An archive piece from Christmas 2011, so the news isn’t so new, but the themes curiously ring louder than ever…
Just when exactly did the media start taking over? Few nations are as addicted as Britain is to its daily read. From the tits and arse spectacular of the redtops to the austere economics of the Financial Times – which is printed on peach-coloured paper – there’s something for everyone. London has a bunch of freebies too. Commuters by the millions chug them down morning and eve in and out of work. The news is divided roughly into: 20% UK and local, 10% politics and business, 10% international, 10% sport and 50% gossip. Who did what to whom? When? Why? Did they look good? And so on.
It was ever so. The first press in Fleet Street was built in 1480 by Wynkyn de Worde. That’s his real name. Caxton gets the credit but de Worde built the better machine, in the same shop where Caxton worked. Some of the titles printed there include: The Squire of Low Degree, a saucy romp; The Ship of Fools, a dark comedy about a ship lost at sea full of deranged weirdos; and The Canterbury Tales, which takes a good long look up and down at a cross-section of the society of the time.
You should see Fleet Street now. The papers are gone, decamped in the 1980s to the East end. I’m sitting writing this in the building that used to be the Daily Express but now it’s a bank. I’m in a glass corridor suspended twenty feet up. It’s night time. The old streets are spread out below, quiet, yellow lit, empty. 500 years of journalism has exploded into every corner a computer can reach and more. Our desire to record, to reflect ourselves, to communicate, has reached orgiastic proportions. Like Narcissus gazing at his reflection, we are all mesmerized. Has it gone too far. Or do we just need to adjust to this hyper self-consciousness?
A ruckus is brewing here over the use of phone-tapping by newspapers to eavesdrop on the private phone conversations of hundreds of people, including many famous, to get the dirt to put in stories. In particular, the News of the World, which has denied it with the grease of expert liars, and whose former Editor Andy Coulson is now Prime Minister David Cameron’s right hand press guru, Director of Communications. Interestingly it was an investigation by the New York Times that stirred the whole mess up. The Poms weren’t really too bothered. Or rather, the newspapers weren’t. Since the scandal broke only the Guardian has been reporting it. The lion’s share of major papers are owned by one man, Rupert Murdoch, that canny son of Melbourne who thinks we’re a ship of fools. The court hearings, fortunately, are in the real world.
So far, Cameron’s backing Coulson. It’s brinkmanship of the highest order. Who can outstare the stare of the greatest liars in the land. Will they get away with it. Do people care? Is there anything really that anyone can do about it anyway?
Technology lets us record every moment now with devices getting too small to detect. Kids are spreading their news in Facebooked technicolour soft porn trivia. Privacy is terribly old fashioned.
When everything is recorded, is it possible not to care? Could that be the new freedom? To not care. Can we, should we, give up our devotion to privacy?
Perhaps it’s time to give it a go. Stay ahead of the curve, put privacy in the past. Perhaps we should stick it to the voyeurs and gossipmongers. And be the news ourselves. Share those special secrets, drive naked into town, leap like mad ones by the light of the silvery moon. The staid would get reported then, those not salacious or brazen enough. And for once the News of the World could live up to its name.
That’s next New Year’s resolution taken care of.