When I heard of the latest instalment in the Sussexes’ ongoing crusade to keep out of the public eye, this time through a multimillion-dollar Netflix deal, my mind immediately ran to George Orwell. Why him? Apart from attending the same boarding school as Prince Harry, these are not obvious bedfellows. No prizes for guessing what Orwell, a keen pricker of hypocrisy and lover of traditional British fare, would have made of the Sussexes’ performative worthiness and attempts to out-Goop Gwyneth Paltrow. But he would have shuddered with particular vigour at their choice of language.
Earlier in the week, the Sussexes spoke of a desire to broadcast “stories and issues that resonate with them personally … enabling a more compassionate and equitable world”.
“Netflix’s unprecedented reach,” they added, “will help us share impactful content that unlocks action.” Impactful? Equitable? Unlocking action? We are all familiar with this kind of meaningless, self-serving jargon, and generally groan at it, but there is often deliberate intent involved: to obscure the speaker’s motives or fundamental lack of vision. In the Sussexes’ case, their Messianic language conceals a misplaced sense of victimhood.
The march of corporatese undermines public and private life. Much of what passes for activism today involves thinking or talking (sorry, “ideating” or “interfacing”) about abstract notions like empowerment, rather than any real empowering. It’s not just progressives either; Ivanka Trump is a repeat offender. Meanwhile, dry, bureaucratic language, drained of emotion and humanity, has rapidly infected HR departments, and LinkedIn lingo has become universal. Compared to some of the howlers we now endure, “going forward” seems inoffensive by comparison.
All this may grate, but its main role is to absolve responsibility; HR bods invariably talk of “off-boarding” and “streamlining” when they really mean “firing people”. Orwell cautioned against deliberate vagueness; such language, he warned, can never adequately explain what it describes. In the public sphere, it can be catastrophic. Politicians, of course, use it all the time, mostly to disguise their own failures; hence the preference for “challenges” over “problems” and “cost-savings” over “cuts”. Just last week, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock gave a masterclass on BBC Radio’s Today program, weaselling about the test and trace system’s “operational difficulties”.
Corporatese is often so uninspiring that listeners simply zone out, letting the speaker get away with appalling logical leaps, their flawed ideas unchallenged. Harry and Meghan’s motives may be obvious but they should serve as an impactful warning to us all, and unlock immediate action: stay alert, protect the language, save minds.
The Telegraph, London