Once we had organisations like Opus Dei, the Illuminati and the Rosecrutians: secret, closed, usually WASP’s networks you had be very influential and undergo obscure initiation rites to be admitted into. The freemasons of the information age, however, are of a different breed all together.
Some of you might remember the peculiar case of journalist Anna Björkman, whose temporary contract, to cover European Melody Grand Prix for Sweden’s biggest broadsheet Dagens Nyheter, was terminated in early 2006 after an 'investigative scoop' revealed she participated on a closed email-list, aptly entitled “The Elite”. The list counted some of Sweden's top celebrities as subscribers, centred on celebrity gossip and was run by Swedish artist Alexander Bard. In other words, a clear charge of ‘freemasonry’, according to the same newspaper.
Imagine the new groundbreaking piece of investigative documentary focused on one of those vicious, power-hungry, secretive celebrity-gossip email-lists, where participants plot to impress upon a producer to cast a particular actress or actor in the hottest new movie, comment on the best bums in town, or the most outrages extra-martial affairs.
Perhaps this type of scandal is exactly what we deserve in today’s celebrity obsessed culture, and perhaps exactly what Canadian professor Neil Postman had in mind when he wrote in his seminal work “Amusing Ourselves to Death”:
"Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of showbusiness, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.” Comparing George Orwell’s dystopia “1984” with Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New world”, Postman wrote: "Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance."
Before “Amusing Ourselves…” was even conceived of, The Observer’s Scandinavian correspondent of the early sixties, Roland Huntford, in his largely forgotten book “The New Totalitarians”, compared Swedish society to that of Huxley’s “Brave New World” and said that of the “1984” dystopic scenario, where authority was enforced from above, and that of Huxley’s, where the citizens were taught to love their servitude and worship the superficial, Sweden had certainly embraced the latter. Fast-forward to 2006 and a Swedish journalist is fired for taking part on a ‘secret’ gossip list – now if that is not a storm in a teapot verging of a sea of irrelevance, I don’t know…
I guess I have to state for the record that I'm not a member of any secret email list, and I'm not planning on joining one any time soon, but I found this story a rather troublesome 'highlight' from 2006 for two reasons: 1) the sheer triviality of the subject, and 2) the story reminds me of the problematic idea of perfect information: the argument against Björkman was that journalists should not take part in forums that are not open to the public, whereas I thought part of a journalist's role was exactly to open up closed doors, be a mediator or the public's eyes where the public cannot go - 'cause let's face it, even in today's increasingly transparent world, information is not perfect, not equally distributed, and many doors remain locked to all but a select few...