Is GB News a threat to democracy? That’s the million-dollar oesion | Stewart Lee

The new anti-woke news channel is poorly produced and chaotically presented but we underestimate it at our peril

Last week, as a disciple of the religion of wokeness, I was busy boycotting products advertised on Andrew Sphagnum Moss Neil’s new anti-woke GB News channel, which has been difficult as many of them are goods and services I don’t use. Consequently, I spent Monday in the park under a willow tree trying determinedly to develop a taste for Kopparberg cider, so I could email the company later announcing I was no longer going to drink it. But, as I woke up in a puddle of my own urine on Tuesday morning, I learned that the fruity alcohol provider was the first of many firms to announce withdrawal from GB News’s slots. My liver had suffered needlessly, but I felt pretty good about myself because of the sacrifice I had considered making, but then hadn’t needed to anyway.

Reaching damply for my phone, I saw that Grolsch and Ikea had declared that GB News’s ethos was also contrary to their “values” (namely “buy more beer” and “buy more furniture” respectively). If GB News advertisers Amazon, Google and Facebook suddenly discover they too have “values” maybe they will address their shortcomings in areas such as tax avoidance, workers’ rights and data manipulation. I went downstairs and ordered a garlic naan from the GB News-supporting fast-food bikers Deliveroo, so I could tell the poorly paid delivery person to take it back to his evil paymasters immediately and then signed up for a philosophy degree with GB News enablers the Open University, with the specific intention of withdrawing from it on principle later. Take back control!

While these brands’ damage-limiting dissociation from GB News may be performative, the Stop Funding Hate organisation has nonetheless reminded them of the possible consequences of the messages they pay for. On Tuesday, Boris Johnson’s former race adviser Samuel Kasumu warned against the right’s deliberate stoking of a culture war, suggesting that the death of Jo Cox was already forgotten and that the Brexit supporter who murdered her may have been radicalised by the narratives of certain newspapers and media commentators. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Andrew Hamster Bedding Neil made a professionally horrified face as his own station’s core demographic of anti-lockdown protesters and conspiracy theorists chased the “traitor” who is the BBC News work experience boy Nicholas Watt across Whitehall, through successive lines of indifferent police officers.

But is GB News even good enough at television to be a threat to our democracy? The channel appears to be broadcast from a dim bunker lined with crumpled black crepe paper, sound drops in and out erratically and, robbed of the dignifying surroundings of Question Time, or even Sky News’s Press Preview, and placed instead in GB News’s degrading Silence of the Lambs cellar, familiar alt-right talking heads appear deflated and radiate only loneliness and tragedy.

A late-night show is presented by the uniquely untelevisual former Sun executive editor Dan Wootton, who needs to be enjoyed now in his tabula rasa incarnation before any recognisable broadcasting abilities are inadvertently etched upon him by passersby. For some minutes on Tuesday night, a segment of Wootton’s opinion show called The Big Question was instead captioned as “The Big Oesion”, an onomatopoeic, if nonexistent, word that suggests some kind of oozing lesion. Wootton himself is squeezed to the left, about a third of the screen is just a blank white space and the intermittently audible alt-right panellists peep out in a column from tiny rectangles, as if appearing on a spatially challenged Dantean edition of Celebrity Squares, hosted by an oesion. The 70s community cable channel Swindon Viewpoint had higher production values.

Andrew Duckdown Neil’s direct addresses to camera, though performed by a real human, have the looming quality of the hologram of Sir Laurence Olivier from Dave Clark’s 1986 Cliff Richard vehicle, Time, as if Andrew Lamb’s Lettuce Neil had projected film of his own face on to an enormous ostrich egg, for some personal opaque gratification. Meanwhile, the coverage of Andrew Fuzzy Felt Neil’s one-to-one interviews is so televisually illiterate, it is like watching consulting room security camera footage, sequestered by the police to investigate criminal claims against an incompetent GP. One wonders how Andrew Parmesan Shavings Neil can have appeared on television for so long and yet have learned so little about how it is made. Did he pay any attention to the skills of the professional and invisible BBC fluffers who facilitated him for all those years or was he like the prize pig in Charlotte’s Web, happily wolfing down its daily swill with little interest in how its trough was filled?

But it is dangerous for sneering woke liberals like me to write GB News off, simply because it is poorly produced, nasty and bad. GB News’s ultimate impact will be measured in its ability to leech bite-size chunks on to social media and viewing figures, currently, are very good, though this may be down to curious woke onlookers in search of sinful schadenfreude. After all, even Christ would slow down to look at a car crash. We underestimate Andrew Intertrigo Neil’s last stand at our peril. Once, the Ukips looked like a joke party, with cranky candidates who talked about Bongo Bongo Land, lost imaginary friends at Hillsborough, ostentatiously declined to rape Jess Phillips and taught dogs to Sieg Heil at the command “Gas the Jews!” But the Ukips lit the bin fire that engulfed British politics and the kind of bilateral agreements the G7 needs to literally save the actual world couldn’t be reached in Cornwall because Boris Johnson is still smeared with the stench of the Brexit lies the Ukips popularised. Nonetheless, I can’t wait for my next date with The Big Oesion!

A double vinyl version of Asian Dub Foundation’s Access Denied album, featuring a “Neolithic” remix of the No 1, Stewart Lee-sampling single Comin’ Over Here, is now available; the acclaimed anti-rockumentary King Rocker streams on Now-TV; last Saturday’s Stewart Lee: Unreliable Narrator is on the BBC Sounds; Rescheduled 2022 dates of Stewart’s 2020 tour are now on sale


Stewart Lee

The GuardianTramp

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