The most entertaining news this past week has been the phone-hacking scandal in Britain leading to News International shutting down one of the country's most vile – and bestselling – tabloids The News of the World. It was American crime journalist (and expert on the Japanese underworld as shown in his excellent book TOKYO VICE) Jake Adelstein who reminded the readers of his twitter feed that the villain of the 1997 James Bond film TOMORROW NEVER DIES was inspired by Rupert Murdoch and News International.
Played by Jonathan Pryce as a sleek paragon of corporate smarminess, Elliot Carver controlled a high-tech media empire that not only reported the news, but created it as well. He tries to start World War III by setting the West against China for the sake of boffo ratings and profit. Elliot Carver was a comic book version of the media mogul as supervillain: he walked around in a massive control room filled with giant TV screens and used a tablet computer to issue orders way before anyone even heard of an iPad. He commanded a private army of mercenaries and assassins to carry out his plans for world domination.
I'm usually surprised when James Bond movies attempt any kind of political commentary at all. They're not generally left-wing by any stretch of the imagination, and it's quite different to see a Bond villain overtly based on a real-life figure life Rupert Murdoch, whose newspapers routinely supported the Bond films as a British institution. TOMORROW NEVER DIES has turned out to be amazingly prescient as New International now faces a potential meltdown with police investigations and arrests of their journalists and former editors for illegally hacking and listening in on the phone calls of murder victims, celebrities, politicians, and the Royal Family. This has been standard practice for Murdoch's papers for about three decades now. His private army has been his journos and the private eyes they employed to eavesdrop, bug, burglarise and hack their targets, usually people who had the temerity to end up in the public eye. You really can say Murdoch has been our real-life Bond villain, except we don't have a real-life James Bond. A real James Bond would either be dead or in jail very quickly for doing the things he did in the movies. Thus, Murdoch and his media empire have been able to get away with intimidating celebrities and politicians and casually destroying their reputations and careers if they didn't pay proper obeisance to him, on top of smearing members of the public unlucky enough to have been victims of crime, rape or just being black. Murdoch's papers have had a big hand in shaping public opinion in England in the last 30 years and America in the last 20 or so through Fox News with very little effective opposition. Ever since Thatcher, no British government could get elected without support from Murdoch's tabloids, which made party leaders have to suck up to him, and now everyone who did looks bad. These are all the hallmarks of a comic book supervillain, and it's been happening in real-life for most of our lives.
Now the bloom is off the rose because the minions have been caught actually committing crimes instead of just doing deeds that were unethical and morally repugnant. And if they've actually hacked the phones of 9/11 victims, this makes their crimes international and into America as well, where the charges would be even more serious. The supervillain is facing serious opposition for the first time not from James Bond or Batman, but by exposure by the investigative reportage from another newspaper that resulted in the Law having to step in and the general revulsion of the public and advertisers who gave the papers money.
With the shuttering of the News of the World, its 200-plus employees are now out of a job. The majority of them weren't involved in the phone-hacking or illegal activity, they're the the basic staff – the chefs, janitors, receptionists, secretaries on top of other journos – of Ernst Stavro Blofeld's secret volcano base suddenly being turfed out as the island base gets blown up. At least they didn't get blown up with it. Hell, they get to apply for benefits under the rather socialist Welfare State that that's getting cuts from the very government their paper supported.
Or we could do the clichéd geek thing and use a STAR WARS analogy: the Death Star has been blown up (as Charlie Brooker tweeted), but the Empire still lives and will build a new Death Star to replace it, probably in the case of a Sunday edition of The Sun (Interesting to note that Murdoch's Fox movie studios also distribute the STAR WARS movies, but they're owned by George Lucas). The destruction of the News of the World is not a scalp. It's only a wig. The monster has run out the door bald and will come back shortly with a brand-new head of hair, possibly of the ginger variety.
For those people who are afraid of the government or the KGB or the STAZI spying on us, it turns out that Rupert Murdoch's weasel-hacks have already been doing the spying, and their agenda is clear: to sell papers and turn a profit out of people's tragedies and private relationships.
Funnily enough, while all this is going on, BBC Radio 4 has begun their new dramatization of Mervyn Peake's novel series GORMENGHAST, a phantasmagorical allegory of the social shifts in the English class system and psyche after the Second World War. At a moment when there is a sense of another major social shift in the air in Britain, it feels apt that we're meeting the crumbling aristocratic world of GORMENGHAST as it cannibalises itself and the plight of its tragic hero Titus Groan once again.
THE HISTORY OF TITUS GROAN will be broadcast on Radio 4 for the next few weeks and can be streamed here.
Looking at the wreckage of the secret volcano base at firstname.lastname@example.org
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stuff for future columns and stuff I may never spend a whole column writing about.
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