Among the litany of ‘second subjects’ I’ve taught, Media Studies has been one of the more persistent. If you need an idea of how long I’ve been teaching it, consider that I started doing so in a department where ‘technology’ meant a colour printer and a stash of contraband Pritt sticks. Back then, Media Studies was a relative newcomer to the secondary curriculum, and an object of scorn: the journalists and politicians whose tactics students were learning to scrutinise repeatedly reminded Jo(sephin)e Public that it was a “Mickey Mouse” discipline* of no academic worth – a perception that may have contributed to my initial reluctance to take it on.
* Dunno whether the circular ears or the white gloves are the basis of this comparison.
I quickly became convinced of my error: not only was it valuable and, in the right hands, intellectually stretching; it was necessary.
I still incorporate aspects of Media Studies into my teaching, and it’s still a buzz to witness the moments of epiphany furnished by its insistence on critiquing the quotidian. So, it was with something of the same mindset that I read last week’s reports on the protests sparked by Donald Trump’s visit to the UK. I was especially tickled by one national daily’s decision to focus on the six protestors arrested – sorry, “ARRESTED” – in London, rather than on the tens of thousands who marched in noisy peaceability.
For the record, my participation in the London protest was not without ambivalence: I was prepared to see the visit as a distasteful example of realpolitik at work, and I felt uncomfortable about barring one deemed despicable for barring others. Despite that, I had a strong urge to be present: to participate in the chorus opposing the values that inform POTUS’s policies; and to help fill a gap in the hard-to-argue-against aerial shots with my pointillist dot of a head.
You see, some of my friends – indeed, some of my family – are women, brown or women who are brown. They are not, therefore, among the President’s favourite things, unlike (apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein) Fine lady-loathers/And upright Grand Wizards – a fact reiterated by his unspoolings on the lawn at Chequers and, one might speculate, by his absence from a compatriot’s attempt to make sporting history in SW19. Then again, he does prefer equestrianism, being a genius at the stables or some such.
With the consistency that characterises his self-regard, the President reminded us that, in Trumpton, immigration is a bad thing brown people do; white folks, by contrast, are just moving to other countries in search of better lives. Which may explain the pride with which he speaks of his Scottish-born mother and German grandfather. No immigration for them, godammit. The woman who was to become Mother Trump simply travelled across the Atlantic on RMS Transylvania (I’m not making this up), evincing her bravery and work ethic with a coiffure that, possibly, explains a lot about her son’s tonsorial and architectural preferences.
It’s one matter to lampoon the President’s hypocrisies (and, admittedly, take the p155 out of his mum in the process, of which I’m a little ashamed). It’s another to characterise him and his acolytes as anachronisms, swimming foolhardily against the cultural current’s forward motion. For, in doing the latter, we risk missing the extent to which similar ideas are normalised by other forms of repetition, through conduits so innocuous that we scarcely notice it happening. For instance, it takes a mere flick through the TV listings to find several programmes, broadcast on mainstream channels, that follow ‘First World’ nationals – white ones, usually – hoping to move to other countries. Or, as it’s also known, immigration. Some do so by focusing on property markets; others, on comparative job prospects and costs of living. A more recent category explores the feasibility of assorted luvvies spending their twilight years in places where age is held in high regard (i.e. not here).
As such, the questions raised tend to be about domestic finances, the impact on family life, language acquisition and cultural compatibility, with pretty much every participant expressing a well-intentioned desire to integrate with the indigenous culture. (Though few, I imagine, aspire to work – just like the locals – in the poorly-paid service industries that sustain paradisical stereotypes). The ethics of seeking opportunities wheresoever one chooses remain unexamined, reserved instead for genres – documentaries, panel discussions and so on – associated with Pressing Social Problems. The kind of problems overwhelmingly engendered by darker-skinned migrants, often with smaller bank balances, engaging in dishonourable deeds: like fleeing war zones; or improving the life chances of their children.
The cumulative effect of this televisual output is an oddly Trumpian vision, in which white migration simply expresses an unquestioned/unquestionable right. Thrumming beneath its surface is the tacit assumption that white migration has either neutral or beneficial consequences, whereas migration by people of colour involves rapacity or loss. It’s the same set of assumptions underpinning a fair whack of imperial history and present-day ‘populism’ – another term of whose normalising connotations it’s wise to be wary. It’s also a reason why both former and aspiring emigrants within my white family – all of them already in possession of enviable lifestyles, but searching for even better ones – are unlikely to be deemed greedy, refused permission to land, or threatened with having their airbuses shot out of the sky.
And why, more than two decades later, I still find myself arguing that Media Studies should be a compulsory subject.