What does it mean to be opinionated? Is it possible to have too many opinions? As the chorizo soup dripped from my spoon last night - special offer on "posh" Tesco brand - Paris Lees dumped her take on the Charlie Hebdo massacre on Twitter in a series of tweets (first here). Or rather her take on the takes on Charlie; that our opinion formers were putting their views out for the sake of putting their views out. As she puts it, "old guard commentariat the worst offenders; privileged middle class people who think they've got the answers to every complex global issue."
Mind you, there's more to it than professional pontificators pontificating. The clue is in the 'professional' bit. There are sad folk who mouth off and don't make a single sous, but opinion is a global industry that flogs papers, magazines, books, advertising space on telly, radio, and websites. Comment isn't free. There's a market for it, and like all markets sellers have to compete with each other for attention. Some have managed to carve out niches as racist enfants terribles, like Rod Liddle and Melanie Phillips, and are reliable for bigoted click bait when the traffic figures are looking a touch low. Others don't have that to fall back on. To keep their place in the firmament they roll out something new very regularly under compulsion. Hence why everyone has written on Charlie Hebdo. There's an awful lot of articles written that didn't make the publisher's cut, and sought an outlet. It's why many subsequent pieces have examined the issue from every angle, dredged up old arguments, sought to suppress new ones, etc. It's an ideas arms race. The best written and most cogent, well, if it didn't get picked up this time the email from the Graun or C4 News might come next time.
Here's a case study. Slavoj Žižek is probably Europe's most foremost radical thinker. He's the social theory point man for coffee table communists. To maintain his position a lot rests on his shoulders. As opinion former in chief they've got to drip off him, which helps explain why he churns out books as often as I do blog posts. He could not not comment on last week's murders. And so here is his effort. Nice Nietzsche nods, some sneaky Lacan, a jab at liberalism, a thumb in the eye to the "don't criticise Islamism because reasons" brigade. Yet when all is said and done, strip back the conspicuous displays of cultural capital what are you left with? An argument suggesting the spread of Islamic fundamentalism is because of the left's collapse in the Middle East and its quietude in the West. Socialism or barbarism indeed.
Žižek's argument is right, but unoriginal. Standard Slavoj-speak conceals an insight advanced many times by countless unknown, seldom-read activists. And not a few commentariat stars too. His selling point however isn't the acuity of his insights (indeed, those of my acquaintance versed in his works speak of diminishing theoretical returns) but of the star power he commands and the expected philosophical gymnastics. Such is the political economy of commentary.
Are there too many opinions? Too many people out there not knowing what they're talking about? Undoubtedly. Yet when there are commercial rewards available for the lucky few, how can it be otherwise?