The year we nearly went mad
From celebrity colonialism and Muslim-mania to flying backwards and resurrecting dead gods: some trends of 2006.
At spiked we have spent much of the past year railing against the growing inanities, near-insanities and illiberalities of life, politics and culture. Here I have room to mention only a few of our least-favourite flavours of 2006.
This was the year when….
Celebrities ruled the Earth
While chef Jamie Oliver was being canonised as a celebrity saint and the saviour of our children, and Kate Moss paraded as a ‘role model’ for not being convicted of taking cocaine, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were taking over Namibia to have their baby in a naked display of celebrity colonialism. Then Madonna decided she was Queen Victoria as well as the Queen of Pop, rewrote the laws of Malawi to adopt an impoverished child, (‘African babies are the new black’, as one wag had it), and made the sort of global impact that African crusaders like Gordon Brown can only dream of.
In a world without inspirational heroes or leaders, celebrities increasingly fill the void. This is not just about the news being full of gossip and trivia, or the (very) odd MP becoming enthralled by a Cheeky Girl. It is about celebrities being used to front debates on serious issues, and every politician hanging on to celebrity coattails in a desperate bid to boost their standing. There has been no worse advert for the empty circus of public life than the tyranny of the celebrities, and the way that vacuous PR gestures have come to be considered deep and meaningful.
Global warming became the hot fashion
This year, serious discussion about the complex science of climate change has often been, er, drowned out by sermonising about the simple moral parable of man-made global warming. Whatever cause you wanted to publicise, or evil you wanted to warn against, simply link it to global warming – however tenuously – and you were guaranteed sympathetic coverage. And woe betide those heretics who tried to sing from a different hymn sheet. Even Al Gore, the dead tree of American politics, managed to relaunch himself as an international statesman through giving global warming the Hollywood treatment in his movie An Inconvenient Truth.
Other waves of apocalyptic alarmism came and went this year, around everything from bird flu to terrorist ‘dirty bombs’ (both of which, inevitably, were ‘linked’ to climate change). But global warming outdid them all. Its emphasis on the road to doom being ‘man-made’ encapsulates the misanthropic mood of the year – and justifies the fashionable demand for us to change our behaviour, Or Else. This one is only just warming up.
Muslim-mania swept the nation
Go back a year and re-read all those expert predictions of what were likely to be the big issues of 2006. You are unlikely to find many that mention ‘A woman wearing a veil in a room in Blackburn’. Yet that became one of the controversies of the year, after New Labour cabinet minister and Blackburn MP Jack Straw admitted to asking Muslim constituents to remove their veil in his constituency office.
We hear a lot of warnings about the rise of ‘Islamophobia’ in Britain today, but this year the country seemed more in the grip of Muslim Mania – a frenzied and irrational obsession with all things Islamic. Muslims, who make up just over three per cent of the population in England and less elsewhere in the UK, were alternatively cast in the role of either national villains or national victims, with demands that we should either feel their collars or feel their pain. The effect of Muslim-mania has been to distort debate about what sort of society we want to live in, and reinforce divisions – sorry, ‘cultural diversity’. Expect more of Britain’s multicultural chickens to come home to roost next year.
Man discovered how to fly backwards
For a century, human flight was widely hailed as a technological miracle, a wonder of human development that could both shrink our world and broaden our horizons, cross continents and break down barriers. Of course it could also be used for terrible wars, but that is ever the way with technology.
In 2006, however, some tried to turn back the clock by attempting to put the flying revolution into reverse. The unbelievable miracle of mass air travel has been, almost unbelievably, branded as a bad thing – especially if it involves large numbers on cheap flights to booze-fuelled weekend jollies. So we must be taxed back to the ground. The justification, of course, is the high-minded crusade against man-made global warming (see above). It has often appeared more like looking down noses at anything ‘mass’. As the calls for a stay-at-home-society grew louder through 2006, those with aspirations for something more were told to keep their cars off the open road, their homes off the grass of the green belt, and their holidays off the planet. In short, curb all flights of fancy.
Religious controversy returned from the dead
Speaking of turning the clock back…. It is well over a century since Friedrich Nietzsche pronounced God to be dead, marking the loss of religion’s hold over the collective mindset. Yet in 2006 religious controversies were somehow resurrected in heated debates about the place of religion in society, the need for laws against religious hatred, and even the meaning of Christmas.
How could that be, at a time when religion exercises less influence than ever before over the lives of individuals or of British society? It looked less like a re-run of the heartfelt religious wars of the past than a product of the loss of faith on both sides. Modern atheists without any belief in humanity rail against the spectre of religious fundamentalism to distract from their own crisis. Meanwhile, defensive religious leaders uncertain of their own shaky churches look for any secular slur that can justify some moral outrage. It has been a phoney war – and like many other phoney wars of 2006, free speech has been the first casualty, with calls for bans on both sides.
Politics went bankrupt
The year is ending with prime minister Tony Blair being interviewed by the police over the loans-for-peerages scandal, and both the governing New Labour and opposition parties worrying about the effects of new rules on party fundraising. But 2006 has confirmed that these political parties are bankrupt in more ways than one. The funding crisis is a consequence of their crisis of politics. Lacking active support, they have fewer resources. Yet because they lack active support to get their message across, they need to spend millions more on media PR campaigns. Result: the search for more questionable sources of finance.
The suggestion now is that the parties be given more public funding. That will only make maters worse. These political parties look like the living dead. New Labour under Gordon Brown is set to be even more devoid of energy than under Blair. ‘Young’ David Cameron’s Conservatives are so desperate to find a reason for their existence that they appear to have run through the entire gamut of policy options in the past 12 months. These parties have no innate right to life, and it would surely be a blessing if the life-support machine of state finance were turned off in 2007.
Miserabilism became the mainstream
It was no coincidence that spiked chose 2006 to launch its first search for the Miserabilist of the Year. This was in many ways the year of the miserabilist. True, you might have said that about any year of the past decade or more. But this year the miserabilists have cleaned up. Everything is now seen as either a crisis or a timebomb facing humanity. We are either too fat or too skinny, too rich or too deep in debt. Everything, it seems, is just too much.
Never let the facts get in the way of a good horror story. A book to be published in the new year by a US free market think tank – The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives – reportedly reproduces a stack of statistics to demonstrate how life expectancy, health and wealth are improving worldwide. It has predictably been rubbished before many of the critics have even read past the title.
So Christmas is coming, the goose is getting obese, don’t put a penny in the old man’s hat as this only encourages anti-social behaviour. Give us a break. On behalf of all at spiked, may I take this opportunity to wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy 2007 which, despite what they say, promises to be the best year to be alive since, well, 2006.
Mick Hume is editor of spiked.
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