Media and the Inner World

Politics, Containment and Contempt

Starts: January 14 @ 6:00pm

Ends: January 14 @ 8:00pm

Address: The Frontline Club

Political contexts of containment and contempt
The terms ‘containment’ and ‘contempt’ resonate at a number of levels in the current context of UK political culture. Here one can cite the loss of political certainty surrounding the UK coalition government and the loss of boundaries that once contained and defined the perimeters of political parties and their respective ideologies. Contempt that has emerged as a response to such shifts and are linked to what the government are doing by way of policy and cuts etc (likened by Andrew Rawnsley and Vince Cable to a ‘Maoist revolution’). Such contempt also relates to concern about the loss of containment regarding a perceived breakdown in a social democratic consensus about the boundaries of the public/private sector, and broader anxieties about a post–ideological politics, where the distinctions between the political parties are often blurred and unclear. Celebrity and ‘spin’ play a key role in communicating policy, something that was particularly evident in the run up to the election. Contempt in this context is linked to the disillusionment about the broken promises of that election, particularly in relation to the Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg, as evidenced in the recent student demonstrations. As Dan Chambers’ films about Boris Johnson and David Cameron illustrate, with the so many Etonians in the Cabinet, the dimensions of the British class have once more come to the fore, and notions of contempt are relevant here too in this context.

Psychoanalytic contexts
Drawing on D. W Winnicott ‘s psychoanalytic theory of ‘Transitional Phenomena’ from his book Playing and Reality (1971), one can begin to think about political culture and its communication systems – particularly in the field of social networking, as facilitating in a positive manner, new complex spaces for play and creativity. Yet, in a more pessimistic vein, one can – following Christopher Lasch’s thesis, in his book the Culture of Narcissism (1979) – argue that new modes of political communication and personality politics promote a shallow, narcissistic culture, where modes of empowerment are promoted at the expense of more meaningful if challenging forms of object relating and the capacity to tolerate good enough leadership can be seen as an example of this. The psychoanalytic ideas of Melanie Klein might also be useful to explore the anxieties, projections and desires that are utilised through new modes of political communication.

In his book Emotional Governance (2007), Barry Richards argues that the mediatisation of politics has become increasing emotional and that the application of psychoanalytic ideas to the emotionalisation of politics are pertinent. For Richards, Broadcast News bears a particular responsibility to contain and process the anxieties and ambivalences of the public in order to deflect the paranoid anxieties which emerge as a response to the conflicts of late modernity. The media coverage of ‘The war against terror’ can be seen as a key example of what he sees as a ‘therapeutic’ process, where the media may or may not facilitate the working through of vengeful narcissistic fantasies, towards more reparative impulses for understanding and dialogue. There may well be links here with the themes of Gabrielle Rifkind’s work in the field of conflict resolution in the Middle East.

Discussion Points:

1.    What is the relationship between contempt and containment in UK political culture?
2.    How might psychoanalytic understandings of containment and contempt be applied to examples from the contemporary political scene?
3.    What forms of media can best represent the dilemmas of contemporary politics?
4.    Has politics and its coverage in the news become more overtly ‘emotional’?

Speakers included:

Dr Candida Yates (Director, MiW; UEL)
Dan Chambers (Executive Producer, Boris and Dave; The Milliband of Brothers; Blink Films)
Gabrielle Rifkind (Director, Middle East Programme, Oxford Research Group; Group Analyst)
David Aaronovitch (Writer, Broadcaster, Journalist)

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