Do we BENEFIT from IMMIGRATION? (a brief exploration of semantic influence).

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Can you see what I did there in the title? I conflated two loaded terms together to make one all pervasive semantically primed caption – designed to capture your attention and activate certain feelings and emotional responses that are being subconsciously suggested to you on a daily basis through the myriad of programming on these two topics.

Now, before you start screaming ‘lizard people!’ at me – this is not to say that someone or some group has sat down and decided to use the semantic priming of the electorate to stir up ill-feeling and division against certain groups of people in order to divert attention from themselves. No. That would be ridiculous wouldn’t it?

Of course, if the ongoing demonization of these perceived social sub-groups is not some diversion tactic by the powerful elite, then it must be something else. Stands to reason really. So what else could it be? Here are some options and considerations.

1.            We (as a collective entity incapable of individual thought) are genuinely concerned about benefits/migrants.

Sounds reasonable. I mean, there are no shades of grey here are they? We, the 63 million headed beast known as ‘the electorate’, have come to a majority consensus that we don’t like bene-grants, sorry, I mean, immi-fits, (whoops!) I mean benefits and immigrants.

I suppose that’s because we all wake up every day, covered in immigrants, go downstairs only to find we’ve lost our JOB to an immigrant and that we’re not entitled to any support because the welfare bill is being used by all those bloody benefit claimants. Then, as you walk down your street, which is full of immigrants and benefit CHEATS, you look through their windows and they’re all having a big party around a FLAT SCREEN TV, watching SKY, drinking BEER, smoking CIGARETTES, taking ILLEGAL DRUGS, committing other CRIME and having BABIES at our expense.

What’s worse is some of them are one and the same thing: immigrants on benefits (OMG!). And some of them look just like us so it’s hard to tell which is which and who to hate the most! I mean, we hate our ‘own’ benefit claimants anyway, so what if they are foreign? I suppose that means we hate them twice as much? Does it work like that?

For example, you are trapped in a burning building with two other people: one is a white British benefit claimant, the other is an immigrant benefit claimant. Only two of you can survive. Do you a) save the evil British person cos they’re only ‘one bad’, or b) save the ‘two bad’ evil foreign person because you probably are one too, or c) let yourself burn and let them both live (whatever!), or d) let them both burn as they are evil anyway and you are a better human being than them?

I suppose if you genuinely do hate immigrant/benefits then you will have given this much thought. I mean, ‘hate’ is a really strong word and historically has led to all sorts of problems, so you don’t want to take a subject like hating a whole section of society lightly. It’s not like you would just watch say, one episode of a ‘structured reality’ TV show on Channel 4 and come to this opinion, that would be absurd. (Or worse still – read the opinions of one newspaper and think that represents the whole complexity of the issue!)

2.            You are not so concerned about the individuals who are being targeted, more the impact on the economic situation these issues can cause.

We’ve moved up a notch here from burning people alive, for those of a more academic disposition. It’s not racist to talk about immigration after all, and it’s not elitist to talk about benefit claimants. To give you an idea of the kind of audience this option applies to, listen to any Radio 4 phone-in at the moment, or watch question time.

This kind of opinion doesn’t come from tabloids or scare tactics. How can it when you read broadsheets and watch the neutral BBC treatment of these topics? (mostly commissioned in response to the tabloids and political scare tactics – in order to represent a ‘balanced’ debate of the issues of the day).

Now we’re considering, in a mild mannered and measured way, the IMPACT on SCHOOL PLACES, on HOUSING, CRIME and the NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE. Let alone the overall contribution to THE DEFICIT. We’re talking about immigration CAPS and CHECKS and BALANCES. Also, on what it means to make a FAIR CONTRIBUTION to the STATE. And this is the world of STATISTICS.

Funnily enough, this is also the world where during a three hour debate phone-in, an expert can happily tell us that there isn’t really a problem – that the figures are massively insignificant in comparison to say, financial fraud and tax evasion at the highest level – and yet no one stops the debate and says “oh well, there isn’t much point us continuing to talk about people on benefits and immigrants anymore if this isn’t really a problem compared to these other things.” No, the show continues to debate the none-issue anyway in a weekly series of ill-formed opinion tennis, as that’s what we want to hear, apparently.

It’s tempting to think, when listening to some semi-retired bed & breakfast owner in Torquay waxing lyrical about the strain on the NHS due to immigration, and how it wasn’t like that in ‘my day’, that they are only ever a stone’s throw away from suggesting we put up a big wall around the country and shoot on sight. But it’s okay, because they don’t mind immigrants as people because they met some nice one’s working in the 5 star hotel they once visited in London (even if they did have trouble understanding the accent). And they understand the plight of people out of work on benefits, but why should these people have FLAT SCREEN TVs, and not go out and GET A JOB like they did once in another decade/place/social situation?

You may have noticed throughout this blog that I have been using a lot of CAPS to emphasise certain key words. Not very subtle, and I’m sorry if it seems like I’m typographically shouting at you. The reason however was to see if anything illuminating comes from stringing these words together once I’d finished ironically appraising the broad ‘camps’ of public opinion as presented above.

Option 1 was, roughly, your tabloids and shock TV approach to making ‘folk devils’ out of immigrants and benefit claimants (‘folk devils’ by the way, is a social sciences term for how the media represent  sections of society perceived to be ‘out of order’ with the rest of us – often totally sensationalised and disconnected from the reality of the situation: there are theories that this comes out of political and corporate influence to divert attention and/or good old fashioned profiteering – both seem likely, both are probably true.) Option 2 was your BBC/Broadsheet coverage of these issues which does much the same with a different audience in mind and longer words.

So, we were left with a number of ‘buzz words’ that I have categorised below:

Public Services:

SCHOOL PLACES – NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE – HOUSING – CRIME

Consumer Items:

FLAT SCREEN TV – SKY – BEER – CIGARETTES – HOUSING – ILLEGAL DRUGS

Lifestyle:

JOB – BABIES – CRIME – HOUSING

Economics:

THE DEFICIT – CAPS – CHECKS – BALANCES – CONTRIBUTION – STATE – STATISTICS

Emotive:

CHEATS – IMPACT – FAIR CONTRIBUTION – GET A JOB.

For me, this little list is basically a ‘picture postcard’ of almost every domestic political issue going, with a bit of advertising thrown in for good measure:

  • We all want high quality and easily accessible public services (no brainer). But these are suffering (for reasons such as benefits and immigration) and therefore need private help, unsurprisingly.
  • Owning a flat screen TV with an expensive SKY subscription is apparently the pinnacle of modern existence. Our reward for being good tax-payers. (Which makes it much more annoying when some cheat achieves this without even going to work!)
  • Alcohol, cigarettes and illegal drugs are almost pitched as envy items for the option 1 readers/viewers. After all, what we all really want (according to that view) is to watch SKY on our TVs while getting intoxicated one way or the other, especially if you are in a low paid job with little prospects. So these migrants and benefit claimants are cheating their way to that ideal. Naughty. Furthermore, for the option 2 view – these are mostly seen as repugnant vice’s, putting moral distance between ‘them’ and ‘us’. For option 2 views, we want to be able to watch our flat screen TVs enjoying moderate legal intoxication. Because, as stated, that is the aim of all humanity.
  • Apart from that, we all want to work, no matter the job(?). Breeding is arguably one of the certain motivations of all life, and having somewhere to live one of the others. If you don’t want to work, you’re probably a criminal (although robbery does involve a lot of heavy lifting I hear).
  • But we can’t have all these thing all the time because of the economic deficit! That’s why we need checks and balances and caps on (all manner of) things. Use the words state control instead: it’s easier and more accurate. Plus we need to contribute to survive, and that’s shown in the official statistics for almost every aspect of our existence. (And again, if you don’t, you are probably a criminal).
  • Which brings us to the ‘idea’ of fairness. Which boils down to: get a job and contribute to avoid the crushing and devastating impacts that cometh to us if we don’t. (Or be a criminal and face punishment).

And who is to blame (at the moment) if we can’t have these things in the way we want, as often as we want, without concessions? One, two three… The immigrants and benefit cheats! Yes! We have an answer to all our problems, as spelled out to us daily in every article, debate, documentary and news item to grace our senses.

Now, Mr and Mrs readers – I hardly need to tell you all this. You are after all probably not who this type of media is aimed at (or maybe you are, I have no way of knowing), and are probably unsurprised about these conclusions. The question I want to ask is BUT WHY? And WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT? I don’t have these answers yet, and don’t think any one person can without consensus, but I would really like to know what those of us who aren’t swayed by sensationalism and rhetoric can do to help those that are. Because this is making a real and negative difference. It’s not the migrants and benefit claimants who are the problem (at the very least, not to any degree of scale as is being portrayed) – it is the media representation (for whatever motives, political and private), and it needs to stop.

Please send your ideas on a postcard to Mr Cameron, 10 Downing Street, or alternatively, leave them in the comments box below.

Thank you for reading.

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