It’s hard to shake a habit of a lifetime and there’s a ritual that’s so ingrained in my unconscious that I find it hard to escape. That ritual is one where I check the BBC News website every day, even though I know that a) I’m probably not going to read it and b) if I do it’s probably going to make me so angry that a psychiatrist would say I’m locked into a cycle of mental self-harm.
I used to read it. For years, I used to read it. It used to be my main way of following BBC News, because News 24 would do things like film an empty patch of desert while interviewing military experts about what might possibly happen in this empty patch of desert. They would have hours of live coverage of nothing, and of speculation about Things That May Happen.
Two years ago, amid their increasingly mistyped, woefully succinct and sometimes even punnish, tabloidesque features, it snowed. Something happened at BBC News, it was as if some great and powerful dynamo had been stirred into action. BBC News became the world expert on Fucking Snow.
I went a little bit mad and I made this image. If you click on it will become both larger and legible.
The phrase is supposed to be a curse, an ancient Chinese proverb, though it’s probably apocryphal and no genuine source for it appears to exist. It’s certainly a euphemism of some sort, a way of wishing all too much excitement, a desire to see someone overburdened, to see them struggle with more than they can handle.
My perspective is so narrow and my life so short that I can’t begin to compare what I experience now to events of times past, to the great wars of the last century, to the revolutions of France, Russia and America, to the reign of Julius Caesar or the upheaval of the Three Kingdoms. What do I know? I’ve only lived in one place and in one time.
But if I went on gut feeling, I’d say that I’ve been cursed to live in interesting times. I think that, over this last year, I’ve become more aware of change all around me than at any other time in my life. More change, faster change and change on a greater scale.
I didn’t think this was actually going to work. It did. About a week ago now, I read this story on Chron.com about how Anonymous declared that, while they could not battle the drug dealers with weapons, they could fight with information.
I thought they might be bluffing when they claimed to hold details of those collaborating with the drug cartel, information they would expose if their companion wasn’t set free. Perhaps they were bluffing but, if so, I’m only further impressed.
This is a victory. If anyone doubted that Anonymous had clout, had weight to their words, then they should perhaps think again.
If the above misrepresentation wasn’t enough to show that many British journalists lie somewhere on a scale between questionable practice and profound confusion, it turns out that some of them can’t tell the difference between computer games and reality. A documentary shown by ITV used footage from a computer game and genuinely believed that it showed something real. The footage keeps being taken down from YouTube, but the above link to the Telegraph still holds the video in question.
The great thing about these riots is that absolutely everybody everywhere knows what caused them, how to prevent them and how to fix the problem behind them.
Fantastic. Good to know.
This much is evident in the gush of commentary on the subject which has been endlessly spurted across every blathering broadsheet, blog and blank page from here to the horizon. No page has been left unturned, no column remains empty. The enormous verbal vomit retched up in response to this unprecedented national unrest is so enormous and so authoritative that one can only wonder how these riots were ever even allowed to happen, as so many people have suddenly demonstrated an intimate familiarity with every aspect of their cause, context and consequence.
Since the first riot, the Guardian has had a field day and, indeed, also a field night and a field week. The Guardian is a paragon of comment and has worked its staff night and day to produce and endless stream of consideration and criticism, climaxing in a well-meaning but rather meandering feature by, of all people, Russell Brand. The Telegraph has reacted with sternful scorn and, as it usually does whenever it runs out of words, always has plenty of shiny pictures to show off, though this time most of them aren’t about people’s dresses. The Daily Mail has, of course, reflexively reacted to everything in the manner of a spasmodic sneeze that has left everything within range covered in an unpleasant film of snot.
I’m pretty sick of the constant news coverage about the Norway attacks, so much so that it’s put me off reading newspapers or visiting news websites, a habit that’s so ingrained within me that if I stop doing it for but one day I find myself clawing at the walls and gnawing the furniture in withdrawal.
I still find that preferable to loading up another news site to find the same image of this horrid man posing with a gun. It’s not difficult to imagine why he took such a brazen image. He knew it would be visually arresting and that it would be the ideal image for editors around the world to plaster across their front pages, much as they had done with similar photos of the gunman behind the Virginia Tech massacre, the Kauhajoki massacre in Finland, or with others still. The discovery of these images, after the event itself, gives the story more running time. It draws it out further, adding yet more to the endless analysis, reports, clarifications and updates.
Yes, this is a terrible thing that has happened, something reinforced by the placid and even humdrum nature of Norway, a country so peaceful and sensible that it’s news sometimes had nothing negative to report, a place you’d need an electron microscope to study their crime rate, or to tie yourself to a nuclear bomb to feel unsafe there. But as experts have said a number of times now, constantly showing and talking about the perpetrators behind these kinds of crimes only inspires others:
Hello, my name is Paul Dean. I'm a freelance writer and journalist based in south London and this is my semi-personal blog. You might've seen my beard on the board game show Shut Up & Sit Down, as featured on Penny Arcade, or you may have read my words splashed across a magazine, website or even broadsheet newspaper somewhere. I'm also the writer on the excellent indie game Maia.