From the Atlantic Bullshit Conveyor to the Anglospheric Bullshit Conveyor

Via Adam Tooze on Twitter I saw this piece by His Seriousness, Martin Wolf, in the Financial Times. There’s a way to start a blog post, no? Anyway I was interested by this chart:

I think this is an example of what I called, years ago, the North Atlantic Bullshit Conveyor, taking inspiration from the ocean currents that carry warm water from the Caribbean up the US East Coast and then across the Atlantic to Northern Europe. Instead of warm water, the NABC circulated hot air between the US and UK through the integration of the two countries’ media markets. This is why the same fads turn up on both sides, the same people pop up at different stages of their careers, why Tories imagine “teaching unions” are a thing, why Piers Morgan is famous, why Simon Cowell was able to sell the idea of a TV talent show to the Americans not once but twice, and eventually, how Donald Trump was invented – he’s a blow-by of the same enormous export triumph.

Updating this, I would go as far as to say that the so-called “Anglosphere” is in fact one and the same as the NABC. The chart shows very well that several English-speaking countries have become politically synchronized. Outrage sloshes out of one into the others. The driver of this synchronicity is the conveyor – a transmission belt between them, to use a Marxist trope. Its impact has progressively increased with the development of the media and especially the Internet, which permits users as well as professionals to partake. Journalists’ adoption of Twitter is an important factor here. It’s not surprising that even the idea of an Anglosphere is a journalistic creation.

There are several levels in the conveyor. In its original model, warmer waters tend to flow nearer the surface and colder ones deeper down; it’s not unusual for the direction of flow to be opposite at different levels in the water column. In ours, at one level, chancers migrate towards bigger funding sources, from Australia and New Zealand towards the UK and from the UK towards the USA. At another level, fads and ideas migrate from the more powerful megaphones in the US towards the UK and Canada. The obvious outlier on the chart is New Zealand, and I would argue that it’s protected from the conveyor because quite simply it’s not that big of a market. Ambitious Kiwis may migrate towards the cash but nobody is really that excited about either selling their daft TV show there, or propagandizing it with their stupid idea.

Media products are yet a further level – they are rather different in that the flows are closer to balance, not least because they have an audience and must sell, rather than being a subsidy economy dependent on the whims of eccentric-billionaire funders. The UK exports a lot of media, about £8bn/year at the last count in 2018, even Australia occasionally gets a hit. Tellingly, although the pre-Brexit UK was a major base for broadcasting across Europe, the conveyor was never really extended onto the continent. Not only was there a language barrier, this was commercial activity, and someone had to actually want to watch it rather than paying for it to promote their eccentric notions.

5 Comments on "From the Atlantic Bullshit Conveyor to the Anglospheric Bullshit Conveyor"

  1. I read this and immediately started asking questions:

    1. How long has been this been going on?
    2. Who is driving this?
    3. Why is this phenomenon more prevalent in the Anglosphere, why is so receptive to this bullshit? And the converse, what makes say Germany and France less fertile ground? And is that changing?
    4. Will this trend continue?

    I’ve been mulling similar issues recently and have decided you can handwave and basically answer those questions and lay the blame on two things: “Murdoch” and shame cultures, and lack thereof.

    So to answer

    How long?

    In the UK, since the rise of Murdoch (so roughly 50 years). In the US, this phenomenom probably goes back to conception.

    Who is driving this?

    The “Murdoch” industrial complex. It’s a broad brush of grifters of many nationalities, well funded and now with a couple of generations of vested interests in the shell game.

    3. Why the Anglosphere?

    The loss of a shame culture.
    America’s real herd immunity is to shame.
    In the UK, I’ve suggested a 50 year campaign that loosened the restraints of shame.

    It couldn’t happen in post-World War II Germany because shame is basically part of the citizenship test. I’ll admit that France’s shame culture is highly malleable but counter that it is still resilient – periodic episodes ever since the guillotine reinforce it, and politicians, and its media grudgingly respect it. Gallic grifters have to be far more sophisticated than their Anglo peers.

    4. Will this trend continue?

    The jury is still out. I think shame is back in the UK – coinciding with our covidious predicament, and it will take the most colossal campaign to erase the 40-60K deaths. Not that the “Murdoch” complex is going to try to rehabilitate and foster selective amnesia (e.g. see the Windrush memory hole where Theresa May can even issue statements), but Michael Gove is very thin gruel for a marketing campaign, and why Sunak when Starmer is available and the electorate want to punish. Still, the Fixed-term Parliaments act may well dull the senses.

    The problem is that shame is never enough, you also need fear. I think the pandemic is giving a dose of fear. I wonder if it will be enough…


  2. Wouldn’t necessarily disagree with the idea, but I have no idea how the chart is supposed to have anything to do with it.


  3. I’d joke about NZ being at the far end of long pipes.

    But then I remember that was recently bought out by management from Nine Entertainment, and Jacinda was pretty happy about it because she could organise a media aid package that wasn’t going to Aussie corporations. There’s not really anything like Stuff anywhere else.


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