It’s The Sun wot has lost it

The thing that strikes me most about the whole Page 3 thing last week is how ineptly The Sun has handled it.

The ‘Check ‘Em Tuesday’ debacle was an earlier sign of wrong-footedness. And now this (archetypally-unThatcherite) U-turn.

Ditching Page 3 and then bringing it back is surely not about The Sun’s “sense of mischief”.

It looks much more like The Sun being backed into a corner and not knowing what to do about it.

All the reasons why The Sun would want to get away from Page 3 in the first place are still in play. And the pressures will only grow.

The problem The Sun has is that they are on the wrong side of history on this (and not by just a bit). And that’s a losing position. Defeat either happens quickly, and everyone can move on, or through protracted decline, their choice.

And as the world moves on, The Sun’s self image, as standing up for the underdog, looks increasingly untenable. Rupert Murdoch’s tropes about attacks from elites aren’t at all convincing.

Over the years, The Sun has carefully manufactured a sense of its own power and position and then ended up believing its own hype.

The myth of the Sun and the 1992 election campaign, for example, has had extraordinary, long-lasting traction. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. The alternative reading, that Sun sees how its readers are going to vote and then plumps for that side is still, even now, only partially accepted I think.

But doubt is increasingly seeping in. The Sun is looking not just out of its time, but also unsure of its moorings, strategically all over the place.

And that’s important, because power is about perceptions.

As Saul Alinsky put it, his first rule: ‘Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have’.

There’s nothing better for a campaigner than to see a powerful target that’s floundering around, looking inept.

In basically all campaigns, there is a massive power imbalance between the campaigners and the target.

But that opens up possibility of using targets’ power – and particularly their overweening sense of their own power, and the misreading of the situation that can flow from that – against them.

Global industry Goliaths – from global biotech firm Monsanto and GM foods, to the behemoth pharmaceutical industry and patents for medicines – have been felled and forced into retreat (at the very least temporarily) by campaigners with slingshots. Their downfall a function of a tunnel vision distorted by power and profits.

More recently, global property developers planning to evict residents from the New Era estate faced the music, having failed to foresee, in a fog of expectations of massive profit, troubles ahead.

TTIP has a similar feel to it. Corporate lawyers squirrelling away behind closed doors to increase power and profits being exposed to the court of public opinion, and it doesn’t look good.

Campaigns are littered with examples of powerful targets over-reaching, failing to read the situation properly, succumbing to hubris.

It’s not generally the lack of basic integrity in itself that’s the problem, but the failure to consider, or even realise, how bad that might look to others.

Power corrupts and overwhelming power can turn you sociopathic.

And that’s when the cracks can open up.

(And very much more so, and more quickly, with social media, open campaign platforms, etc.)

As Alinksy says,“If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive”.

The negative (the targets’ massive power) can be flipped into a positive dynamic by creating uncertainty, tempting targets into miscalculations, into over-bearing use of their power – or sometimes by just being around to exploit it when it happens.

2 Comments

  1. Jeremy says:

    An inference is: if their targets were clever, campaigners would never win anything. That targets over-reach themselves or misread a situation is a key precondition for campaign success. As well as the reasons you give, perhaps an element to this is that it is harder for those who work in targeted companies and governments to feel the same emotional bond to their company or government’s work (the people opposing an issue care more about it than those obliged by where they work to defend it). Campaigns are fuelled by this emotional energy and sense of being right. People resisting oppression can outlast their oppressors. At the same time, we often talk about campaigning organizations lacking persistence and their targets simply waiting for them to lose interest and go away. So maybe the counterpoint to targets overreaching themselves is NGOs lack of persistence, overreaching being a key weakness of companies and other campaign targets and lack of persistence that of NGOs?

  2. Mark says:

    It is interesting to see how slowly the power dynamic changes – politicians are still in awe of the print media and buy the its the sun wot won it line from 1992. In 1997 the Sun switched sides when they knew who the winner was going to be and stayed loyal to Blair. They got it wrong in 2010 but doesn’t seem to have dented the politicians fear. This time it may be too close to call until the polls are closed and they may guess right again and the myth will be reinforced. Meanwhile the world moves on and fewer and fewer people read the print versions. Page 3 will disappear from as readership falls and it becomes too much of embarrassment for advertisers. Although with their switch to online subscriptions and the way in which soft celebrity porn is the right hand pillar of the Mail I suspect it may become more prevalent online.

    Of course the continuing use of Page3 is also part of the continuing dominance of male power over female sexuality. However much former models maintain it empowered them it did nothing to empower the women who were and continue to be seen as no more than a pair of breasts to be fondled by leering men who continue to see it as “only a bit of fun”.

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