Archive for May, 2008

I’m not sure how old I was when the first escapist¬†impulse struck, but throughout childhood, I remember being miffed by story characters who found their way to a different world and wanted to go home. Whether¬†in the¬†The Jungle Book, The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland, this fascination with getting back to Earth once you’d actually managed to leave it¬†was frustraing, incomprehensible, weird. Narnia provided rare satisfaction, in that the Pevensie children stayed to¬†grow into¬†kings and queens, but¬†other narratives weren’t nearly¬†so accomodating. What I wanted was real escapism: someone who not only left the planet, but with a sense of willingness and¬†adventure.

At school, this lead to my imagining a fictional doppleganger, one Saffron Coulter, who was able to do just that. An ordinary student, Saffron was plucked from her maths class by powerful, humerous entities with a stake in the smooth running of the multiverse, given the power to travel between worlds and to comprehend all languages, and sent off on a mission to discover Рwhat? That varied on my mood and inclination: sometimes, to stop a malevolent entity throwing things out of whack; to uncover the fate of another (handsome, male, half-human) agent; to venture as a prophetess to ancient worlds; to find the grave of angels. Armed with nothing more than her school uniform, a change of old clothes, some books, pens, a battered backpack and sarcasm, Saffron wove her travels through my imagination, accompanied by Jung and Minka, a pair of transdimensional serpent-wyrms, or Ingryn and Balter, two chattermouthed, gecko-handed, hand-and-a-half-high imps. In pen sketches, unfinished stories and endless daydreams, Saffron journeyed to the farthest corners of the possible, leaving me to stay at home and sigh wistfully.

As I grew older, the longing for a¬†magic door remained.¬†Watching¬†a remade Planet of the Apes,¬†I cursed roundly as Mark Walhberg struggled to get home, the foolish fool! – and all to no avail. Even as more films embraced the concept (Gary Sinese voyaging with Martians at the end of Red Mars, Neo’s epiphany in the first Matrix), I wasn’t satisfied; because what I wanted, deep down, was my own means of¬†escape. The feeling was a powerful mix of youthful selfishness and intelligent frustration: my life was extremely good, but in day-to-day terms, I had almost no control over it. I got up early, went to school, went to class, came home, ate and slept. Breaks in routine were scant, and¬†rarely on my terms: only summer holidays provided a reprieve.

It wasn’t until the revamped Dr Who that I realised the significance of home, and why so many characters had wanted to return there. As Rose rejected the Doctor’s¬†first invitation to join him on the Tardis, the enormity of forever abandoning an Earthly¬†life – family, friends, the familiar –¬†hit me for the first time. How could I simply vanish, telling no-one where I’d gone? How would I ever find my way back when the journey ended? At this point, the Doctor reappeared, pointing out that the Tardis was also a time-ship. Grinning gratefully, Rose hopped on board, and I grinned with her, having found the answer to at least one question. Only if it’s a time-ship, or goes both ways, I thought, wryly.

Looking back, the feverish escapism that prompted me to inhabit Saffron was born of modern¬†youthful frustrations, most of which remain valid. Teenagers¬†occupy a discomforting limbo between childhood and adulthood: day to day, minimal rights are balanced against oppressive (but, paradoxially, trivial) responsibilities, a subtle combination¬†often overlooked by adults. Students might lack¬†the burdens of¬†parental duty and jobs, but the scope for choice and personal satisfaction in both¬†cases far outweighs anything available before university. In memory,¬†most adults recall the freedoms of school in comparison to their current boundaries, forgetting that the knowledge and rights they’ve since¬†accumulated –¬†to disregard¬†false authority, say, or to get work done quickly, to drive and go out drinking – didn’t apply at the time, and wouldn’t if they returned.¬†

On an intellectual level, I can’t comprehend surviving school as I am now: either following all the petty rules would send me mad, or I’d do as I pleased and get expelled.¬†Experience and time act on all of us. I’ve given up yearning for a magic door – even¬†on awful days, the best I can conjour up is part of the multiverse coming to visit, staying for a bite of lunch and vanishing again.

But maybe one day, I’ll write Saffron a real adventure. She’ll roam the worlds, save the day, get properly kissed, lose her maths book,¬†fly off into¬†the glory of a binary-star sunset…

…and not look¬†back.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

After Hollywood rediscovered the trilogy, with recent franchises like The Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean,¬†Shrek, X-Men¬†and¬†Spiderman all proving that in the absence of a pre-planned, overarching narrative, big studios can be counted on to ruin at least one instalment, what¬†was left to do? Answer: the quadrilogy, a word invented, or so it seems, exclusively to market the¬†Alien¬†series boxed DVD set. But rather than plan a four-film epic, the Powers That Be have¬†stumbled on the idea of renewing older, already-proven¬†stories, leading to the¬†creation of Die Hard 4.0, Rambo 4, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and – according to today’s mediaBeverly Hills Cop 4.

This is interesting on several levels, not in the least because Bruce Willis (53), Sylvester Stallone (62), Harrison Ford (66) and Eddie Murphy (47) are all reprising roles they first played in their twenties and thirties, although only Karen Allen (57) gets to play the same love interest. Narratively, there’s a strong appeal to these films that echoes our real-life sentiments: the image of the tough, rugged veteran slugging out one last battle is a powerful archetype, especially when balanced against the young, awed sidekick (Indiana Jones’s Shia LaBouf¬†and¬†Die Hard’s Justin Long). Having already accompanied¬†the hero¬†on similar missions, the audience is able to grin knowingly at his chutzpah, an immersive nostalgia quite unattainable in stand-alone flicks and therefore a new part of the film experience.

But why is it happening now? Unlike the traditional trilogy format, this¬†‘wait twenty years and go again’ approach¬†seems a unique development. The only comparable format is James Bond, but Bond himself has been the same age for most of the twentieth century.¬†Whether¬†the trend¬†arose from opportunity, need or inspiration remains to be seen, but given its obvious success, it seems likely that future films might follow the same course. Depending on Robert Ludlum, 2030 could see the¬†return of Jason Bourne;¬†Christian Bale might play an ageing Batman, as per¬†the comics, or Hugh Jackman a grizzled Wolverine;¬†even Johnny Depp might return as an older, drunker,¬†wilier¬†Captain Sparrow.

Until then, however, audiences are left wondering where Hollywood will turn next. Narnia was meant to sustain Disney for another decade, but unless The Voyage of the Dawntreader compensates spectacularly for Prince Caspian, the idea of an ongoing septrilogy might have to wait. Still, with Guillermo del Toro’s The Hobbit set to follow Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, book adaptations may remain a staple of blockbusters to come. The fact of Eragon’s dismal performance is no¬†insurance against a possible Eldest and Brisingr, nor are other fantasy-trilogy adaptaions beyond the pale; indeed, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will¬†form two separate films in order not to miss anything out, thus rounding out the movie versions to eight. Comics-based movies¬†have also raked in a substantial heap of moolah, and until that well runs dry, the likelihood is that they’ll continue to do so, too.¬†

All of which promises that for as long as Hollywood can keep borrowing, adapting and otherwise big-screening existant literature, there’s no need to fret about where¬†our films are coming from – even if some new series¬†might not end for another thirty years.

Hold on to your mittens, kittens. Not since the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster have geekery and alcohol crossed paths in such a pas de deux of awesome as they will the next time I play bartender.

Behold my revelation: Final Fantasy themed cocktails.

Breathtaking, isn’t it? Imagine:¬†dark, brooding Leonhearts;¬†tropical Zidanes; a whiskey-based Tifa that kicks like a mule.¬†Aeris would be strong, but girly – champagne and hibiscus, with¬†a dash of vanilla-infused¬†vodka. Set alight, a mix of¬†brandy and bourbon poured over ice might be a Sephiroth or One-Winged Angel, while Jenova could kill you outright: vodka, absinthe and¬†tequila shaken with citrus and served straight-up.¬†Lulu would be dark, but subtle: kahlua, chocolate liqueur and frangelico¬†with cream and shaved¬†chocolate. Cloud would refresh: apple-infused vodka with soda, lime and vermouth. Auron needs must involve rum, kahlua and coke,¬†but an Eidolon would be kinder: midori, brandy and lemonade with a lemon twist.

Merciful Squaresoft. I’ve gone and made myself thirsty.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

On¬†completing school, there was speculation among my nearest and dearest as to whether, given my interests,¬†I’d study Arts or Creative Writing. With almost zero hesitation, I opted for Arts, because while the idea of writing¬†stories¬†for three years¬†seemed superficially appealing, I couldn’t see what it would achieve. Creative writing degrees don’t guarantee publication; neither can they vouch for literary smarts, and they certainly don’t help in getting a day-job. By nature, their¬†effect is paradoxical: confident writers will find them unnecesary, while a degree can’t help the trully unskilled. This leaves a very slim margin for potential students – confident writers wanting to brush up their skills,¬†and general non-writers looking for a creative outlet. On both counts, the end qualification is largely redundant, which¬†makes¬†any benefit¬†ancillary¬†to the actual course structure.

I was unsurprised, therefore, to hear Hanif Kureishi’s views on the matter. Tell a lie – I was surprised by his¬†opinion that on-campus shooting incidents in America are¬†typically the work of creative writing students, but that was it.

It’s rare you’ll find an author who endorses creative writing degrees as a means to success (“rare” here¬†meaning “I’ve never heard one say so”). While workshops with established writers are undoubtably helpful, writing requires a base level of talent and enthusiasm that cannot be manufactured.¬†As with¬†art¬†or musical composition, one cannot simply rock up to a job agency and say, “I want a career as an author. Preferably crime fiction, but I’m willing to take biography or science.” Which is why the creative fields – journalism included – are so dog-eat-dog: formal qualifications are no means of gauging talent. You can have three degrees from leading universities, but that doesn’t mean you can tell a story, sculpt a statue, write a sizzling article or play the sax. In areas dominated by self-education, what matters is your ability to fight through the slew of equally determined, comparably talented hopefuls, not whether you got a B on your latest story.

Such¬†struggling, underdoggish, exclusionary battle-tactics exemplify both¬†the best and worst of the arts world. On the one hand, anyone with self-belief and a scrap of talent can have a shot at brilliance. On the other, luck, nepotism and soul-crushing tenacity have more to do with success than a fair comparison of applicants. This is the slushpile effect: without an inbuilt mechanism for sifting the worthwhile¬†from the awful, any Joe¬†Muck can submit a manuscript, clog up an audition or otherwise tread on a talented aspirant’s toes with impunity.

Pardon me. I think I feel an urge to run screaming into the night.

I look forward to Wednesday night¬†on the ABC¬†– in fact, it’s the only night I¬†plan¬†on watching actual broadcast content. The Young Inventors, Spicks and Specks, The IT Crowd and The Armstrong and Miller¬†Show are all great fun, and given the premise of going backstage with advertising experts, The Gruen¬†Transfer seemed like a promising addition to the line-up.

In hindsight, Will Anderson should have set alarm bells ringing. As much as I loved The Glass House, Dave Hughes and a series of witty guests carried that show, because Young Master¬†Billy, as his abysmal performance at this year’s Melbourne Comedy Festival made apparent, is ratshit without an autocue and¬†some interesting sidekicks.

Which leads us to¬†the advertising representatives who, it seems, will make up the weekly panel.¬†It’s worth noting the apparent effort at diversity in their ranks: Dee, the¬†sole woman, comes off as creative-by-nature, cynical-by-necessity, and¬†easily the most intelligent and well-adjusted participant. Granted, however, this is not tricky when compared to her fellow marketeers. Russell has the self-contradicting, overly-enthusiastic sheen of a man suddenly forced to rationalise¬†ethical issues he hasn’t actually thought about. Todd appeared¬†genuinely interested in the¬†psychology and studies behind why advertising works, but¬†took a credibility hit from being paired with Dan,¬†the vile, sleazy epitome of corporate selling, whose¬†cringeworthy humour¬†left the audience wincing and Will Anderson with a glazed, almost manic desperation to¬†change topic.

The humour of The Gruen¬†Transfer¬† was hard to pinpoint: watching advertising high-flyers hold forth on how to market beer (or, at one point, whale meat) held an awful fascination, because none¬†of the panel seemed to realise that their willingness to do so, rather than any jokes they might make, was what people had¬†shown up¬†to laugh at.¬†Anderson himself was uncertain of which side to take, alternately egging on the advertisers and asking¬†sharp questions of them.¬†But this only achieved awkwardness:¬†laughing with the panel alienated the audience, while laughing at them provoked unease. Having tuned in to watch marketing practices exposed as immoral wank and their practitioners called scum, I maintain the latter tactic is the most viable means of success, but it’s undoubtably difficult¬†to¬†make four professionals¬†show up for¬†a weekly ridiculing of their chosen industry.

Ultimately, The Gruen Transfer seems like an insupportable concept.¬†As long as it remains unable to strike a working balance between self-pity,¬†mockery and flagellation, it will¬†act as a discomforting metaphor¬†for society’s relationship¬†with advertising:¬†hate-love, with¬†lashings of smug immorality, ignorance and guilt.¬†¬†¬†

Equality Cuts Like A Knife

Posted: May 28, 2008 in Fly-By-Night
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The Onion says it all, really.


Wikid Cool

Posted: May 28, 2008 in Good News Week
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There’s a tiny, thrilling tingle of vindication in reading that the NSW Board of Studies has given the go-ahead to an HSC English course that studies Wikipedia. Called Global Village, the elective looks at international communication in the age of digital information, and represents exactly where modern English courses should be headed. The road has been rocky and full of murk – my own experiences with HSC English were, shall we say, markedly unhappy – but such commonsense gleams like¬†a light at the end of¬†the tunnel.

The problem with English lessons in the modern era has become one of direction Рor rather, lack thereof. Some decades ago, both teachers and administrators began to question the conventional wisdom of teaching Shakespeare because he was, well, Shakespeare, and ever since then, the old lynchpins of English study have been strewn asunder. Despite being a devotee of the Bard, I acknowledge the sense in this: at the same time, uncertainy has undeniably arisen as to what should replace tradition, and (more importantly) why. The loss of grammatical education was the most grevious blow, while boons included the broadening of curricula to encompass film, music, TV, the internet and other such viable media. Much of the confusion, however, seems to have resulted from the question of post-modernism, viz: if anything can be legitimately studied for any reason, then how can the scope be narrowed?

Like an optometrist twirling the dials on some giant eye-checker, the NSW Board of Studies has been fiddling for a correct fit. The Global Village unit makes sense on two levels: it implies a reasonable area of focus, and tackles the problem of students trusting Wikipedia as a primary source. More than anything else, my hope is that the Board will start to require genuinely individual answers of its students, rather than prescribing the direction of their essays. This was the source of my own disappointment: in a course whose outcomes strove for independent research and multiple perspectives, there was precious little room for personal opinion. Ironically, the very breadth of potential study was at fault: the only way to process so many essays using such varied sources was to restrict the conclusions they might draw, and, as a consequence, dilute any prospect of genuinely thoughtful or detailed analysis.  

Ultimately, the goal of highschool English should be threefold: to impart a functional comprehension of the fundaments of language; to¬†foster an appreciation for¬†intelligent media; and to encourage¬†critical thinking. The NSW Board of Studies isn’t quite there, but if courses like Global Village are anything to go by, they’re finally on the right track.

Of late, both politicians and the media are confusing three related – but distinct – concepts, viz: sex education, sexuality, and child sexualisation. The Bill Henson controversy is a case in point: but before that, some definitions.

Let’s be clear. Sex education is, funnily enough, educational: explaining the whats, whys and huhs of the downstairs¬†plumbing for no smuttier purpose than the stoppage of misinformation. Sexuality is where things get naughtier – although more nebulously defined, it¬†connotes a willingness to engage in, or a curiosity about, what one might actually do with a partner. Child sexualisation is essentially age-inappropriate, marketing overtly sexual products or ideas to¬†a too-young demographic, to a detrimental (or at least, morally reprehensible) effect. It is also tied to exploitation: portraying pubescent or pre-pubescent youth in an inappropriately¬†adult, sexual fashion.

If looked at on a scale, we might consider sexual education the least innocuous of the three, and child sexualisation the most damaging. Sexuality dwells in the expansive middleground of context, sometimes clear-cut, sometimes grey. And now, three topical issues: Bill Henson’s photographs, Parliamentry debate over sexual content in Dolly magazine, and the primary school teacher fired for posing nude in a women’s magazine.

Ready? Then let’s dive in.

We in Australia¬†are highly confused about sex, particularly as relates to young people. While John Howard has left the building, the Religious Right has not, and despite our being citizens of a 21st century Western nation, moral unhappiness about public sexuality¬†remains a contentious issue. Parliamentarians debating the content of Dolly magazine are concerned with the prospect of stray seven-or-eight-year-olds reading material almost universally intended for those in their early and mid teens – but why? It seems logical to acknowledge that if we live in a sexually enlightened society, younger¬†children might end up hearing about sex before the official deadline.¬†But if we, as adults,¬†are mature and sensible enough to reassure them, this seems a small price to pay for producing, in turn, teenagers who are mature and sensible about sex. Let’s go further: it is a¬†fact that whenever age-sensitive material is produced, someone outside the intended audience will see it.¬†But should that alone stop us producing it? More than anything else, political posturing about hypothetical small children reading grown-up columns betrays a different fear: that the intended audience of such information is¬†under eighteen and more legitimately curious than pundits find comfortable. Put another way: adults don’t like that teenagers think about sex.

The grey area here is, unsurprisingly, the fault of sexuality. Although the legal age of consent in Australia is 16, many adults struggle with the idea of fourteen-or-fifteen-year-olds wondering Рperhaps innocently, perhaps not Рabout what lies ahead. Ultimately, it seems wiser to educate intelligently about sexuality and sexual practice (a la the disputed Dolly columns) as well as biology where interest is shown: the alternative is a potentially harmful ignorance, or learning from unsuitable sources. Not all young teens are interested in sex, but then, this is not the percentage of the population most likely to be reading Dolly Doctor.

We are just as confused about adult sexuality in the context of younger folk. When Lynne Tziolas was fired, it wasn’t for bringing sexually explicit material into her primary school class, publicising¬†her nude photos to students or inappropriately referencing her employers: it was simply because, as a primary teacher, the school found the idea of her public sexuality offensive. That the intended audience was adult changed nothing; nor did they seem moved by the fact that, until they fired Lynne and the issue hit the media, her students were entirely unaware¬†of what had happened. Having a¬†healthy sex life didn’t impact on her ability to teach well (her students petitioned to have her back), but the school’s reaction was all too familiar to anyone who keeps an eye on the headlines. Whenever a figure in public life has an affair, swaps lovers, gets divorced or generally appears to be more sexual than a crotchless doll, society gets in a tizzy. We like our celebrities to lead nice, compartmentalized lives: the bits we want to see, and the bits we don’t. Poor old Miley Cyrus learned this lesson recently after posing in mildly explicit photos. Had the media not had a field day about a teenaged children’s entertainer getting some of her kit off, it seems doubtful that any of her tiny fans would have noticed. The¬†impact of moralists worldwide publicly shaming a 15-year-old for daring to feel comfortable in her own skin seems¬†a more genuine cause for concern¬†than the idea that a 15-year-old might want to take such photos in the first place. Similarly, even assuming Tania Zaetta did sleep with troops in Afghanistan, she should be guilty of nothing more sensational than breaking the military conditional against hanky-panky. Instead, society is up in arms that she might’ve had s-e-x, which makes our collective media covering of the issue look like a bunch of ten-year-olds giggling behind the bike sheds.

Which, with depressing inevitability, leads us to Bill Henson’s oh-so-controversial photos of young, nude girls. Now, I’ll happily admit to voting for Kevin Rudd, and I still maintain it was a fantastic idea, but I do wish he’d keep his moralising mouth shut on the subject of art. Depending on who you’ve been reading, the ‘problem’ arising from Henson’s work might be described as: the inability of twelve-or-thirteen-year-olds to give intelligent consent to being photographed nude; the idea of child pornography; why the photos constitute art; whether banning¬†the display¬†is an act of undue censorship; or all of the above. For me, it¬†boils down to the following question:¬†does nudity alone make an image pornographic? To which I answer: no, nor should it ever. Henson has a history of taking disquieting, melancholy snaps; the purpose of art is to provoke thought and emotion; and he has certainly fulfilled both criteria. Better than anything else, both the photos themselves and the public’s reaction has put a finger on what I’ve spent the last umpteen paragraphs trying to elucidate: that we are uncertain about¬†our sexuality, the sexuality of our youth, and what it means in the context of our society.¬†

Yes, the images are unsettling: they’re meant to be. Are they explotative? Regardless of what the law says, it seems¬†intellectually condescending to say that teenagers don’t have the intelligence to speak on their own behalf, and hypocritical that advocates of children’s rights have here declared themselves¬†uninterested in¬†children’s voices. Similarly, it would be naive of me to claim that all Henson’s models will feel as happy as they do now¬†for the rest of their lives: everyone changes. From person to person,¬†the photos have probed a tender spot, because rather than child sexualisation,¬†they touch on sexuality in youth. The models and their families are content with the results; the unease is in the viewers, and if so many people are incapable of looking at naked girls and seeing nothing but Hustler, then the problem is bigger than we think.

How, then, do I define child sexualisation? How about: kids’ pole-dancing kits and sexy clothing, child beauty pageants, children’s make-up kits, and post-pubescent models selling clothes to women decades their senior. How is this last different from Henson’s photos, I hear you cry? Call me new-fashioned, but there is a world of difference between pretending twelve-and-thirteen-year-olds are 25 for the purpose of marketing, and showing that twelve-and-thirteen-year-olds can possess a disquieting sexuality of their own. Rather than being superficial, it is the distinction of context – why we create an image, and for what purpose – which determines how it should be labelled. Photos become pornographic when they are made with pornography in mind; Bill Henson’s photos became thought-provoking when they were made with povoking thought in mind. And whether or not people are happy to admit it, this is the context in which they have been overwhelmingly viewed: they have made us think, debate, argue and consider our idea of sexuality in a way we otherwise mightn’t, and that cannot be to anything but the good.

Ultimately, then, the same is¬†true of all societal sexual discourse. The thoughts or arguments might not always be comforting; but that’s why they’re important.


Addendum: For those interested, I agree entirely with Larissa Dubecki.

Insanity, Please

Posted: May 26, 2008 in Political Wrangling
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What does it even mean nowadays to plead insanity, a la Donna Hatchett and (probably) Joseph Fritzl?¬†Legally,¬†the logic seems to¬†be that¬†any sufficiently appalling crime must have been committed by a¬†madman, because normal human beings don’t go in for that sort of thing. I say unto this perspective: wrong. Be you religious or irreligious,¬†innate awfulness and a predeliction for cruelty are part and parcel of the human condition. The fact that someone can¬†distort their own perception of reality to such a degree that they start a-killin’ doesn’t mean their biology is flawed; just that¬†they’ve deluded themselves.

Medically and socially speaking, insanity is about brain chemical imbalances, misfiring synapses, missing chromosones or a history of¬†being so broken by circumstance that¬†the consequences are manifested behaviourally.¬†Note I say consequences, which term implies not only a direct link between¬†what¬†the offender suffered and what they went on to do, but because the one must¬†preceed the other.¬†Emotionally, we might expect victims of abuse to be preternaturally compassionate: having undergone horror, they should strive not to inflict the same on others. But past a certain point, this doesn’t work:¬†injury gives way to damage, and the¬†psyche is altered – perhaps irreversibly.¬†

Which leads us back to insanity pleas. If you are depressed, like Donna Hatchett, this is not the same as being insane. Depression alters our behaviour and emotional priorities; it should not alter our ability to discern right and wrong Рat least as regards others. For this reason, there is an awful, crucial difference between those who murder to escape their circumstances, and those who suicide: the former believe that removing someone else will solve their problems, while the latter can think only of removing themselves. Society is capable of leniency towards those who take life out of genuine desperate necessity: had Elizabeth Fritzl killed her father in order to escape, it would be a heartless jury who laid blame. But in the case of Donna Hatchett, we offer no such consideration, because we can objectively discern that less bloody options were manifold.

And Fritzl? He’s no more insane than Stalin, which is to say: cunning, brutal, authoritarian, cruel and merciless. Sadly, these are all human traits. No broken brain is required for them to be present – not even in confluence.

Gather ’round, children, and I shall tell you a Grim Fairy-Tale.

Back in the grand-old dinosaur days of print, radio and television media, there was a thing called Editorializing. Editorializing was discouraged, because¬†it meant putting ‘personal interpretations or opinions into an otherwise factual account’¬†–¬†and this was right and proper. If someone wanted to express their own views, special parts of the media were¬†set aside just for the purpose, and these¬†were called Editorials. This meant that if¬†a person¬†were reading, or watching, or listening,¬†they knew straight away if the piece was¬†entirely factual or someone else’s opinion, and could form¬†their own thoughts accordingly.

The ban on Editorializing didn’t always work, and it wasn’t the only problem. Sometimes¬†facts were presented wrongly, or omitted with an agenda in mind, so that some of what people¬†assumed to be true, wasn’t. But because the media kept watch for Editorializing, the system tended to work.

But one day, the Cult of Celebrity emerged. People became so fascinated with what actors and sports-stars were doing – particularly if it was scandalous – that they stopped looking out for Editorializing in their media.¬†Over time, Editorializing started to creep back in,¬†even into new areas. Suddenly,¬†weather-reporters were talking about¬†‘lovely’¬†days and what people¬†could do on them; crimes¬†became ‘shocking’, ‘horrific’ or ‘terrible’ outside the quotation of those involved; sporting victories became ‘hollow’, ‘lucky’, ‘narrow’, ‘resounding’¬†or ‘controversial’ depending on the score margin. Nowhere seemed safe – but the worst-affected subject were Celebrities themselves.

Based on little more than gossip, photos and speculation, articles declared this Celebrity or that to be ‘fat’, ‘desperate’, ‘depressed’, ‘ugly’, ‘in hell’, ‘grieving’, ‘shallow’, ‘crazy’ and even worse still.¬†Protest was raised, but¬†the Cult had grown strong. Too many now cared for sensationalism¬†over fact; too many embroiled themselves shamelessly in the¬†flaws of the rich and famous. As Editorializing in the Cult of Celebrity made more and more people wealthy, and as it became more and more deeply entrenched as a legitimate form of media, it became harder and harder to guard against elsewhere – until, one day, it had won. Every newspaper article, radio show, magazine column and TV piece had became an Editorial, and if there ever was a piece¬†with just the facts – well, it slipped¬†quietly by like the ghost of a thing¬†long dead.

People¬†forgot that Editorializing had ever been a problem; that¬†keeping¬†guard had ever been necessary. For a while, they were content,¬†but dark times loomed ahead. When the world turned grim, they had no means of discerning truth, no way of telling whether the fear they felt was based in fact, or merely echoing the fearful Editorials of others. As more and more people became afraid,¬†Editorializing bloated their worries, spreading the infection far and away, a dirty needle¬†deep in¬†the media’s veins. When the shadows thinned, people clung to their doorways and shivered, uncertain of who to trust, or where the world was headed; and even now, the pall remains, rank and rife as ever. The Cult of Celebrity still¬†seeks – and receives –¬†its pound of sweet, unyielding flesh; and everwhere news is passed, the force of Editorializing prevails.

A faithful few still linger, fighting quietly in the hope that soon, the old watches will be kept. Then, they pray, the ancient guardians will sweep forth, reforming media standards until Editorializing is once more banished to the darkness whence it came, and all Editorials are marked and known as such. But until that day comes, the people continue to sleep with one eye open, wary of both the media Рand themselves.

Here endeth the lesson.