German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels are mainly known as authors of the Communist Manifesto. Their ideas have been extremely influential. One such theory that is becoming increasingly relevant is that of false consciousness – the idea that members of the proletariat, which is what Marx coined as working classes, were being misled by institutional systems of power, that being government, their employer, the media, and so on, causing their fundamental exploitation to become internalised. False consciousness, according to Marx and Engels, was the main way people became oppressed; their weak position in society becoming naturalised to their station. False consciousness, as much as in Marx’s era, exists in the society we are living in today. The narratives which we consume through the mass media are often accepted without judgement, which produces adverse effects on the truth.
The recent Gregg’s Vegan Sausage Roll Controversy, which made considerable noise on Twitter, is a prime example of such a false narrative. Gregg’s, the largest bakery chain in the UK, released a vegan sausage roll, and it made some people quite angry. Piers Morgan stated that selling a vegan sausage roll was for “PC-ravaged clowns”, and that nobody asked for it. But what does a vegan sausage roll have to do with “political correctness”? Vegans are wrongly seen as part of the “PC” liberal-mafia, expecting us all to eat vegan only food in the lefty-takeover. Sure, if they’ve taken over Gregg’s, they may as well take over Britain!
I’m exaggerating, of course, but reading some of the reactionary discourse online, this is the kind of narrative you see. There is, of course, no extreme significance to the sausage roll – veganism has risen in popularity in recent years, and Gregg’s are, above all, a business. They wouldn’t launch vegan products if they weren’t going to make money from it. Veganism is everywhere, there’s even a vegan section in my local Supervalu. And who do vegans harm? The only thing you could accuse them of is cruelty against plants.
So why did the launch of a vegan sausage roll cause such a stir? Upon reading the Irish Daily Mail, I was surprised to find articles about ‘liberals’, ‘millennials’, ‘avocado toast’, and most importantly, vegans. One article detailed the vegan ‘backlash’ on Rosanna Davison’s Instagram post in which she is photographed with a horse. The article was based on one comment, to which Davison replied:
Commenter: In all honesty, you call yourself vegan but yet you support the cruel sport that is horse racing?? Money is obviously so much more important than the horses’ lives. It saddens me.😢
Rosanna Davison: I just follow a plant-based diet. I don’t claim to follow a vegan lifestyle x
Commenter: Ok my apologies x
(@rosanna_davison, 27th Nov 18)
Why was this worth newspaper space? The commenter had a point – horse racing is cruel. Even then, they were calling-out hypocrisy, and clearly wasn’t forcing a ‘vegan agenda’. This may explain the Twitter backlash against the Gregg’s vegan sausage roll – which goes back to “false consciousness”.
This “news” about vegans in the Daily Mail informs a large readership on what vegans are like, perpetuation and falsifying a wider trend. The Daily Mail claim that not only do vegans not eat meat, eggs, or dairy products, they want to force us not to as well. Apparently, the vegan sausage roll is a prime example of them “forcing” this agenda.
This, of course, is not true – Gregg’s are simply catering to a significant customer grouping. However, the amount of people who believe otherwise shows that a significant grouping has fallen into a form of false consciousness, not merely regarding vegans. If the media has this much influence in putting people in a state of false consciousness, demonising people who eat particular types of food, then what influence do they have on their images of refugees, Muslims, the EU, the unemployed? Where else have the tabloids misinformed people, believing in the bogeyman who doesn’t exist? The media influences the ideas of so many people – it’s many people’s main point of contact with current affairs, social issues, and popular culture. However, many newspapers abuse that fragile position, leading the way for people to follow them via misinformed ideas. A “fake news” media produces misinformed people, and leads people into the same false consciousness that Marx and Engels wrote about over one hundred years ago.