Everyone can see the media agenda speeding up to a blinding speed as it tries to keep pace with Brexit, screeching along towards its Byzantium, boring and terrifying ever-elusive finale. Everyone is talking about it, but I want to talk about what it actually means, and because Brexit is such an unusually elongated story, it gives us a unique insight.
Like a stunted stream of slow moving traffic peering at road side wreckage, we each stop in our own way to take a snapshot image of the chaotic mess, so that we can store it away and rely on it as our go-to conversation piece whenever we are asked. Unusually for most stories which live and die quicker and quicker, this one is so confused, so fast moving, so protracted and so drawn out that even the journalists and protagonists are struggling to keep up with ‘what it all means’.
This is revealing some interesting truths about us and how we cope with trying to understand the understandable. When we look at something we do not understand, we look for ourselves. We project characters and tropes that we know from elsewhere onto whatever it is.
When historians look back on today’s art and cultural legacy they will be confronted with this generation’s great, unique offering – the meme. The meme is a constant repackaging of developing narratives into pre-packaged, easy to understand templates. Again and again new events are presented in the same few visual tropes and it is massively popular – and why? The mind bending speed of the news agenda has us grasping for what we recognise, just to keep up. The world has always been speeding up, but the rate of acceleration has never been higher and that is taking an effect.
Savvy stars and politicians play up to tropes that they see us recognising. The cheeky scamp, the austere aristocrat, the calm gardener, the pub landlord, the strutting braggart and of course at the top – the head girl, convinced that the badge is prestigious in itself and that if only she follows what she is told to the tee, everything will fall into line. The fact I don’t need to put names to descriptions proves my point.
The question is, does this work both ways? Does this shared iconography that speaks so much to so many, in turn condition us to try and further fit into stereotypes? So that, like the meme, we cope with a churning carousel of events and opinions by scraping away what makes us different, and package and disguise ourselves with one contradictory purpose – to be recognised.