There’s a familiar thread running through social media at the moment that dismisses and demonises anyone uncomfortable with the canonisation of a certain 16-year-old; it’s one of many examples designed to deter any critique of this specific consensus, accusing anyone with the nerve to compose one as being entirely motivated by hatred of the girl’s gender as well as her cause. Personally, I’ve nothing against either, but I reserve the right to ask questions. However, to challenge the accepted narrative immediately brands the challenger a climate change-denying misogynist – or something along those lines, anyway. Of course, this is a weapon utilised on a depressingly regular basis today, a means of closing down debate with a simplistic insult. Dispute the perceived collective wisdom of anything and the instant retort is the kind of shaming that places one alongside the likes of Piers Morgan and Katy Hopkins – and who would relish a threesome with them?
Anyone querying the deification of Greta Thunberg is immediately attacked as picking on a little girl, yet surely expressing concern at the unhealthy overexposure this teenager is receiving – both from the politicians fawning at her feet in the same opportunistic fashion they once reserved for Mother Theresa, and the absent parents whose care of an apparently autistic adolescent seems to be severely lacking – shows more humanity than encouraging the ongoing and irresponsible adoration of someone occupying such a dangerous spotlight. The elevation of Greta Thunberg to messiah-like status seems to be confirmation that, for some, the climate change issue has morphed into a religious movement. I also find the promotion of Thunberg to her current omnipotence disturbingly reminiscent of an old-school child-star – and we all know what became of many of them.
Like so much of what constitutes contemporary discourse, however, we have been here before. During the similarly-confused early 70s Age of Aquarius, the rejection of orthodox faith by hippies resulted in a multitude of alternatives, one of which was the Divine Light Mission. This organisation had its roots in India, but found a receptive audience in the West when its leader, Prem Rawat – under the hereditary title of Guru Maharaji – was hailed by his disciples as ‘the second Christ’ at the tender age of 15 and made publicised tours of the UK and US, including the overhyped ‘Millennium ‘73’ festival at the Houston Aerodrome. Rawat was essentially Billy Graham in a kaftan, a post-Maharishi beneficiary of the hunger of western youth disillusioned with western panaceas for spiritual guidance, and he briefly managed to attract the patronage of several prominent counter-cultural personalities who carried clout among his target audience.
It certainly is a recurring trend that when a society experiences a destabilising and traumatic sequence of shake-ups to the established order that groups emerge to embrace and promote a cause with zealous fanaticism. It happened after the English Civil War, when numerous Puritan cults took possession of a people suddenly robbed of God in human form (i.e. the beheaded King); and it was no great surprise there was a resurgence of this fad following the cultural upheaval of the late 60s, when the materialistic trappings of the consumerist society were found to be spiritually unsatisfying. Traditional Christianity had been sold as the answer in the same way as soap powder to children of the 50s, so that couldn’t be relied upon. Heads turned to the East, and the East exploited the craving. The presence of sects-cum-corporations such as the Divine Light Mission confirmed the deep desire for something approximating the false security of religion in a secular society; and it would seem the climate change bandwagon fulfils that inherent longing today.
We hardly reside in the most secure of times, so it’s no wonder this pattern has resurfaced, nor is it a surprise that an unlikely individual has been pushed forward as a figurehead for those susceptible to the power of nightmares. Trump, Bo-Jo and Jezza don’t exactly inspire confidence, so why not a Scandinavian schoolgirl in pigtails? There always seems to be a need for Jesus whenever the world goes through one of its periodical spells of uncertainty, and with the man from Nazareth perennially reluctant to embark upon his much-heralded comeback tour, someone has to fill the void. But there should be room to question the wisdom of devotion without being shouted down in a manner that suggests the devoted aren’t quite as secure in that devotion as they’d like to convince us. Yet their approach in silencing anyone expressing a healthy instinct to ask questions is common currency.
A week in which the ghost of a dead politician was cynically and shamelessly exhumed as a desperate means of injecting some emotional weight into a point-scoring contest was further confirmation of this tactic’s current success. Who is going to continue an argument when the name of Jo Cox is evoked to instantly kill debate? And MPs eager to dispatch a Commons clash as a clip to bolster their Twitter standing need to condense a complex issue into a sound-bite for the social media masses, so deliver their contribution in the best Oscar-winning manner to satisfy the nature of the beast. Any deeper nuances are sacrificed to the quick-fire MTV-edit style of a movie trailer and the drama of the one-liner.
Accepting everything and questioning nothing has never been part of my makeup, though in times such as these, refusing to accept either side as sole owners of the moral high-ground and reluctance to be claimed as the darling of one over the other can leave some people puzzled. I’ve been accused of right-wingery on here, just as I was labelled a lefty when I wrote for another blog; I’m happy to be called both, because to me it means I’m neither. And that says I’m doing something right. This is evident in the content of the collected volumes I shall now plug as though I’m no better than a Hollywood whore on the Graham Norton Show…
Volume One is divided into three chapters: 1) Village Idiots (Westminster, Brexit and beyond the bubble); 2) Those We Have Loved and Those We Have Lost (Pop and the personal); 3) It Was a Very Bad Year (Posts from the edge). Volume Two boasts five chapters: 1) Pop Life and Death (Overtures and obituaries); 2) The Wild West (Once upon a time in America); 3) Listen to the Banned (Censorship, culture wars and the politics of identity); 4) Overseas Development (And now for the rest of the world); 5) It Could Be Yewtree (False allegations, fishing parties, witch-hunts and hysteria). Volume Three has four chapters: 1) Part of the Union (Beasts from the East and European empires); 2) Social Insecurity (The department of ill-health or homeless under the hammer); 3) War in Europe (A multicultural mainland and the Great British Jihad); 4) The Home Front (The Disunited Kingdom of Little Britain and Northern Ireland). And finally, Volume Four is down to a trio: 1) Shit-storm (Referendums, Elections and the weak in Westminster); 2) Apolitical Interludes (Pop culture eats itself – and everything else); 3) (Almost) Everything but the Brexit (The bubble & squeak of all essays).
If you’re concerned as to the potential transience of the digital medium – not to mention intimidated at the prospect of slogging through four years’ worth of posts in search of a favourite essay that can now be accessed via the flick of a page – maybe one of the volumes is for you. But don’t dawdle; we might not have much time left…
© The Editor