Blame Jimmy Hill for Trump

James William Thomas Hill was born in July 1928 and is known throughout the world for his accomplishments within football, which were both many and varied. He enjoyed a playing career from 1949 to 1961 with Brentford and Fulham. In 1957 he became Chairman of the Professional Footballers Association; his notable achievement was his successful campaign to have the footballer’s maximum wage scrapped in 1961. He managed Coventry City for a spell before moving into broadcasting, presenting Match of the Day from 1973 until 1989. He also spent a period as Chairman of Coventry City. In the twilight of his career he presented the Sunday Supplement show on Sky Sports, from 1999 until 2007. He was a forthright and opinionated man, but perhaps most recognisable and remembered for his prominent chin, moustache and beard.

But all of this pales into insignificance compared to his greatest impact on British culture. Those that grew up in the 1970s and 1980s will remember that at school, if you suspected someone of lying, you would stroke your chin and say: “Jimmy Hill”, “Jimmy”, or sometimes: “Chinny reckon”. I have no idea why. An internet search throws up a variety of theories but in truth I suspect no-one else knows why either. It is suggested that a liar instinctively covers their mouth and the ‘Jimmy Hill’ chin stroking motion may mimic that. But there is no doubt that for many years it was the universally standard go-to response when your ‘bullshit filter’ kicked in.

We all grew up with a bullshit filter. It was essential at school to avoid unnecessary mocking for falling victim to any kind of wind-up. It carries us through life and pops-up as and when required to stop us being taken advantage off. But as adults we no longer stroke the chin and shout: “Chinny reckon” and our resistance to falsehoods has been waning over the years. Jimmy Hill died in 2015 and I fear that at the same time the filter for a lot of people finally died too.

The internet and media has a rather strange effect on the masses. The tendency among the vast majority is to simply believe anything and everything they see and read, especially if it reinforces their own prejudices. No-one checks anything anymore. If it’s on the internet, or in a newspaper, it must be true. Facebook is a prime example. A huge number of stories that appear on Facebook have no basis in fact, yet are shared and re-shared without a moment’s thought. As an example, there are frequent posts that relate an unpleasant story about a Muslim, with the Muslim as the villain. “A Muslim said this to an old lady”, “This Muslim wants to ban Christmas”, “Here’s a Muslim that wants to close their local butcher”, “Look at what this Muslim said about a war hero”. If you frequent the pages of Facebook with any kind of regularity you cannot have failed to see them. However they are almost all false. A simple Google search will expose the truth behind most and they nearly all share one common factor. They are compiled and distributed by racists who use them to encourage disharmony and racial hatred. They are then shared by other racists whose own personal prejudices have been validated by the post. No one thinks to check them. No filter comes into play. The thought process is simply: “oh look - bloody foreigners - I’ll share this to justify my own views”. If only we still had those chin stroking, 'Jimmy Hill' genes still working properly, maybe the internet wouldn’t be such an unpleasant place.

In recent time there has been an explosion in the number of quizzes appearing on Facebook. Some are posts on the page itself; others are links that you have to click into (and in doing so give an unknown person total access to your private information held by the site). The posts ask seemingly pointless questions, such as:

“My first flight was to Spain, I bet you can’t remember yours?”

“My first pet was a hamster called Boris – can you remember yours?”

“I love going to TFI Fridays – what is your favourite restaurant?”

Those where you follow links may require you to input the road you grew up in, or your parents maiden or middle names to find out something crucially important, such as what your Superhero or Porn Star name is. Others might require the navigation of a series of personal questions to determine what kind of toaster you would be.

These posts are endless. The content varies but the end result is the same. So what have all those requested pieces of information got in common? The name of your first pet, your parent’s middle or maiden name, the road you grew up in... can you see it yet? The answer is simple. They are all the most common security questions required by websites, banks and building societies. The only logical explanation is that organised criminals are circulating these posts and harvesting this data, building up profiles for the purposes of identity fraud. Yet these posts receive hundreds if not thousands of responses. My friends do them. These are intelligent people, with qualifications and proper jobs, mortgages and two point three children. People who, in short, really should know better. They have navigated life fairly successfully to this point. But suddenly their filter has shut down. No-one is thinking: “Hang on, isn’t this a bit weird? Why has somebody gone to all this trouble setting a website quiz up to find out the name of the road I grew up in?”

Another great example of the lack of filter is in recent political elections. You no longer have to tell the truth to win an election, or twist the truth, or even give it a passing glance. You can, quite simply, lie. It doesn’t matter. You just say what people want to hear. In most cases the benefit from delivering a message that taps into the electorate seems to significantly outweigh any damage from being found to have lied, or being incompetent. It seems that people really don’t mind if you are lying if you are saying things that reinforce their prejudices. 

Donald Trump exploited this magnificently in winning the 2016 U.S presidential election. Trump is portrayed in the UK as an idiot, a buffoon with no clue what he is doing. Indeed, his social media presence and his media interviews do little to dispel that view. But consider this. The guy is also a genius. He has to be, there is no other explanation. This is a man, with pretty much zero political experience, that was elected as president of the most powerful nation in the world, on the back of a seemingly disjointed and undeliverable manifesto. It could be argued that his campaign demonstrated beyond any doubt that to win a public vote, there is no longer any requirement for policies to be properly thought through, coherent or feasible. All that is needed is to simply deliver a series of chest-thumping sound-bites that your supporters will lap up unquestioningly.

One of the central elements of his successful campaign was to build a wall along the USA-Mexico border to exclude Mexican immigrants. Now at even the most cosmetic level this is a remarkable simplification of a nation’s problems. “We have too many immigrants; a wall will keep them out, problem solved”. This apparently encouraged people to vote for him. Now I am not understating the issue, illegal immigration for the USA is a problem. Over 350 million illegal crossings of that border occur every year; it is clearly a message that could resonate with your average American. But no-one gave the actual facts a passing thought. Let’s consider some. The border is nearly two thousand miles long. If we exclude the Great Wall of China, at over thirteen thousand miles long (and I think we can, since it is estimated to have taken over two thousand years to build and therefore probably isn’t a fair comparison) the next longest wall in the world is the Berlin Wall at ninety-six miles. Trump claimed that he would build a wall along a border almost two thousand miles long and, even more incredibly, persuade another country to foot the bill. Now, even if building the wall was logistically possible and affordable (and surely the considered opinion must be that it wasn’t) were we supposed to believe that it would have in any way solved the problem and keep illegal immigrants out? Wall or no wall, the border is still the best part of the distance from London to Cyprus. That is really quite a long way, across varied terrain including rivers, mountains and dessert. It is surely impossible to police in its entirety and those wishing to cross illegally would still have access to all manner of modern technology like, for example, ropes and ladders. But at no point did anyone’s bullshit filter kick in. There was no chin stroking, no: “Jimmy Hill”. The voters ignored the lack of detail, seized upon the idea and voted for him in their millions.  He was elected on the back of a seemingly ridiculous and utterly undeliverable promise and in the aftermath there were no repercussions.

Advertising companies are taking advantage of this new found gullibility. Of course the advertiser has always relied on the suggestibility of the customer, but in recent times they are breaking new ground with the absurdness of their methods. It seems that if you have a product that has no genuine unique selling point (USP), then you simply infer that it either does something that no competitor does or that it doesn’t do something that all others do. The fact that this might not be true at all doesn’t matter. So, for example, there are television adverts for money lending companies that include the reassuring message: “we let you choose how much to borrow and over what term”. Wow, really? As opposed to all those loan companies that impose random amounts and repayment terms upon their customers? The statement is clearly nonsensical yet it is the central message in the advert, presented as a huge plus since they clearly have nothing else to say. This is hardly surprising when you read the small print at the end of the advert and see that the interest rate is over 4,000%. When I was young being a loan shark was illegal, now they advertise on Dave. If society still challenged as it used to, the company would be wasting its money on the campaign, they would be better off chucking it in a kitty and all going down the pub on a Friday. But they wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work. You must assume that the advertising executives that produce the adverts are professional; they know how to sell something. This can only mean there are sufficient numbers without any filtering in place happy to accept such a bizarre endorsement without any thought at all given to the message being received.

We are in a terrifying place, a world where the masses are seemingly completely gullible. We are happy to believe whatever rubbish we are spoon-fed, seemingly without the ability to question and challenge. If only Jimmy Hill were still presenting Match of the Day, the children of today and the architects of our future would still have the ability to logic test what they are told. Gary Lineker has clearly identified the problem and is doing his best (there can be no other reason for the small furry animal that sits clinging to his chin week after week) but many fear that this is too little too late and that the cause is already lost.

As a footnote, should a strange man knock your door and ask you to take off your clothes, do not do so. He only wants to see you naked. I wish I’d known this yesterday, I feel such a fool now...

 

AG 15/05/2018   

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