Can I bring myself to write about Tony Blair’s long-overdue departure? Do I have the energy? The interest? Barely. I’m certainly not going to go into a long, earnest assessment of the pros and cons of his reign.
The reason? Very simply, this is not news. It’s a classic example of what Daniel Boorstin described as a pseudo-event. It’s an event created for the media, choreographed for maximum publicity and maximum benefit to the organiser. It’s an event that would have no meaning whatsoever without the presence of cameras, microphones and reporters with notebooks. It’s a manipulation of the press. Every single reporter and photographer who attended the announcement today would have known that everything about it was fake, from the slight catch in the voice and the bullshit “hand-on-heart” sincerity to the focus-group-perfect crowds with the token females and minorities shoved to the foreground.
But equally they would have known that they had to cover it. It would take a courageous editor indeed to put out a front page tomorrow morning without any mention of the Prime Minister’s resignation. That’s why the pseudo-event works so well, and has become the dominant form of story generation in the modern newspaper. And that’s why it’s so dangerous — it works only because of the power of the person generating the event. A powerful person saying something of absolutely no value is inherently newsworthy; a lot of powerless people saying something important is not newsworthy (unless of course they turn violent — then you can have some great stories about scary anarchists creating havoc for us normal hard-working folks). Blair has perfected the art of the pseudo-event in a way few others have since Ronald Reagan. I guess in that way it’s a fitting end to his reign.
So I’m not going dwell on it any further. I am not going to examine Blair’s “legacy.” I am not going to debate whether a period of relatively strong economic growth outweighs 600,000 dead Iraqis. As Blair himself says, history will judge him on that. I’m not going to examine how the speech was a perfect blend of Clintonesque false sincerity (“Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right”) and Bushite God-tinged patriotism (“This country is a blessed nation”). To do all that would be to afford the whole nauseating affair too much attention. In fact, I hesitate even to press “Publish” on this post. Even to explain why I’m dismissing this pseudo-event seems to be spending too much time on it.
But hey, I’ve spent the time already, so why hide it?