IT’s a good question. “Why aren’t you angry?” It was asked from the stage of Bristol Old Vic theatre during the performance of Stella Feehily’s This May Hurt A Bit, a funny and ferocious play about one family’s experiences with the National Health Service, a story that is a metaphor for the state of the NHS in 2014. It’s a bit of genuine agit prop theatre, the sort of thing that Joan Littlewood staged at the Theatre Royal Stratford East and that helped a generation to wake up both to the realities of the world around them and to believe that they could do something about it, that they could take to the stage, to the streets or to their type-writers and that somebody would listen.
It is a very good play, albeit not a type of production we see often these days at a major theatre. It is heading for the St James Theatre in London where I rather suspect its theatricality and energetic versatile cast – including the wonderful Stephanie Cole – will be highly praised by the critics, while its politics will be excoriated by those whose newspapers consistently attack the NHS for its failures and its finances.
But the question set me thinking. Why aren’t we angry any more? When we did we get to accept so many things that we don’t like?
It’s not fashionable to show that you care about big things, real issues of life, death and the future of the planet. You get more hits on your website, retweets from your Twitter feed, or “likes” on your Facebook page if you report the marital ups and downs of football love-rats or the latest sofa banter from some celebrity chat show host and his guests.
Cameron’s selfie at Mandela’s funeral, Nigel Farage’s jolly japes, Milliband’s similarity to a Wallace and Gromit puppet … these things are neither proper political comment nor serious journalism. You struggle to find out what our politicians actually believe about the things that really matter.
Why are there global corporations with turnovers greater than the GDP of many countries and more powerful than most individual governments?
Why didn’t we realise that the “welcoming” tax system that has attracted all those Russian oligarchs and sovereign funds would also be a magnet for giant companies wanting to avoid tax in their own countries moving in on our successful businesses, as is the case with the American multi-national pharmaceutical company Pfizer and Britain’s AstroZeneca (but yes, the Indian giant TaTa has saved Jaguar and Landrover, so real investment by international corporations is not always bad news)
How did our wonderful postal service get to be the privatised mess it is now? Who really benefitted from the sell-off of Royal Mail?
Why have vast outpourings of manufactured emotion, reflected in piles of quickly rotting and malodorous flowers, about people we don’t know (or, worse, even creatures of fiction) replaced genuine feelings about what is happening in our lives and to our world?
How long has it taken for us to see that our local newspapers have changed from providing “local news” to a soggy and unreadable blend of crime, celebrity and advertorial with a smidgeon of sport if there are enough (unpaid) contributors? Had you even noticed that or did you long ago stop buying or picking up the local rag because ”:there’s nothing to read in it”?
Why has cynicism replaced a desire to know the facts and work out the truth for ourselves?
Why is it easier to get up a head of publicity steam against wind turbines (that you can see) rather than fracking (which you can’t), when both technologies are damaging to the environment in different ways in the wrong place, and have their benefits in terms of energy and job creation in the right place.
Why aren’t we up in arms over the the massive “islands” of plastic and waste that are clogging the oceans and killing sea birds and sea creatures, horribly and slowly?
When did we accept that the NHS can be dismantled and privatised through the back door – unless there are enough people swept off their feet by the charisma of Nigel “Mr Toad” Farage and his cohorts, many of whom believe the NHS should be totally privatised?
(Have you actually looked at UKIP’s policies rather than its posters? It would be a good idea to know what they would like to do before you allow Farage’s blokish charms and pound-store oratory to carry you on a wave of Europhobia and anti-immigration into actually voting them into a place where they can put their ideas into practice. By all means vote for UKIP – the other parties are pretty dull and indistinguishable, after all. But please do know who and for what you are voting.)
What does it take to make more people realise that they should be listening to the voices of Pilger and Scruton and Monbiot and Booker and Greer and other writers, broadcasters and thinkers from many different political sides, whose views you may not always like, but who take the trouble to dig beneath the surface and expose uncomfortable thoughts and truths, You don’t have to agree with them, but wake up and think about what they are saying.
Aye, there’s the rub,.as Hamlet might have said in a different time and a very different world. Instead of “What dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil?” we should ask what will happen if we don’t wake up soon!
How have we sleepwalked into a world where real life is substituted by Punch and Judy politics, celebrity fantasies, advertorial instead of information, and reality television?
So … why AREN’T you angry?