Strange Times III: The Ideal News Story


So the pattern started to become clear about what makes the perfect news story.

In the Daily Mail’s own words, you need to create a sense of outrage and fearfulness, but it helps if the main perpetrator is incompetent. The Czech artist David Cerny was paid £350,000 to commission artworks forming a huge sculpture of 27 nations for the atrium of the European Council, but admitted hoaxing the EU by knocking it up with his pals. Officials began to smell a rat when they noticed that Romania was represented by a Dracula theme park and Bulgaria by a Turkish lavatory, but in a typical state of indecision they went ahead with the opening anyway. Britain was represented on the sculpture as a blank space.

The ‘Big Brother’ show finally faded to the faintest of radar blips and was binned, but not before its producers burrowed below the ground zero of bad taste. In a twist of Jacobean grotesquery, they informed reality TV star Jade Goody that she had cervical cancer in the Big Brother house  so that her tearful reaction could be captured live. Goody undermined the media leeches feeding on her by inviting camera crews in to film her wedding to a convicted felon, then remained in the spotlight as the press gloatingly ticked down the days to her death. Goody, from a deprived, abusive working class background, ultimately attained grace by confounding the critics who harped on about her intelligence; she behaved with dignity and intelligence all the way to her death at the age of 27.

As the credit crunch hit home, an article appeared in The Observer about hot new fashion scents; Wode, which sprays the wearer blue (sadly the effect quickly wears off), and ‘the very first internet perfume’, called ‘Violence’, a scent based on old photographs of skinheads hitting each other (I wish I was making this up). The makers say it smells of ‘sweat, boot polish, Indian food and warm bricks’, although if it’s based on old photos it should surely smell of developing fluid. Harvey Nichols announced their own best-selling scent, ‘Molecule’, which according to their advertising smells vaguely of something, and then of nothing. I guess it makes a change from most scents, which smell of roses or lemons.

Before he went his disastrous G8 summit meeting, George Bush reneged on his few climate change promises and bade farewell with the words ‘Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter‘. He then punched the air and grinned as the French and British prime ministers looked on in shock.

On the subject of the environment, ministers announced that ‘Plan A’ (carbon reduction) had failed and that ‘Plan B’ (invent something fast) was now the only remaining solution. But planet management never gets easier. On the island of Macquarie, between Australia and Antarctica, cats left by ships got rid of the mice but preyed on rare flightless birds, so conservationists culled them, only to watch horrified as the rabbit population exploded and stripped the island of its vegetation, causing a landslip that wiped out a rare penguin colony. The chain of events is an example of ‘trophic cascade’ leading to ‘ecosystem meltdown’.

Mexico’s long border with the US, the world’s biggest drugs consumer, became the site of more killings than Iraq. The chances of kidnap became so high that we heard about microchip tracking devices being implanted into the arms of wealthy schoolchildren.

Meanwhile, Adam Deeley, 34, a mature British student, choked to death in an impromptu challenge to see who could eat the most fairy cakes at the Monkey Cafe, Swansea. He managed five at once. Or rather, he didn’t. Paging Mr Darwin.

In Britain where 1 in 10 children lives in a mixed-race family and mixed-race relationships are so common that traditionally distinct ethnic groups are disappearing, the royals are still getting up to speed. Prince Harry was rebuked for using the term ‘Paki’ and Prince Charles admitted to calling an Asian friend ‘Sooty’. Hating to miss out on any publicity, Margaret Thatcher’s daughter Carol publicly called the handsome and talented French-Congolese tennis champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga a ‘golliwog’.

In Washington, a Christian group called Pray At The Pump started gathering around petrol pumps and praying to the Lord to lower prices. ‘If we keep this up,’ says its leader Rocky Twyman, ‘we can bring down prices to less than $2 a gallon.’

Thanks to rising oil and food prices, the production of a new food staple was stepped up in Haiti as mud cakes soared in popularity; the baked grey discs of dirt apparently taste like – well, dirt with margarine in, but stop stomachs from feeling empty.

If the starving weren’t prevented from leaving by US coastguard patrols, they could have gone to stare through shop windows at the Hermes ‘Birkin’ handbag, which went on sale in New York for $37,000 (actually, the one pictured above is even more expensive than that). At the time of the stock market crash it was still selling well. And in case that’s not enough, Louis Vuiton started selling custom-made travel caviar sets for all your urgent caviar-on-the-go needs, while spa treatment centres offered ‘caviar face packs’.

Advertising got even more slippery. The film ‘Sex And The City’ had – unsurprisingly – 95 brands cunningly dotted through its running time. Shane Meadows’ neo-realist film ‘Somers Town’ went one better and had the entire film sponsored by Eurostar trains. But it was in black and white and he’s an auteur, so that’s all right.

Arnold Schwarzenegger championed gay marriage in California. Mormon-backed Proposition 8 promptly banned it again, leaving the 18,000 couples who got hitched in the four and a half month period when it was legal stranded and exposed to the proposers’ next attempt – to retroactively annul the marriages. The California Supreme Court upheld the proposition but invoked a grandfather clause allowing the existing marriages to stand.

The upside to all of this has been a massive increase in quality political reporting, even if it appears away from the mainstream. In the New Statesman, David Goodhart writes that Brexit debates are encouraging an increasingly tolerant society as people hammer through their differences across parties and class divides – and the data backs him up.

13 comments on “Strange Times III: The Ideal News Story”

  1. Peter Dixon says:

    I actually remember the days when, if there wasn’t much news, the papers would reduce the number of pages.
    The regional daily could sometimes be down to 8 pages. But this was before the days that TV soap characters became ‘news’.
    How much of our papers consist of the usual squad of Simon Cowell’s latest plastic surgery/haircut or another lookalike bimbo ‘accidentally’ flashing her nipple, bum or whatever. Or some ‘national treasure’ is pictured rolling in vomit after a night out with celebs.
    This comes at a time when comics like The Beano is losing circulation and the Dandy has closed. The papers are the new comics.

    Also, have you noticed that on TV lots of stuff is now being shown as a vertical strip in the centre of the screen so it looks like its been filmed on a mobile phone and must be more ‘real’ or trendy?

  2. admin says:

    Peter I think the footage actually IS from mobile phones.

  3. Peter Tromans says:

    I assume that I should laugh at these things, but it’s depressing me. We’re ruled by a mixture of incompetent fools and corrupt spivs and it seems that a good half of the rest of the human population are no better. I seem to remember someone, possibly Freeman Dyson (not the vacuum cleaner salesman), saying to Richard Feynman that they were lucky, however bad the world got, they could think about physics. Possibly the greatest reward of an education is having something beautiful to think about other than the horror of the world. So, please, can the blog go back to literature, art and those two wonderful characters, B&M and their friends.

    PS typed B&M because I can’t even write the name of the second in full withotu shuddering. See hwat oyu rae dongi to me. Arghh!!

  4. Rich says:

    Surely The Jam already had the perfect recipe for the Violence perfume in Down in the tubestation at midnight with “They smelt of pubs and Wormwood Scrubs and too many right wing meetings”. One of my favourite lyrics along with Billy Bragg’s “I saw two shooting stars last night. I wished on them but they were only satellites. Is it wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care”

  5. Brooke says:

    “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Thank you for these pieces–the way you’ve highlighted intellectual and moral confusion and just plain bad faith is not pleasant reading but it is timely and perhaps a preventive treatment. In the tradition of Mort Sahl , etc. and more recently Stewart Lee….

  6. Roger says:

    Adam Deeley, 34, an immature British student, however old he was, surely.

    At 8.45 p,m. on April 18 1930 the BBC’s newsreader announced “There is no news today” and played a record of piano music until the programme’s end.
    The end of civilisation. Now the amount of news expands to fill in the time and space it has to fill on TV, radio, newspapers, the internet…

  7. LAM says:

    I (foolish American) just want to be able to go to a so-called news source and read an analysis of the contents of a policy proposal that consults multiple experts rather than:

    a) what jokes late-night TV talk show hosts told about the policy proposal or its proposers;
    b) what [insert singer/movie star/children’s book author with no noticeably relevant policy expertise] tweeted about the proposal;
    c) the offensive thing someone from an opposing party [or their wife/child/staff person] said about the policy/the proposer of the policy/the proposer of the policy’s hair/spouse/child/pet/houseplant;
    d) the “potty talk” name made up for the policy by someone on talk radio;
    e) the list of other people in history who ever talked about the problem targeted by the policy and why they were all WRONG because clearly this makes the policy WRONG without the boring bother of reading it;
    f) calls for increased civility in public life, because if we’re all somehow just a bit more polite, maybe we can still avoid actually trying to understand serious problems and proposing meaningful solutions.

  8. Peter Dixon says:

    Phone graphic: No, I recognise the real stuff, but the BBC have been using it as a style thing on some of their online ‘magazine’ stories, and I’ve seen it turning up elsewhere.

  9. Ian Luck says:

    I think that the BBC have got the idea to display stuff as though it were phone footage to encourage yer actual brain dead ‘millennial’ tosspot to watch it. I’m finished with these worthless bastards. They have got rid of the name ‘Salad Cream’, and say it should be ‘Sandwich Cream’, as people use it in sandwiches, not on salad, as that is for Mayonnaise. Bullshit. I’ve never put salad cream in a sandeich, ever. And Mayonnaise is shiny white goop that tastes of precisely nothing and gives me terrible gut rot if I ever eat it.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    Salad cream is too fluid for sandwiches, it would make the bread soggy. Mayonnaise is a fat which requires flavouring for use, or something to thin it. Add a drop of bitters if making egg sandwiches, two drops if making potato salad.

  11. snowy says:

    The reason American news delivery is so bad is all the fault of the Russians, well not the Russians per se since that is just a collective name for many disparate peoples living under the rule of a Tzar, the but the Bolsheviks. The political philosophy that they espoused caused a lot of politically influential people in the US to suffer an involuntary intestinal inconvienence, [and doubtless provided a boon to Chinese laundry owners.] Fearing that someone would take away their Train sets and whatever else they enjoyed a near monopoly on, they waged a successful campaign against any form of State or Community control that could threaten their interests.

    Anything that somebody disliked the mere idea of could be branded as ‘Socialist’ and just this label would trigger a reflexive response so conditioned it would have Pavlov wiping the drool off his chin with a spaniel. So the idea of national state controlled TV service on the Reithian model never took off.

    Left to the market, the only viable TV model is the advertising model, even if a news service started with the highest principles, competion means it is a battle for viewers and inevitably this degenerates in a race to the bottom. As far as owners/shareholders are concerned, news is now just there as bait between the ads. American cultural hegemony means that this is aped everywhere, even on networks with no ads. [I remain unclear of how Americans view the various British news offering in comparison to what they are used to.]

    On the subject of upset tummies, Salad Cream as we know and love it was created as a table sauce rather than a dressing. To ensure it had a useful shelf life, certain alterations were made, the egg yolks are pre-cooked to kill any bacteria, [which makes them more digestable], and the vinegar content increased to prevent spoilage. It probably received a huge boost in popularity when the regular supply of fresh eggs was rather rudely interrupted by a frustrated gang of sore losers insisting on a rematch.

    And it sort of stuck around, to be dragged out of the cupboard to disguise the taste of lettuce whenever anybody decided that it was ‘too hot to cook’ and that a plate full of limp vegetables and a slice of floppy ham would ‘make a nice change’. It would regularly appear inside Corned Beef sandwiches for reasons I could never quite fathom? mustard substitute?.

  12. Wayne Mook says:

    When did corned beef become more expensive than normal sliced beef? Strange days.

    Now we have a multitude of salad dressings. progress is a wonderful thing.

    just to think if we do get a Brexit deal it will only be the transition and then the main negotiations can begin, I can’t wait.


  13. Ian Luck says:

    Wayne – that annoys me, too. I love Corned Beef – it’s one of the classic ‘bloke’ foods, inasmuch as unless it was to be used in a recipe as an ingredient, most women would never consider it a main food option. Similarly, a bag of raw nuts. Another bloke classic, although somewhat less enjoyable as a world shortage of Brazil nuts, and the fact someone found out that the shells were slightly toxic, means that an evening in front of the telly, with a beer, a bowl of Brazils, some nutcrackers, and the possible chance of muscle strain opening the nuts, is to be a pleasure lost to many. Strong cheese, possibly the ‘blokiest’ of foods, especially if it’s a blue cheese. I went out the other week, and found a shop that stocked ‘Dorset Blue Vinney’. It was strong – it went straight to the back of the throat, up the nose, and gave one that twinge which heralds a nosebleed. Perfect.

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