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Radio review: Jeremy Vine, Surviving Unemployment, and Free Thinking

23 October 2020

BBC

Jeremy Vine, whose show on Radio 2 on Monday of last week, discussed new careers for those who had been made redundant

Jeremy Vine, whose show on Radio 2 on Monday of last week, discussed new careers for those who had been made redundant

GIFTS like this do not come every day. First, the advert from CyberFirst, which suggested that all artistic types should get real, smell the coffee, and retrain in IT. The outrage, expressed from government departments downwards, united the nation.

And then the app, which purports to give advice on suitable careers for those whom Covid has rendered actually or effectively redundant. Since you are not asked by the questionnaire to state any real skills that you may have acquired, only how you feel about yourself, the range of possibilities out there is vast.

A retired teacher rang in to Jeremy Vine (Radio 2, Monday of last week) to report that his options included bomb-disposal expert. And the story is going the rounds that a choir director was advised that he might do better as a colonic hydro-therapist. Nobody yet reports a recommendation for ministry in the Church of England.

There is hardly a presenter out there who has not got mileage out this nonsense. This makes those responsible for Surviving Unemployment (Radio 4, Monday of last week) even more deserving of praise for landing this three-part series at precisely the right moment.

Phoebe is a dancer, and not just a wannabe. She had a great gig out in Las Vegas, dancing for Cirque du Soleil. Now, she’s back in Preston, comparing notes with her mother, Joanna, who both worked and was on the dole in the 1980s. Joanna was unemployed twice in that period, and describes the disempowerment and sense of humiliation which it triggers.

There may be parents out there who quietly sympathise with the CyberFirst advert, dreaming of their darlings addressing the courtroom; but not Joanna, who is impressively, movingly supportive of her daughter’s precarious career-choice.

Although undoubtedly a cock-up on the part of an ad manager, this affair will, no doubt, make it into the lengthening list of conspiracy theories that Covid has nurtured. But who is to blame for this mistrust of the public sphere, of politics, the media, and medical, educational, and religious institutions? For some, the birth of post-truth can be pinned squarely on one man: the French philosopher who taught us that everything is narrative, and that there is nothing outside the text: Jacques Derrida.

If this is so, the post-truth era came into being, as we heard on Free Thinking (Radio 3, Thursday of last week), in 1966, at a conference in Baltimore, when the young Derrida stood up and told a bunch of distinguished structuralists that they were old news, and that it was time to deconstruct. But the panel of experts assembled by Matthew Sweet here were adamant that Derrida had been dishonoured by his association with relativism. Post-truth, as one declared, is simply lies and stupidity.

On the other hand, his apologists did not do a great job in encouraging us to read the great man. Any attempt to comprehend Derrida’s writing is “doomed to fail”. That, apparently, is the point.

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