Borkowski Weekly Media Trends 28-05-21

Cummings' unexploded Domshell | US Government joins Tinder | UK Eurovision Pariahs

Cummings: The unexploded Domshell

For seven hours on Wednesday UK politicos were treated to a spirited one-man re-enactment of The Boy Who Cried ‘Catastrophic Pandemic Mismanagement’, as Boris’ ex-svengali Dominic Cummings testified to MPs.

Forty-eight hours and infinity social media hot takes later our government and its clodhopping leader appear – insofar as we can judge from opinion polls- to have emerged without a scratch.

So how did a notoriously volatile and embittered ex-employee, who knew where all the skeletons were buried, throw a live grenade at the feet of his former master and still fail to land a single blow?

We’ve previously speculated that in the same way as light bends around ultra-dense objects, Boris Johnson appears to be shielded from reputational crises by some paranormal system of gravitational lensing.

But that’s not what was at play here. The reason Dominic Cummings failed so badly he didn’t even take down Matt Hancock is Dominic Cummings.

During the Brexit referendum and then in Downing Street Cummings used the truth as a piñata and doled out lies like sweets in the form of fake news and background media briefings. He beat our already-fractured sense of trust in public political discourse to a pulp, and now, because his story has changed to match the narrative that most of the public suspected in any case, he expects us to hold what he was saying as sacrosanct.

It was, as Ian Dunt put it in the I, ‘a story of liars – told by a liar’.

While most people probably recognise that a lot of what Cummings said is probably factually correct (or at least closer to the truth than what we were told at the time), so deep is our mistrust in the entire political establishment – in which he has now been a key player for half a decade solidly- that few if any of us are going to change our opinions based on his testimony.

Cummings thinks he was an outsider who was fighting bravely against a tide of ignominy until forced to turn whistleblower. In reality he’s the kid in the playground who eggs his pals on to break the rules and then rats them out when his ringleadership is threatened.

Fundamentally that’s the issue: Cummings has been able to manipulate people en masse in the past but, particularly when it comes to his own public perception, he doesn’t understand them at all.

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US Government joins Tinder

A new contender in the running for the ‘most 2021’ story so far: Joe Biden’s Government has partnered with the America’s nine biggest dating apps to incentivise people to get their Covid vaccinations.

Match Group (who own Tinder, Hinge, OK Cupid and Match.com) and Axios (who own other major players Bumble and Badoo) have announced a roster of soon-to-be-launched features across their apps. Among them, the ability to ‘filter potential matches by their vaccination status’ from OkCupid, ‘details about nearby vaccination sites’ from Tinder, and vaccination status badges for Bumble and Badoo users.

This is a savvy move from the US government. We rarely reference dating apps when discussing the boundless control that social media heavyweights like Facebook and Twitter have over our data, but the power they hold is potent, and remains fairly untapped. Not only do they have vast numbers of users (Tinder alone has 50 million monthly users, and Match Group claims 1/3 of the world’s marriages) who entrust them with all of the personal data needed to find love (or a hook up), they also hold the ability to leverage people’s desire to date. For those who are reluctant to get vaxxed, the promise of being more attractive to potential mates is about as good an incentive as you’re going to get.

It’s a brilliant strategy for the vaccination programme, but also for Biden’s administration. By inserting themselves into people’s love lives, the government becomes a kind of quasi-wingman: ‘get a jab and we’ll get you a hot date!’. Zoom out, and there’s a dystopian creepiness to the idea of the government manipulating people whilst they look for love. But that’s nothing new to voters. Instead, this announcement is a boost for the Biden brand: demonstrating a keen cultural awareness and an interest in voters’ lives that will surely get them far.

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Eurovision’s Political Issues

Eurovision prides itself on leaving the politics at home. As the New York Times recently explained, the song contest is no mere peccadillo. Instead (they said, as they put on their professorial spectacles bought when one of their interns ‘did Europe for a year’), it is ‘a celebration of European cultural diversity’ and an example of cultural diplomacy par excellence. It’s also this.

Though it may not be capital-P Political, it is sometimes hard to neglect the fact that Eurovision brings many nations together, some of whom are nearly at war (and no, that hyperlink does not refer to Franco-British fishing quarrels), into direct sport. In 2016, Ukraine altered the calculus of Eurovision when, against the conventional wisdom that politics doesn’t get votes, they won with a searing indictment of Russian treatment of the Tatars in Crimea during the second World War.

What the New York Times might have said, instead, was that, far from being a song-and-dance Potsdam conference, Eurovision is the spectacle of TRYING to leave politics at home. What dogs the common European project—and what is glorious about it—is that, somehow, member nations have been able to keep it going. Eurovision is one of those big attempts to do what historian Luuk van Middelaar calls the ‘Greek’ strategy of creating a common people through spectacle. This is both necessary, if Europe is to have a shared identity, and also, as the eruptions of Politics into Eurovision often show, near impossible. Indeed for some artists, liquidating politics from the show when it was hosted in Israel was an act of willful blindness which prompted direct political statements and an indirect one from Madonna. This year, there was a lot of indirect commentary on race and the rise of the German far right—none of which, it should be added, was well-received.

All of this is to contextualise one of the most epic snubs in Eurovision history—the historically unprecedented awarding of nul points—BOTH CRITICALLY AND BY TELEVOTE—to the UK’s 2021 entry, James Newman. Granted, the song sucked. But MANY songs suck and get more than nul points. No, there’s something else going on here. The Express seems to think it has to do with anti-British bias on the continent. Whatever for? Despite the fact that the UK is one of Eurovisions funders, and the Express is calling for a boycott and #defundEurovision, there has been surprisingly little bellowing from Johnson and his cabinet. If I were Prime Minister (and thankfully I am not), I would launch a full-scale invasion to settle the score. Starting here.