On the day that is supposed symbolically to seal a seismic shift in the British media landscape, because the Murdochs are appearing in the Parliamentary stocks, the dialogue that Slavoj Žižek had with Julian Assange a couple of weeks back comes to mind.
Žižek was arguing that WikiLeaks, the media event of last year, was one that changed everything. He likened it to the man who knows his wife is having an affair but overlooks the infidelity until, one day, he is presented with photographs of her sexual acts. He can overlook it no more.
Similarly, WikiLeaks changes the rules because it supposedly explodes the way modern ideology functions. We know that terrible things are done in war, but when we see the war logs, it can no longer absorb the horrors. We know that diplomats pass all sorts of details about friends and enemies alike, but when we read what’s sent, the reality of power is exposed.
So WikiLeaks is not like normal investigative journalism, Žižek continued: it has not, in fact, told us anything new, but it’s told us what we know in a way that means we can’t ignore it. Like the cuckold seeing the photos.
Assange, as you might expect, appeared to like this distinction, though to me, he came across rather as someone who believes everyone’s dirty laundry must be hung out to dry apart from his own. The chair of the event, Amy Goodman, was hardly pressing on him.
That aside, I wondered whether Žižek is right. Six months on, has WikiLeaks noticeably changed anything? Mark Urban was on Newsnight last night challenging the military’s contention that drone strikes in Afganhistan/Pakistan are killing any fewer innocents. Has the diplomatic service gone into meltdown because Manderins can’t communicate freely anymore? Not so you’d notice.
I felt that Žižek was making the old communist mistake of underestimating liberal capitalism’s ability to absorb its contradictions. Revolution does not necessarily come.
Similarly, today, will this be a moment that historians come to see as marking fundamental change? I doubt it.
(Image: World Economic Forum)