Sorry it’s been so long. No excuses, just haven’t been writing. Need to get back on it in time for ‘wrimo. So here goes. This is a chain of thought sparked whilst in bath, so it’s not fresh from the safari, but it’s still blue from the grill. For a vegetarian, I use too many steak metaphors.
Also, I’m poorly, and have been for a while, so consider yourself disclaimed.
I was reading Permutation City, by Greg Egan (although I’ve not been writing, I’ve been reading at a pace lately, finished a good few books lately, almost as many as I’ve started). I’m not really gonna delve into it’s main theme, but a throwaway aside that got me thinking. Anyway, a quote:
Paul scanned the old news reports rapidly, skimming over articles and fast-forwarding scenes which he felt sure he would have studied scrupulously, had they been fresh. He felt a cautious sense of resentment, at having ‘missed’ so much – it was all there in front of him, now, but that wasn’t the same at all.
And yet, he wondered, shouldn’t he be relieved that he hadn’t wasted his time on so much ephemeral detail? The very fact that he was now less than enthralled only proved how little of it had really mattered, in the long run.
-Permutation City, Greg Egan (London: Gollancz 2008) p57
This made me think a lot about news and the way we consume it.
My first thought was of our relationship with disasters.
September the 11th 2001. I remember a lot of weird details. I first heard that some planes had crashed into the WTC at a friends house, halfway through the walk home. It meant nothing to me, a small tragedy. It wasn’t till I got home and turned on the telly that the enormity of it sank in. This was big.
Then, through the internet, i started analysing and watching the ramifications. I remember, the next day, a history lesson (I was in sixth form, so focus was lacking and I was young, very young, it seems to me now) that ended up completely discussing the event, and particularly the Bush reaction to it. I’d watched and read the speech he made, and it terrified me. For the first time in my life I genuinely feared that the world was going to end. There’d be an enormous, terrifying, horrific war and everyone would be caught up in it, and the world would change forever.
I shrugged it off, and as it turns out, the world change was much subtler, if no less dramatic. The phrase ‘post 9/11 world’ slipped into existence, and we started to really analyse those ramifications. Liberties fell and the world changed shape accordingly.
And I still get pissed off by the 9/11 thing, because it was clearly 11/09, or at least 11/9. Numbers remain amusing in their abstraction.
Anyway. I could go into more detail, but that’s the essence of it. And it’s those initial reactions. Your changing understanding of something, and it’s slipping into the past, into history.
And that’s one of those big strange transformations we see happen. News into history, and then the constant unending revision of that.
We never see what is happening, we get this undulating, writhing mass of opinions, hearsay an supposition. Then we base our understanding on the past on that. Fuck, I was taught in history that newspapers are evidence. Fucking evidence I say. Can you imagine the poor future historian who tries to piece together an image of our zeitgeist looking at nothing but archived copies of the Sun? Videos of Fox News Network?
Thankfully, historians are also taught to disbelieve, look for bias, search for consensus, and different types of evidence. But still, our world is distorted for us. And it always will be thus, as long as we look beyond our noses (and even then, I’m not so sure of certainty, I’ve been ill for over a week now, but how much is illness, and how much is believing myself to be incapable of being stronger..worry, worry, fret, fret).
Anyway, to step away from the drama and back to Paul’s perusal of the Press that has passed him by (sorry), lets look at how we (or perhaps just I) consume the news itself.
I love to pore (pour?) over a newspaper on my lunch break. The irony being that I’m not seeking to attach myself to the big, bad world outside, but simply to while away a time, distance myself from my own measly passions and worries. the artifice of it all is so inherent, that it becomes a form of escapism (possibly connected to my childish interpretation, sitting in the pub on a lunch break looking for wry comments to make or just rushing to the end so I can celebrate the birthdays and race through the crossword).
And then there’s the way the news is broken down. There is more news about what might, could or should happen than what does happen. Take current US election analysis. The guesswork and possibility is the most interesting part. What will happen next, where’s the next gaffe, can victory be snatched from the jaws of defeat (or vice versa). It’s all about guesses on the future.
Any major story has at least three stages, the pre-amble, the event (only on live channels: net, radio, television etc) and the aftermath. Generally speaking, the pre is where the news media pushes all it’s attention. I can’t tell you how many near identical articles on the Large Hadron Collider I read/saw in the run up to the big switch on (or Big Bang day as some people put it). All modified for tone and audience of course depending on the outlet, but all using the same tired facts and statements over and over again. The story had legs. Now that it appears the world hasn’t ended, nobody is looking into the general day to day running of the experiments, even though this is where the really interesting stuff happens. The potential destruction of the universe is something that can be spun into a story that has ‘legs’. But not scientists finding out stuff.
Not sure what the point is here, but I think our relationship with our main inlet to the the world around us is strange, and confused, and simultaneously too immediate, too distant, too familiar maybe, and too reassuring. We don’t analyse the way we need to, it’s too easy to ignore, but we seek it out.