Ritual progress doesn’t quite constitute news. Not news in the way the growing survival numbers in the avalanchehit hotel felt like news, says Terry Prone.
This post-truth Monday morning, this column makes you, the reader, an offer you cannot refuse.
Not just an offer, in fact. More than an offer. A cast-iron guarantee, even. It goes like this. You read from top to bottom and nowhere within it will you find the T-name.
No, not the t-word, meaning trolleys in hospitals, although we’ll leave them alone, too. The T-name. Because, not using the word fascism or anything, but I feel as if I’ve been beaten heavily over the head, this past weekend, with branded T-hoses.
The world — or at least the mainstream media world — united as one around the man and the event, so much so that trying to avoid it served as a reminder of how much we have ceded our autonomy to our technology.
I had said to myself at a certain point that I was T-eed out and T-eed off and wasn’t going to waste one more internet, radio, or TV moment on him, only to discover that my phone, iPad, and TV had ganged up on me.
First of all, the phone started to shout at me in that particularly aggressive notification noise the BBC uses, and, since it didn’t seem worth disabling for just one day, it continued to bellow at me at maddeningly irregular intervals for 48 hours. It was like being stuck in a garage with a squad car equipped with a faulty but assertive siren.
The other alerts arrived silently or with modest little cheeps, but the sheer volume of them made me realise for the first time how pointlessly hooked I am on getting the latest the fastest.
Breakingnews.ie, The New York Times, Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Journal.ie, the feed of a rival newspaper I’ll be fired if I mention, The Boston Globe, the London Times, Guardian, Daily Telegraph — they all lined up to keep me informed, and I have no doubt that most readers of this paper have variants upon this digital theme.
They were busting their collectives, these sites were, to get me the most up-to-date news. Except that their very eagerness to prove their primacy meant each of them delivered, particularly in the first few hours, what could honestly be described as fake news.
Well, OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh, because the content they were pushing wasn’t actually made up out of whole cloth. It wasn’t fiction designed for fell purposes. It was procedure and process designed to raise excitement.
So us news-feed addicts learned that the T-man and his semi-detached wife were about to leave one building for another. Any moment, they would leave. Trust us. And then they did leave and we got told that, too.
But ritual progress doesn’t quite constitute news. Not news in the way the growing survival numbers in the avalanche-hit hotel felt like news. This building had been moved 10m off its foundations and ram-stuffed with snow, and yet a third of those we had assumed dead had in fact survived.
Spectacular real news, that was. As opposed to announcements that something we knew was going to happen would definitely happen within 10 or 15 or 20 minutes.
It was impossible to get away from. Friday afternoon, I wanted to watch a satirical film on TV recommended by Rachel Lysaght, the genius producer behind the documentary about “exorcist” ex-Jesuit Malachi Martin that Netflix has just picked up. The film Ms Lysaght recommends, made a couple of years ago, is based on the premise that the man who has just done it in reality had been elected President of the United States.
Shock. Horror. Laughter. Chills up the spine.
Yep: The filmmakers were so sure it could never happen that they made a clever movie about the non-existent possibility with its terrifying consequences. Bit like one of those dreams where you have just insulted your boss, lost your job, been found out as a philanderer (of the ordinary sort, not involving multiple Russian sex workers) and crashed your car. Except that in this instance, you realise the dream was a prophecy of the real thing.
Anyway, I tried to watch the movie. Correction. I tried to find it. Now, the reality of our smart TV is that it is stuffed to the gills with sport options, because, to the man in my life, sport is the way, the truth and the life.
My choices were simple. I could watch sport or I could watch the T-man, live and in shocking person. I couldn’t find his fictional self at all. No matter what station in what country one logged on to, the first and mostly the only choice was the inauguration.
Unless you went the nature route and watched what Australian art critic Richard Hughes once memorably described as “sloths fucking to Mozart”.
Everything about the inauguration was predictable, including the tacky gesture of bringing a pressie from Tiffany’s for Michelle Obama, who couldn’t find a good place to stow the mass-produced, over-priced bling.
Same pictures everywhere. Same stories dropping in as alerts every five minutes. It hammered home the flawed judgment that what every other media outlet is talking about must be news, therefore must be covered to the exclusion of everything else happening in the entire world.
It also hammered home why media consumption has fragmented, worldwide. Once upon a time, we sat around the fire and watched TV together. Now, we can avoid Operation Transformation if we’re not into fat porn and go watch schoolteachers making crystal meth in their spare time. The upside of this is that as many teenagers have watched Planet Earth as have watched The X Factor.
The downside, at least in theory, is that we’re breaking into narrower and narrower sub-groups — chosen ghettoes, if you will — consuming content pre-selected by us to provide that most repellent of concepts, the “safe place” wherein we go unchallenged by contrary views. Voltaire has been turned inside out.
“I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” has become “I know by the look of your slitty eyes and weasely words that I would disagree with what you would say if I let you say it, but one click and I am protected from having to hear you.”
That’s not to say that we’re not united in content sharing. Our avoidance of reality is communally uniting. No commonality around issues that matter, such as freedom, freedom of speech, human rights or civil rights, but we line up in promiscuous droves to laugh with Chewbacca Mom.
When Charlie (of “Charlie bit my finger” fame) is going to college, which should be anytime soon, I hope he realises that he was Ground Zero for this trend, which the guru of media, Marshall McLuhan, didn’t see coming, with his “global village” twaddle.
Mass media is moving closer and closer together in its offering. Which means, for the next four years, the two most over-exposed forefingers in the world will be pointing at us, all day, every day, from every available outlet.
Ritual progress doesn’t quite constitute news. Not news in the way the growing survival numbers in the avalanche-hit hotel felt like news
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