I’m sitting drinking a shit coffee in the sunshine. I can say the coffee is shit, but that doesn’t make the coffee shit for you. If I gave it to you, you might love this shit coffee. But by describing it repeatedly as shit and writing that down I have power over your perception of the coffee. If I then tell you it’s from “Al’s Coffee London” then you might object. “I love the coffee from Al’s Coffee London,” you might think. But you might not post it in the comments. Because the article holds more authority than the comments. If you do it just looks like trolling unless you can gain momentum with it. Even then – you might have seen the comments after virtually everything Trump tweets. And people still believe that shit. The proprietor of Al’s Coffee London might get stuck in. Their tone is likely to be propitiatory at first, trying to limit damage: “We are so sorry you find our shit coffee unsatisfying. Have you tried our new range of crap tea?” Why do they feel the need to go to that effort? All I’ve done is write an opinion in a frame. Why does that carry weight? Simply because I built it from nothing and here it is with a title and a photo? They’re making the stuff. I’m just consuming it.
In truth, I’m liking this coffee. I’m just thinking about creation vs consumption. I’m in the sunshine in London Bridge. But I’m not going to tell you who sold the coffee to me. With all that preamble you might still think it was shit.
People want control over how they are perceived, just as companies do, just as coffee makers do. I broke a rule last week and it got me into trouble. I usually check with people before I put photos of them up, or I try to. I put up a photo up without permission because it was late and I was tired and I thought it would be okay. I got hauled out multiple times. Because I was taking image-control away, which is unfair, particularly in an industry where image-control can directly affect our chances of work. We’re in an environment where someone with very little skill might be preferred for a job because they have millions of Instagram followers. Just because I’ve not given a crap about my face for too long doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t give a crap about theirs. The only other time I put a photo up that was unwelcome it was because of a misunderstanding. But that misunderstanding drove a wedge in a long established trust with an old friend. We care about how we are perceived, and people that make things with words can subtly alter our perceptions, as can a picture
Journalism is a good example of words bending perceptions. Look at the Daily Mail and the way their articles employ assumptions and adjectives. Like Donald Trump hammering the nail of “crooked Hilary” – (he may seem oafish but he’s a master at this) – these things can drip into our consciousness until, with repeated exposure, we can forget that it’s not fact. I am convinced that Paul Dacre (editor of The Daily Mail) had a hand in killing my mother, by dripping poison into her ear daily – she subscribed. “Everybody is on the make, nobody has altruistic motives, watch your back, they’re waiting for you to slip up.” She lost trust in the world and that contributed to her early exit. Bear in mind this is me, dripping poison about the Mail and Trump. Filter everything you consume, people. It’s rare there is no agenda. Even here, unless I’m hammered.
Ursula le Guin has it right when she teaches, in The Earthsea Trilogy, that to have power over something you must know its true name. I’m trying to discover the names of things as I go along. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I get it wrong. But in the same way I’d never paint a word picture of someone and deliberately misrepresent them, so I should not put a bad picture of someone up and say “This is exactly what they always look like.”
An image is not a true likeness. But it has power. For years after their death, I only pictured the sick versions of my parents. Now with time those images have been replaced by happier ones from happier times. But pictures, images and memories can stick around in your head for ages.
When we make something and put it out there, we run the risk of it being unwelcome. I might buy a coffee and then send it back because I don’t like it. I might take a picture and someone might object. But it’s still important to make more coffees and take more pictures. We are all consuming more than we generate, and yet we have so much choice in what we consume that we can say “this coffee is shit.” or “This blog is rambling and overlong.” And we must too, otherwise everything ends up shit or overlong or Starbucks or Daily Mailish.
The things with the most power at the moment seem to be the things with the least depth. I don’t know how this happened but I want to believe that people are going to start noticing that they’re being drip fed crap and demand better coffee, better blogs, better journalism, better leaders. Or, better yet, people will start MAKING better coffee, WRITING better blogs and journalism and BECOMING better leaders. Roll on the next generation. Can’t be worse than these clowns.