an appearance and various theories as to what had become of her started being aired. The lack of any updates from the police helped to fuel suspicions and rumours began flying around.
People hinted darkly at serial murderers, white slavery and cover-ups. To a certain extent, some amount of speculation was to be expected – until Rahman’s body was found – in undeniably heartbreaking circumstances, but not ones that indicate the Jack-the-Ripper scenarios conjured up by the commenters. Still, speculation continued unabated.
A report on the Maltastar news portal described the place where she was found and concluded that the valley where she was found is contested territory between the local council of Pembroke and St Julian’s as both claim it is not theirs to look after.
How this information could be interpreted as indicating the government was responsible for Rahman’s death beats me. And yet that’s exactly what happened.
A commenter concluded that Rahman lost her life because of a dispute between two local councils, and for good measure wrote: “If the local councils don’t care about killing tourists then perhaps the government should.”
Someone replied warning the local councillors of the final judgment, a sentiment echoed by a couple of other commenters.
Then inexorably the GonziPN government entered the equation and its inaction was touted as being the root cause for the girl’s death.
Now, I’m no great fan of either the local councils or the government, but this kind of thought process (or lack of it), makes me want to bang my head against the wall.
What seems to be, on the face of it a tragic accident – a horrible one, but still an accident – is deemed to be the fault of the government simply because the Prime Minister hasn’t personally erected a rubble wall high enough to prevent any passers-by from tumbling down.
Simply because they’re not government supporters, they create links where there are none and find fault where there isn’t.
I have no doubt that if Joseph Muscat was the Prime Minister another set of people would be blaming him for not micro-managing the country and averting all ills.
In view of this kind of widespread mindset I can only conclude that the upcoming billboard campaign is the only sort we deserve – dumbed-down, facile and completely removed from any form of serious debate.