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Early in the movie Goodfellas, Henry Hill introduces his associates in a pushing shot through a club and one of the men, Jimmy Two-Times, is shown rising from a chair saying,” I’m gonna go get the paper, get the papers”. Henry tells us that he’s called Jimmy Two-Times because he says everything twice which rather hammers the point when we’ve already seen and heard him do it.

Jimmy Two-Times has been an echo in the past five weeks, as the democratic process has rumbled on and the habits of main contestants has become more evident. Like many echoes it wasn’t quite clear where and why he should come up and now of all times; Jimmy Two-Times is a character in movie, and only a minor one, too.

Then it began to dawn on me. The two men who have put themselves before the public speak a form of language which relies more on insistent repetition than qualified reasoning. This linguistic style is similar to the type that teachers of very small children might use to make their commands utterly clear. “Everyone stand in line and be quiet – in a line and be quiet.” Or, “Have your milk first and then go out to play. Milk first – then play.”

Those small examples illustrate where public political rhetoric has sunk. The simplicity and almost imperative form means it’s quite easy for the average five year old to comprehend what the adults are saying. Fiscal and defense policy along with tax credit alterations are so much easier to grasp this way than in the long and wordy grown-up way.

This phenomenon may be an indication of where political discourse is heading, where marketing and social media are changing the articulation of ideas. It might even have wider implications as perhaps another sign of the deterioration of educational standards and decay of a literate society. There may be some wider causes for further analysis but the principal one is the media, specifically TV, which demands a 3 second edit and the main message condensed into a brand message – a brand message being the sine qua non of the media.

Although common it seems that no one really likes this habit; the print media ridicule it, the public are frustrated by it, and, as an extreme form of reductionism it often becomes unintelligent. There is however, nothing to be done, politicians and the media coexist in a parasitical state and no person or party can change it.

The dreadful consequence is that one of its best practitioners is the heir apparent, the one most likely to carry his fortunes to high office. Tony Two-Times is a master of the emphatic repetition. Where this form of verbal underlining might be used in the accomplished speaker to mark a resonant phrase, an image – even a metaphor – but when Tony Two-Times gets hold of it, it’s a dead phrase flogged into an imperative. When spoken it twitches with life on a grinning mouth and then falls utterly dead again, only to be resuscitated by the TV media as willing accomplices as they broadcast the key brand message of that day.

This is what Newspeak became.

Guy Cranswick
5th September 2013