Saturday, November 5, 2011

The news-introspection-misery-bomb

My granny was old, and I mean old like Victorian-old. She remembered ‘the Old Queen’ dying. And in case you think I am talking of Quentin Crisp, I mean Queen Vic and if you think by Queen Vic I mean the pub in East Enders, I mean:

Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God,
of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India.

Strange syntax, but Gawd bless ‘er nonetheless.

Anyway, the thing is, my granny lived through some of the Boer War, two World Wars, the Great Depression and a whole load of other difficulties, most of which were instigated by politicians, bankers and arms dealers who stood to make a lot of money. The end result for ordinary people being the usual: premature death for some and poverty for most of the rest.

Like most prudent Victorians, Granny was very wary of borrowing money. Had she not died in the 1970s she would have tut-tutted loudly about the ease with which people were getting credit in the 1990s – and she would not have been alone.
After the second world war, she also experienced the growth of American influence on the world stage including the Korea and Vietnam wars, most of the Cold War, the creation of Israel, and a whole array of US based events such as race riots, the shootings of Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the moon landings and much of Watergate. US cultural imperialism did not pass her by and she was as swamped as anyone by Hollywood films and  imported TV shows and the new language they brought with them, and more. And no doubt at some point she may well have thought ‘they are making trouble for themselves’.

What these things had in common was an element of predictability. Many of us thought ‘almost unlimited credit will end in tears’. Most of us probably thought that ‘someone’ was keeping an eye on the apparent folly of the finance industry. Few of us expected that it would involve the banks, financial institutions and regulatory bodies behaving quite as badly as they did, and (at the time of writing) the near collapse of the Euro.

And I think many of us have thought at some time or other ‘those American cousins are getting a little pushy, there’ll be tears before bedtime’. Though, having avoided nuclear war with the Russians, none of us expected it’s most brutal realisation (to date) to take the form of the spectacular destruction of the World Trade Centre and the emergence of suicide bombings as a regular feature of the news.

Which brings me to the point: The News. I find news coverage is making me more concerned about  financial and political issues I can do nothing about. The sheer number of hours of news devoted to pundits picking over 'events' is going to have unintended consequences. It must effect the thoughts of those with power and influence as well as those egregious tossers speculating on the financial markets with greed as their only motive.

And what effect will it have on rest of us who so often feel we can do nothing? In the short term people will just become more paranoid. The long term tangible result is likely to be that most people will become poorer and gap between those who have and those who have not will continue getting wider. This is seldom a good thing.

So what are we doing about reducing the amount of bad news? Sod all, that's what. In fact BBC Radio 4 has just announced that it is extending its lunchtime news programme, The World at One, by 15 mins. I listen to a lot of Radio 4 (you can tell by the very little information I have on a lot of topics) and the thought of yet another 15 mins of daily misery is little short of depressing.

Radio 4 already has three hours of Today, half an hour of lunchtime grimness,  60 minutess of the PM show, followed immediately by another 30 minutes of much the same at 6pm (but this time the presenter is wearing a suit), and the 3 minute news hits every hour. To those you can add the regular current affairs programmes including Question Time, Any Questions, Any Answers, Today in Parliament, The Westminster Hour, The Week in Westminster, What the Papers Say, and a load of one-off political and news based shows.
There is also the print press, other radio networks, innumerable bulletins and rolling news channels on TV, Internet news and campaigning sites at home and abroad - a veritible tsunami of (mostly) bad news. All these channels need to fill their schedules with something, but as there is not enought factual information, much of their content is 'speculation' or what most of us would understand as unfounded tosh.

We have all heard the fanatical probing of interviewers, fairy-footed evasions of politicians, denials of bankers, distortions of industrialists, speculation of pundits, arguments between experts and the plain bollocks contributed by anyone who just happened to be passing the broadcaster’s microphone. And most of us must have thought ‘just take a break, give us some breathing space’  or maybe ‘this is not helping’ or possibly ‘stop picking at it, it’ll never get better’ or even ‘this is going to end in tears’.

Our media cannot generate all this information (think of it as light) without producing a lot of nonsense (think of it as heat).  One day it will ignite. No one knows how or when the news-introspection-misery-bomb will go off or how the detonation will manifest itself, but it is likely to be in the political or financial sectors triggered by a significant number of people looking after number one... leading to a societal breakdown brought about by mass public discontent with the unfairness of it all resulting on some form of anarchy. And I don’t mean  the fun sort of anarchy with a nice logo...

which relies on a functioning brewing industry, dogs on string and the welfare state in order to exist, but a rather more unpleasant one where a big bloke takes all your stuff, kills your family and enslaves you to work in his salt mine.

Or it could be a very scared political class, led from behind by a wealthy elite closing ranks and instigating martial law. Or both.

But whatever and whenever, most of us will say ‘I knew that was going to happen.’

I know I will.


  1. You forgot to mention BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight at 10pm. RPJ

  2. How very observant, glad to see someone was paying attention. RPJ