This is our truth, tell us yours
I couldn’t have written this blog if I hadn’t read Pages Passed From Hand to Hand and the wealth of work on radical literature by the likesof Raph Samuel and Gwyn Alf Williams.
I remember the first time I saw a photocopy. Dad produced it from his hip pocket, neatly folded from A4 to A6, a gray font copy of a version of the lyric to a Max Boyce song. It originated with a typist at a council that has long since ceased to exist, and it was passed from hand to hand so that all the boys on the coach from our valley knew our version of the song.
That was the kind of photocopies we knew, when I was a youth. Grime grey sheets of paper were passed on between the guys inthe pub who had access to the ofice photocopier. Sometimes, often, they were worse than the lyrics to a Max Boyce song. Lists of reasons why Irishmen are stupid. Lists of ways to spot a poof. Lists of reasons why you wouldn’t want a nigger for a neighbour. By the time I lived in London the photocopied list of reasons why blacks are dishonest that passed between my colleagues was not a surprise.
This article, from the Cato Institute, while hilarious in its description of the death of totalitarianism (I’m writing on the night Aleppo is being bombed to destruction by Assad and his Russian allies) is spot on in its description of photocopiers as revolutionary tools. But they were also the means by which my dad shared jokes with his mates.
When we talked this through, Jem reminded me of the ways in which memes and jokes were transmitted before the world wide web. As she reminded me, Nigel Rees has pretty much made a career out of turning memes into his private intellectual property,before the worldwide web was ever invented. Anyone who thinks those cheery, cheesy, things can only get better memes that prevail on Facebook are a modern innovation has never read Patience Strong, and as for kittens, well, without them there wouldn’t have been a greeting cards industry.
There’s a point to this ramble through my childhood.
The left is obsessed with social media both as a new way of communicating, and as a new way of organizing. I remember a patient Quaker woman explaining the maths of a telephone tree to me, back in the days before Greenham was a household word. Try the maths. I phone five people, who phone five people, who phone five, who phone five… Once the phone became a feature of British households, calls to action became very easy. Before the phone though, telegrams, letters and other methods also prevailed.
Marshall McLuhan always claimed that the medium was the message. He was wrong.he medium does not matter. It is messages that engage the consumer, not the medium, and it has ever been thus. If the lyrics did not engage my father, or the jokes amuse him, he wouldn’t walk to the photocopier.I only saw the stuff good enough to make him walk that walk. Was the medium the message, or did he decide if the message made it worth deploying the medium?
That’s the message people, that the message matters more than the medium.