2017: Continuous Uncertainty

By: Gary Carter
on 23/12/2016

A response to increased global uncertainty following Brexit, the election of Trump, renewed tensions between Russia and the west, the threat of terrorism and the escalation of global warming will be expressed in content. All genres will grapple with the realities of the emerging changes in the global order, and there will also be a predictable counter-movement towards cocooning.

First defined by the influential trendspotter Faith Popcorn in the 80s, “the impulse to go inside when it gets too tough and scary outside” is as relevant today as it was then. However this time, a major focus will be a kind of ‘tech cocooning’, with concerns expressed about the impact of ‘fake news’, WikiLeaks et al, social media, surveillance and the rise of the far right online. We will see more programmes exploring questions of identity politics and ‘authenticity’ – note that Altt Förr Sverige won an International Emmy, as did Deutschland 83.

I am afraid fear will be the subtext of much media content in the year ahead

The Polish sociologist Zygmund Bauman has defined our age as dominated by what he calls ‘Liquid Fear’, and this cluster of uncertainties about modern life and the fear this uncertainty generates will be a dominant content theme in 2017. Along with our ignorance of what ‘the threats’ actually are, our incapacity to determine what can be done to counter them, and our inability to identify who should be responsible for doing so (and at what price), concerns about the media, its role and its position as a democratic Estate will ensure that all kind of media content are in themselves a subject of media content.

I expect questions of responsibility and transparency in media reporting to be journalistic and factual themes, with related subthemes of ‘fake news’, the ‘post expert’ assertions of what Steven Colbert calls ’truthiness’, the role of social media in journalism, the relationship between power seekers and media, the personalisation of politicians and the globalised nature of media.

cocooning1

“Identity politics”, “political correctness”, and related debates will make make media content both more outspoken and simultaneously more conservative, and will leave regulators and politicians concerned about issues of bias. Themes of global vs local, action and engagement, of ‘taking responsibility’ and of ‘doing something to make a difference’ are to be expected.

Since every trend has a counter-trend, I also expect a return to what the American social forecaster, Faith Popcorn, called ‘cocooning’ – the need to build a shell of safety (which she predicted in the mid 1980s as a retreat from the perceived harassment of modern life), including less social and political engagement. This is not quite the same as the idea that in times of economic recession (the late 1920s, the years post 2008) escapist diversion is a key trend: this is more about a desire to protect, to shelter, and to exclude – I expect a mixture of survivalism and identity-based nostalgia, of protecting the self and the family while at the same time battling against odds which seem overwhelming.

I expect a mixture of survivalism and identity-based nostalgia

I think that questions related to so-called ‘Identity Politics’ – who are ‘they’, and who are ‘we’, if you like, of belonging and exclusion, and having/not having will be important corollaries to these larger, more global uncertainties. And who knows, perhaps global warming, climate change and “what to do about it” will finally penetrate the consciousness of prime time.

Former FremantleMedia and Shine creative boss Gary Carter is a non exec board director for K7 Media.

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