Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Frankie Boyle, Mock the Week and True Freedom

by Charles Pooter

Mock the Week is a comedy panel show broadcast by the BBC. Frankie Boyle is its most successful protagonist.

Nick Cohen is a leftist neo-conservative commentator. He published an article criticising Mock the Week and Frankie Boyle.

Johnathan Pearce is a libertarian commentator who writes for the blog Samizdata. He agrees with Cohen.

Cohen's article is clearly a cultural polemic, but as is usual with the output of most British political commentators, it mixes up various issues and befuddles the mind. But if we get down to brass tacks, sometimes even trivial matters can illuminate fundamental principles, and allow for arguments about political strategy:

Principle

First the question of whether Mock the Week and Frankie Boyle's jokes should be permitted without prior censorship or subsequent official censure.

Libertarians of all stripes must defend the right of anyone to say anything. This includes attacks on the aged and Frankie Boyle's jokes about the monarch's vagina. This is a libertarian principle.

Strategy

In a free society, frankly, Frankie could say what he liked on TV. He would only be restricted by the tastes of his subscribers, the norms of his worker's cooperative or the tolerance of his advertisers. Who could argue? But we don't live in a free society and Mock the Week is broadcast on the BBC, which is funded via coercion. Libertarians are against coercion. Therefore some libertarians take every opportunity to attack BBC content that they think the majority finds objectionable. This will undermine the BBC and perhaps hasten its demise. This is especially easy for some libertarians who find much content that offends their own conservative cultural sensibilities. This is short-sighted and opportunist. I'm not accusing Pearce of this strategy but many British libertarians do take every opportunity to attack the BBC.

I believe that more thoughtful libertarians should be against the abolition of the BBC and its tax in isolation from a wider resurgence in freedom and personal responsibility. In the same way that I think it would be madness (impossible in fact) for a Libertarian-labelled government to legalise private ownership of automatic weapons without a massive accompanying resurgence in personal responsibility, I also think it would be a bad thing if a Libertarian-labelled government destroyed the BBC without also examining the statist means by which its globalist replacements would dominate the marketplace.

Things brings us to core libertarian strategy. Is is obvious such an examination of statist assumptions would not occur after any election of a Libertarian-labelled government. Such a government would sell of the spectrum to a few favoured corporations who would flood the broadcast spectrum with a narrow range of dumbed-down programming aimed at garnering the most advertising and subscription revenue. This would not be a free market, but the cartelised market we see in almost all other areas of life which are supposedly free.

To get a true freed market in broadcasting, fundamental issues such as the corporate form, "intellectual property", ownership of the electro-magnetic spectrum, assumptions about Lockean property rights and ownership of unoccupied land would have to be examined. Like any true re-institution of liberty, this will only ever happen via a blossoming of true freedom from the ground up. A new society built within the shell of the old. It will never happen via statist elections, which at best will prevent capitalism from collapsing and allow us all to live in a very efficiently run prison camp, albeit a prison camp with many electronic Chinese toys to play with.

So, do I want any government, including one labelled as libertarian, to abolish the BBC? Do I even want the election of a libertarian-labelled government? No, because this will strengthen the corporate mono-culture and postpone the flowering of a truly free society. Such an eventuality in fact will probably strengthen those on the left who have always said that libertarianism was about unrestrained corporate greed. Perhaps with the election of such a Government, they will be right. And so, inescapably, the political barometer will swing back towards the only known alternative: state socialism. I hope I am wrong, but I think it likely that the green shoots of true freedom will only sprout after an almost total collapse of the current corporate-capitalist system.

So, what of the output of the BBC in society as it is, Mock the Week and our friend Frankie Boyle? These things can only be judged subjectively in line with one's cultural intuitions. Conservative pundits like Peter Hitchens think that the BBC is hugely biased towards the beliefs of North London cosmopolitans. Many leftists think the BBCs output is at core always loyal to establishment forces. These biases are not necessarily contradictory. Given its isolation from market forces, the BBC's output will be largely decided by the prejudices of its staff and their assumptions about what is good and what the public wants. This gives scope for its enemies to see bias everywhere they look. Its output will also be steered slightly by the successful output of its rivals, but the BBC is so dominant that it can often set the agenda and tone in many areas. There's not much one can do about any of this except to spread correct ideas about politics and freedom and hope they eventually become so pervasive as to be reflected by the BBC. This is not something that would even be possible if the BBC were to be replaced with globalist corporations. Ultimately, if liberty wins, the BBC will become a free institution or it will cease to exist.

As for Mock the Week, I find it an improvement on those BBC comedy shows hosted by aging baby boomers, continually reliving their student days, with their tedious leftist invective and unfunny outdated satire. Frankie Boyle is offensive, vulgar and makes light of some of the worst aspects of human nature. He is also very funny. As a comedian, he has no responsibility to be anything else.