Who is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson?

Short answer: Boris Johnson.

Long answer: People don’t really care.

No-one wants the truth about the mayor of London who has now – finally – confirmed his career ambitions to return as an MP and then, maybe, who knows?, PM thereafter.

Nick Clegg came as close as anyone will dare in this age of PR-trumps-truth-in-nearly-everything by saying: “He treats his political ambition a bit like he treats his hair – he wants everyone to think that he doesn’t really care, but he actually really really does care.”

Does anyone remember that Sunday in March last year when good ol’ Boris was taken to task over some pretty serious allegations about his character and previous conduct?

No? He was nailed, and for any other politician that could have been the start or the climax of a witch-hunt to destroy his public persona and any government career he may have wanted.

You may have seen the clip or the reports around it but forgotten them straight away, because they don’t fit the image perpetuated by Boris, and the themes trotted out by media simply because he’s such a good story, so entertaining in this era of dullness and just ‘a lot more fun’ than having to grasp the nettly truth.

It might boil down to a version of this – willingness to believe, or as writer Christopher Priest puts it, ‘the pact of acquiescence’: the partly conscious choice to go along with something because you want to buy into it, you want to be part of it, so long as the performance is convincing enough.

Just like going to the cinema or watching a play (or in Priest’s example, watching a magician), you only enjoy it – and believe it – because you let yourself:

The audience have entered into what I term the Pact of Acquiescent Sorcery. They do not articulate it as such, and indeed the audience is barely aware that such a Pact might exist, but that is what it is.

The performer is of course not a sorcerer at all, but an actor who plays the part of a sorcerer and who wishes the audience to believe, if only temporarily, that he is in contact with darker powers.

The audience, meantime, knows that what they are seeing is not true sorcery, but they suppress the knowledge and acquiesce to the selfsame wish as the performer”s.

The greater the performer’s skill at maintaining the illusion, the better at this deceptive sorcery he is judged to be. 

The act of showing his hands to be empty, before revealing that despite appearances they could not have been, is itself a constituent of the Pact.

The Pact implies special conditions are in force. In normal social intercourse, for instance, how often does it arise that someone has to prove that his hands are empty?

And consider this: if the magician were suddenly to produce a vase of flowers without first suggesting to the audience that such a production was impossible, it would seem to be no trick at all. No one would applaud.


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