Chief Article Writer Brittany Sutcliffe shares her thoughts on society’s public secrets.
You’ve heard it all before. “Companies control us! They suck us in with their advertisement garbage, their marketing language, their bad deals! You’re an idiot if you can’t see it!”. Okay, okay. We know. Anyone of us who’s had a part time job or has seen a BBC documentary or two knows how it works. Shops place items by checkouts at strategic heights to get us to buy something. They’ll have standards about how the place is supposed to look in order to maximise sales. It’s common knowledge now so is it really all that bad if we knowingly let it continue?
Plan C, an organisation of people based up and down the UK, thinks we should do something. Now, many people would be rolling their eyes at this. Capitalist control strategies are one in a long line of “taboo” topics. We now have words like “feminazi” thanks to The Daily Mail and we let it slide on the individual basis of poor taste. We acknowledge that people protest for protest’s sake nowadays and the media can exploit that, push us against joining an agenda under the illusion that it’s “not for us”, that if you join them then you too can be given a name. For capitalism specifically, the worries and concerns about a handful of the richest people in the world manipulating our lives exist mostly on sub Reddits or Tumblr posts. They haven’t quite been attacked, only used for inspiration, for shows like Mr Robot or movies like Fight Club. Plan C thinks this is all intentional and the more I read into it, the more I agree.
There’s a term called “a public secret” when everyone knows something but no one talks about it. Public secrets are great for capitalism because even though everyone is aware of these sub-Reddits and people still watch Fight Club, they aren’t motivated to act. Companies can apply as much psychology to their advertising campaigns, research new ways to coax buyers but in the audacity of broad daylight. Now, why should we care? Well, Plan C have the idea that capitalism is making us anxious. For example, the older I got, the more I realised counselling isn’t an uncommon thing anymore. In fact, the majority of people I knew at my college had some form of treatment in that way, for feeling stressed or anxious, that their life was falling behind everyone else’s in some way before they’ve even hit eighteen. It’s not difficult for even the most organised people to relate to. One of Plan C’s articles, “We Are All Very Anxious“, states that “One major part of the social underpinning of anxiety is the multi-faceted omnipresent web of surveillance. The NSA, CCTV, performance management reviews, the Job Centre, the privileges system in the prisons, the constant examination and classification of the youngest schoolchildren”. We’re being watched and judged repeatedly, everywhere. It’s not just a theory, these things exist.
Something like this would be labelled a conspiracy theory so that you’d overlook it and continue with your day but I don’t believe it is. I don’t think there are five or six men sitting in an office in designer suits playing chess with our lives. I think all of these things that make us anxious come down to a business owner just wanting to protect themselves. Imagine you’re in charge of a popular high street store. You want to maximise sales to keep your business afloat, you think customer interaction plays a big part in that so you hire staff to assist with this. One of them could be a student like you or me. You watch on CCTV as “Gemma” has obviously had a pretty wild weekend. She’s shattered and not at all at 100%. She’s half-asleep, can’t remember where anything is, can’t remember how to do things and doesn’t appear approachable. Those little details over an entire eight-hour shift add up to a lot of half-done jobs and alienated customers. All the potential money Gemma could have helped you make today has just been squandered and on top of that, you’re paying her to be there. Not cool. What do you do? You make a note. You chat with Gemma. You remind her she’s got a performance review coming up in a few weeks. Gemma considers her job so expendable that she’d rather leave and apply somewhere else than have that conversation. Gemma considers getting herself together though because she doesn’t want to go to the effort of job hunting again. Gemma grimaces at the thought that she then has to be a shining star to keep her manager happy for a few weeks. We aren’t all Gemma all the time but perhaps we have been or at least we know someone who is Gemma.
People sweep their emotions and stress under a carpet nowadays at the fear of sounding like they can’t handle everyday life. Truth is, everyday life is hard. No one wants job performance reviews or university assessments or money worries or wanting to sit and watch their family struggle to afford climbing mortgage payment prices. Each of these concerns starts with just an honest business person wanting to protect themselves just as much as you do from those things. They introduce these measure with the idea that you can succeed but all it gives us is the fear that you won’t, all just to keep you from slacking off. We’re all tangled in social media where people compare themselves to others, a part-time job that compares you to company standards and a university that compares you to its mark scheme. Being yourself isn’t enough anymore and it’s rather painful to watch.
Plan C have suggested a way that we fix this. The idea with public secrets is that they remain effective until they’re exposed. This means that as long as we remain happy to sweep our feelings under the rug that nothing can be done. No one talks, no ideas emerge for us to use and defend ourselves with. This is where I believe we as artists come in. This is something that’s going on right now. Maybe you’ve already felt it yourself, maybe this has validated that feeling for you. I suggest we go out and create work about it. Address the issue, get people talking, get it into mainstream media outlets. In recent years, scientific reports have surfaced that support and compare the detrimental effects of excessive internet use, job stress and assessment concerns. Exposing the public secret is a process that’s already picking up speed, I think it’s our responsibility as artists to help it along.
Words by Brittany Sutcliffe // Illustrations by Ellie Jones