News Round-Up

Christopher Fowler
evolution-creationism1 As I zip around looking for fresh influences to write about, I make notes of what's happening in the world. As a regular feature in my short story collections I would start with a round-up of news items I found funny/ tragic/ insulting. I continued the habit for five or six books. Here's an mix of some of the items and juxtapositions that struck me. If they seem especially hard on Britain and the US, it's only because the items were culled from British and US news sources. I'm sure they'd be the same from any other country's presses, if not worse. In Stockton-On-Tees, a poverty-stricken family succumbed to heroin use, and as her son died, the distraught mother went to bingo to try and win money for his gravestone. Ironically, George Bush chose her neighbourhood for a visit, and his security operation cost the British government a million pounds. Pat Robertson, the US Christian evangelist, appeared on national television suggesting it would be a good idea for American hit squads to murder the president of Venezuela for his oil. In London, a Big Brother house member simulated masturbation with a beer bottle on a channel subsidised for its contribution to quality television, and garnered more column inches in the national press than the US government's final refusal to cut CO2 emissions. In Japan, internet suicide groups were infiltrated by bogus suicidees planning to kill their fellow members for cash, which had the effect of making teenagers think twice about killing themselves in groups. In Britain, an eleven year-old girl was rushed to hospital suffering from a heroin overdose, while on the same day another announced she was pregnant and looking forward to being a pre-teen mum. It was revealed that half a million UK children belonged to street gangs. In Plymouth, four mothers filmed goaded their toddlers into fighting each other. They did it, they said, to make their children hard and stop them from turning into 'faggots'. In America, a Christian Right group decided to improve the world by financing trips to locate the remains of Noah's Ark, while another threatened to kill cinema owners for agreeing to book 'Brokeback Mountain' into theatres. Endemol, the makers of 'Big Brother', produced a season casting mentally ill contestants in the hopes that they would humiliate themselves and hurt each other on live television. With racism shown to be endemic on the programme, public opinion finally started mobilising against them, but the producers felt that its export market had been 'fantastically improved' by the sight of burning effigies in India. It emerged that the show was most popular with schoolchildren. Hollywood turned the World Trade Centre attacks into an upbeat action movie, and the director toured with the fireman pulled from the wreckage, thus rendering the film impervious to criticism. US presidential advisors announced that they would solve global warming by 'inventing something', even though they wouldn't directly acknowledge it was happening. Belize pressed the United Nations World Heritage Sites Committee to acknowledge that climate change was destroying its famous reef, but the US decided to reject the petition because it would 'damage harmonious relations with the committee'. Meanwhile, the Northern hemisphere posted the highest average temperatures in over 2,000 years. Taxpayer-subsidised Channel 4 announced its latest adventure into the amelioration of the human spirit; 'Wank Week'. Our language continued to change. 'Creationism' became 'Intelligent Design', and 'Liberalism' became 'Godlessness'. 'Post 9-11' has become shorthand for anything we should be wary of. 'Democracy' was rebranded as 'Free Market', and came to mean 'Something You Choose To Have Or We Will Bomb You'. Labour turned Tory, Tory turned Green, and caring was something you only had time for before and after your career. Surveys were published with some interesting data tucked inside them. Only 60 percent of women in the UK were now sexually active. Over a million British schoolchildren were experiencing mental health problems. Over a million elderly people went an entire month without seeing someone they knew. London's most rapidly growing demographic group was deemed to be a single person living in an apartment full of gadgets. Experimental drugs tested on six English volunteers placed them at death's door and inflated their heads 'like the Elephant Man'. Desperate Chinese cockle pickers returned to Morecambe despite the fact that nineteen employees had drowned in one afternoon while digging for shellfish. In County Durham, a giant inflatable sculpture designed to create 'a sense of harmonious calm' took off with thirty people trapped inside it, killing two and injuring a dozen others. A Russian spy died after being poisoned by a radioactive spray applied to his sushi. The dead journalist Alistair Cooke had his legs sawn off and replaced with drainpipes by New Jersey-based Biomedical Tissue Services, a modern-day Burke & Hare company prosecuted for trafficking in body parts. With CCTVs adopting face-recognition strategies and electronic tracers of every kind invading British society, Orwell's concept of a Big Brother state truly became a reality when a contestant on 'Big Brother' admitted she had no idea what the title of the show meant. And to bring us right up to date, yesterday Scotland Yard decided that Gareth Williams, the MI6 spy who was found locked inside a holdall in his flat, had probably killed himself, despite evidence at the inquest of
two experts who tried 400 times to lock themselves into the 32in by 19in holdall without success. Hmm - perhaps I'll revive the news round-up here...
Posted in
Film & Media


Rachel Green (not verified) Thu, 14/11/2013 - 09:34

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Any one of those as a novel plot would be labelled 'unbelievable'

Dan Terrell (not verified) Thu, 14/11/2013 - 13:24

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

May I suggest you get Keith Page to come in on a new round-up venture a la the graphic "Believe It Or Not."
I've heard of several of these news bits, but it would be nice to look forward to one in a newspaper per day - or as a weekend panel - and then issued as a paperback collection, a calendar, cocktail napkins, T-shirts, etc.
While it's not "Peanuts"' it's certainly mixed nuts.

J. Folgard (not verified) Thu, 14/11/2013 - 19:09

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

May we live in interesting times indeed. I often get the disheartening impression that, when reality finally bothers to be "stranger than fiction", it's mostly for shitty things.

Helen Martin (not verified) Thu, 14/11/2013 - 22:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thank you for reminding me of the total insanity that is our world. I had heard about the family & heroin but not how much the security cost. And of course we believe that Mr. Williams killed himself. Come on, MI6, you can do better than that. Unless that stands for Military Intelligence. I'm going back to lifting my dahlias for the winter.

glasgow1975 (not verified) Fri, 15/11/2013 - 14:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

*cough* erm I believe it was a wine bottle not a beer bottle *cough*

Helen Martin (not verified) Fri, 15/11/2013 - 22:17

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Last night I heard an interview with an inhabitant of the Isle of Dogs (London) who is objecting to the $300,000 budgeted to eliminate the Monks Parakeet (a South American native bird) from the Isle of Dogs. There are differing versions as to how the birds got there in the first place and there is no ban on importing them but apparently *they* are afraid the birds will either nest on the power pylons & short circuit the lines or totally destroy local crops. Apparently the Isle doesn't have power pylons & I certainly have never heard of its being a farming area. She suggested that the money would be better spent on essential services that are being cut. The interviewer felt that a tropical bird that could successfully survive in London should be encouraged and a flash of blue and green in the winter sky couldn't be bad, although apparently their squawk is rather unpleasant. You can't have everything.