Brexit: we need entertaining!
This morning the media has been reporting about yesterday's High Court hearing on Brexit and the thorny issue of Article 50. If you are getting twitchy for a 'fix' of media input on the subject, you could do worse than visit the Beeb's webpage on the subject. It was, however, difficult to get very exercised over the matter, given the studied degree of immobility and impassivity on the part of the mostly mature and male participants in the hearing itself.
It was this lack of drama that BBC Radio 4 fixated on as I was driving to work this morning. The presenter interviewed two programme-makers, focusing on whether or not the proceedings in the High Court would naturally form material for a future court-drama - 'Judge Deed Meets The Brexiteers' or something similar. There was a kind of universal agreement that this was not suitable material for the kind of TV drama which would hold the nation riveted to the TV screen. No, that would require spangly tights and dresses, glitter balls, gargoyles hurling abuse, and extreme violence, the kind that results in the gutters running with blood.
To make this point, the pundits commented that the only 'real' drama yesterday lay in the performance of the protesters, shrieking epithets outside the High Court. Some were even wearing wigs and robes - so this legal hearing was turning into a live performance of 'The Sound of Music'. All we needed were nuns, and singing children and everything would be perfect. Contrastingly, within the courtroom, the players were so grey, so measured and just plain boring. Better not focus on any of that, other than to take a swipe at an apparent lack of compliance with diversity regulation.
Perhaps we should not be surprised by this. Long-term exposure to the media tends to result in a coarsening of our appetites, as well as misleading us on where the significant things are happening. Those suits in the courtroom may be a monochrome, unexciting lot, but it's there where the real outcomes will be forthcoming, rather than out in the streets with the protestors and performing clowns. Meaningful and significant content may have dramatic consequences, but it may not satisfy the pundits' appetite for entertainment - indeed, our addiction to the latter probably means that we will entirely miss out on the former.
I think it worth keeping this observation in mind when we come to the Wonderful World of Regulation. Journalists seem to prefer topics which make for big headlines, or which are simple to deal with - the kinds of disconnected, discrete phenomena which make for a nice punchy article, before moving onto whatever is the next hot piece of news. Quickly reported, quickly forgotten, but in the short term, we all do the clown thing, at the side of the road, quite apart from the real action. The reality is that the substantive, longer-term impacts of regulatory bureaucracy take the form of a myriad of separate streams, all flowing unobtrusively in the background, but all (eventually) combining in unexpected ways to give rise to flash floods here and there. At the point of combination, suddenly all of us quite rightly become concerned about our flood defences, because then the real effects of discrete, discontinuous regulatory initiatives become evident.
So, the detail may be unsexy, and not at all entertaining. But that doesn't mean it's not important.