Capitalism is an amoral system. That doesn’t necessarily mean that capitalism is immoral (actively against morality) but morality doesn’t play a significant role in corporate decision-making. What matters within capitalism is whether a product or person is profitable or unprofitable for the larger company. Public relations (the public perception of whether someone is moral or immoral) is important, but morality itself is not.
In January 2005, a month after the Indian Ocean tsunami, the British football pundit Rodney Marsh made a joke on live television about David Beckham turning down a move to Newcastle (nicknamed the ‘Toon Army’) because he’d heard bad things about the “Toon Army in Asia”.
Marsh was quickly sacked for what Sky Sports called an “offensive and inexcusable” joke. To us, this was an incredibly unfair decision. What are the odds of someone who was hurt or who lost family in the disaster being upset or hurt by Marsh’s one-liner? The target of the joke was Beckham’s perceived stupidity rather than the victims of the tsunami. In our view he did absolutely nothing wrong. It’s possible that the majority of Sky Sports’ executives have no understanding of the structures of humour, but given that communication is their central skill, this is unlikely. What’s more likely is that they didn’t care about making the correct moral call, but making the correct public relations call to protect Sky Sports’ profitability.
Towards the end of November 2016 the British darts pundit Eric Bristow weighed in on a breaking paedophilia scandal
in the football industry. He opined on twitter that
“if some football coach was touching me when i was a kid as i got older i would have went back and sorted that poof out”.He expressed his belief that “Dart players tough guys footballers wimps”. While he clarified later in the same evening that he “meant paedo not poof”, he was otherwise unapologetic, claiming that “i tell the truth if u dont like it tough”.
A common symptom among victims of male child abuse is that they feel un-masculine in admitting to being abused and broken by the experience
, a stereotype which Bristow had accidentally and ineptly reinforced. Whereas Marsh’s views would be unlikely to cause hurt to people who had experienced trauma because of the Asian tsunami, Bristow’s comments were very likely to touch a raw nerve not just for victims of abuse in football, but victims of abuse in general.
Last week, YouTube and Disney severed ties with YouTuber PewdiePie because of an anti-semitic controversy
. We don’t follow YouTube culture closely enough to have a strong
understanding of his style of performance. Even though PewdiePie is YouTube’s biggest star, we only know of him because of his name breaking through into mainstream coverage. (He had been critical of the way Youtube’s promotional model works
, penalising users like himself who have a lot of inactive accounts among their followers.) Last week PewdiePie was sacked following a news report that he had posted
‘nine videos since August that “include anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery.” ‘
This isn’t about YouTube and Disney being ‘Social Justice Warriors’, this is about it being in the financial interests of big corporations to protect their image by distancing themselves from a controversial figure. We don’t know enough about the scandal to have opinions on whether Mr dePie’s sacking was just or unjust. Obviously context is important – both The Man in the High Castle and SS-GB are currently using Nazi imagery in mainstream television. But it’s highly likely that public relations, rather than morality, was the central focus for Disney and YouTube’s decision making processes.
He is, in our view, odious. But he is also charismatic, and very, very good at drawing attention to the contradictions in identity politics, and twisting factual reality into a shape his supporters want to believe is the truth.
Despite all this, Yiannopolous landed a $250,000 book deal with Simon and Schuster, announced after the three listed incidents
. This is surely proof that capitalism is not a moral system, but a pragmatic one. As long as Yiannopolous continued to be framed in the
mass media as ‘controversial’ he was profitable. But this week video emerged of him defending sexual relationships
with boys as young as 13. Simon and Schuster canceled the book deal before the end of the day
. (Yiannopolous claims the video has been edited to give a misleading impression, but he has shared deceptively edited videos
to support misleading claims against Black Lives Matter.
To give the kindest possible fact-based interpretation of Yiannopolous’ comments, this is ironic but poetic justice. If Milo is telling the truth – always an unlikely theory – it’d be as if Al Capone didn’t actually commit the tax evasion he was convicted of, but had a history of faking tax evasion charges against his opponents before his downfall.
Capitalism is not a moral system. Any morality within a capitalist structure is a quirk of the individuals within it, not a feature of capitalism itself. Doing good things isn’t important within that system, what matters is being perceived to be doing good things. If that means being ultra-cautious by sacking a sports pundit who’s made a joke slightly related to touching on bad taste, the corporation will do it. If that means turning a blind eye when a profitable writer bullies a transgender student, a corporation will do it. We have a huge amount of sympathy for Rodney Marsh, whose career never returned to the heights it was at before he made a relatively harmless joke. But Milo Yiannopolous does not deserve your sympathy.