Backward ho!

As a hack journalist of long standing, I know the news isn’t news until it touches you in some way. That is why, along with my fellow hacks, I have spent so much time “making it touch.” To understand post-modern mass media, one must understand this contrived necessity. “Chastity” in news reporting is a thing of the past, like every other thing of value in our civilization. Newspapers & other media that report only what is considered important, without adding that urgent breathless tabloid quality, no longer exist. Even The Times & The Wall Street Journal resort constantly to catcalling the reader: “This is about You.”

Granted, the news should be relevant to somebody. But as a backward person, I long for return to the days when the pretence was, “This is Important,” in & of itself; & the only background necessary was to briefly explain (should the topic be rather arcane) why it is important — to the community at large. For the rest it was assumed readers had seen yesterday’s newspaper, & would not need reminding of what had already been reported. If they’d missed something, they could check back: it was customary to keep newspapers for several days. The enforcement of the alternative assumption — that readers are extremely stupid, that they know nothing at all about anything, & need to be not only catcalled but constantly flattered in language once reserved for eight-year-olds — is among the signal accomplishments of Progress. That, & the related metastasization of pornography.

Contempt for the reader is implicit in each of these developments. The cynicism of the news media is built on this contempt. Or so I have come to believe: that contempt makes people behave contemptibly. And deprives them of their native human joyfulness.

That said, let me add, I’m a sucker for a good storyline, that gets me where I live. In this case, gets me where I used to live, in Vauxhall, inner London. The streets there were never very pretty, & have grown uglier over time as the amount of disposable income has increased all round. (I blame Thatcher.) But there is something about helicopters falling out of the sky, into the Wandsworth Road, that makes the thought of those streets even more disagreeable. How often one finds oneself dodging cars. Helicopter crashes seem over the top, if puns are being forgiven today.

Years, years ago, when I was but a wee thing, I’d examine my father’s copies of Popular Science magazine. From those I learnt of The Future in which everyone would commute in their own flying cars, & communicate with each other through portable “videophone” devices. Even helicopters were The Future in my papa’s childhood. I think it was around the age of ten I first began to realize that The Future wasn’t going to be very pleasant, & too, that there would be no hiding from it. Not all the projected devices have yet arrived. Some have been invented already, but are not yet out on the mass market, at a price affordable to Mass Man. But the engineers are working on it.

More recently, being driven along an Ontario highway, westward from the Greater Parkdale Area, I noticed a road sign. It announced, “London 175” — referring to London, Ont., & stating the distance in something called “kilometres” (an invention of the French regicides). But some witty vandal had crudely painted “Wrong way!” across it. (There are moments when I can appreciate a witty vandal.)

Surely we have enough information now to establish that we have made a terrible mistake: that in our befogged modernist post-humanism we have chosen the opposite of the right direction.

Let us go about diligently by night, painting “Wrong way!” over all the signposts to The Future.