If you were alone in a lift with POTUS, what would you ask him? At the Republican National Convention, Clint Eastwood came on stage to play a version of this game. Except that the Hollywood star formerly known as The Man With No Name (TMWNW, Spaghetti Westerns) didn’t actually ask a question of ‘invisible Obama’ (headline, Reuters). He said he was going to, then turned the phrase round to challenge the president’s record on unemployment. Referring to ‘the 23 million unemployed in this country’, the actor-director sounded short of breath. Was he choked by barely suppressed anger and sorrow, or just acting? Either way, in his cameo role he called into question the high level of emotion surrounding Obama’s election (‘Oprah was crying, even I was crying’), compared to the low grade attention doled out to the unemployed. Clint Eastwood is an old man now but he did not appear out of date. The eyes are set back further, weakening his famously unstinting gaze; his hair is un-seriously wispy and the perfect nose is just too damned perfect. But there’s still the grain of his voice and that fascinatingly implacable face – long and hard as the faces of Easter Island. When the camera panned round, however, to the RNC delegates applauding him, boy, were we thrown back in time? On the money, of the moment, yet TMWNW was addressing the past.
Winsome from Wisconsin. The Ruminating Republican. If Mitt Romney is wooden, his vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan is Woody from Toy Story. Were he conventionally handsome it might cramp the style of the senior partner. But instead of the mature man, Ryan (42) is Mr Almost Grown. Absolutely not Mercutio, more like Sugarfoot or the Sundance Kid (though not as fully formed as Robert Redford), especially with his lips forming a rueful curve and his hair brushed forward to evoke the crew-cut-that-used-to-be. Whether or not it ever was, there is now a poignant contrast with Romney’s slicked back coif: elder to younger; generation to generation. Ryan is a picture of what integrity looks like just before it draws to a close. That’s his image, anyway, and with proceedings delayed because of Isaac storming the town, at the Republican National Convention there’s not much to do but doodle.
What defines the reporter? It used to be that reporters went out to look at events, and came back with answers to four or five questions: who, what, where, when, and, sometimes, why? They covered events by capturing basic information, writing it up in the form of a ‘story’. But the basics are now readily available – more easily and at lower cost to the reader than ever before. It does not take a reporter to answer the first four of these questions when we can gather as much from open access, user-generated platforms such as Twitter; and these platforms have all but dispensed with the form of the ‘story’. From the traditional list, that leaves only one question for the reporter to answer; and just the one answer to be formulated. True, the outstanding question – why? – is also the most difficult, but this still amounts to a reduction in the reporter’s role; especially since separating the fifth question from the other four Ws means that the last remaining answer often comes better from analysts, commentators and leader writers rather than reporters.
So what is the reporter for? Now that basic information is often provided not by reporters but by people-formerly-known-as-readers, it is surely time to reconsider what the people-formerly-known-as-reporters should be doing instead of supplying the basics. Consideration of this question is especially timely since, unless we make a point of addressing it directly, chances are that the Leveson Inquiry and its legacy will redefine the reporter in terms of how well he behaves and what codes of practice he has been seen to follow. Although this process may demonstrate who is and who is not considered fit to be a reporter, it cannot show what purpose reporting is fit for. British journalism will have wasted a good crisis if it checks in for moral rehab instead of seizing the opportunity to reformulate itself. Whereas Leveson et al pose the current situation as a moral crisis, what the reporter really faces is a fundamental question of purpose – what am I here to do?; and a supplementary question – if I am to fulfil a modified purpose, now that the basics are covered by non-reporters, what form should this fulfilment take?
Later pictures show only a brown hand peeping out from beneath the white sheet. But there is one fuzzy photo, taken before the police covered the body, which shows the victim of New York gunman Jeffrey Johnson. The shape of the body seems more womanly than male, although it’s hard to tell from the baggy pants and big shirt s/he’s wearing. Let’s just say it’s a she. Her head and torso lie flat on the pavement. But her legs are jumbled up against the wall (the wall of a shop and office building in Manhattan), as if her feet started walking at the very moment when her top half slumped to the floor. Death came untidily, then. Not a clean, cool, smart, wind-in-your-hair death, if there ever is such a thing. Meanwhile Mayor Michael Bloomberg, speaking at a press conference two hours later, was relieved to file this fatality neatly away under ‘not terrorism’. Ditto the fate of the gunman himself, shot dead by police a few minutes later. In the shadow of the Empire State Building, in the run up to the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, this might have been another iconic killing. If it had been a suicide shooter, the plump police chiefs and the onlooking crowd (dressed down in the late summer heat: 75 degrees at the time of the 9am slaying), would have been automatically recruited as extras in another Gotham City epic. But because Jeffrey Johnson came back to kill someone he used to work with, or for, at the women’s clothes firm which sacked him when it downsized a year ago, this whole episode was swiftly demoted to a B-movie. Of course he, and only he, was personally responsible. But in another sense both Johnson and his victim were casualties of recession; and unlike terrorism, everything to do with recession is banal, non-iconic. Even when it bleeds, it doesn’t lead.
‘Embarrassing photos’ is the phrase used by the Daily Telegraph online to link to the TMZ celebrity website photo-story of Prince Harry in a Las Vegas hotel suite ‘getting BARE ASS naked during a game of strip billiards’. The two pix are of such poor quality you can barely (ha!) make out, first, a naked man cupping his balls while a topless woman holds onto him round the waist; and, second, from the rear, the same naked man (the crack between his buttocks modestly X-ed out) holding onto a naked woman by her waist (the two of them seemingly skewered together with a pool cue). But the photos are far from embarrassing. They serve to upload the third-in-line to the British throne into the semi-fictitious life world realised in television shows such as The Only Way Is Essex. Check out the abundance aesthetic! Flesh – pots of it. Ascetic, it ain’t! Not that the ‘strip pool’ episode is merely a stunt designed to update the British royals; although this is likely to be its long-term effect. But almost as it if were a set-up, it so happens that the colour scheme of the hotel suite fits perfectly with the prince’s natural colouring. Brown walls, latte carpet, cream soft furnishings; even the pool table baize is tan, not green. Every element is aligned to Harry’s reddish hue. Cue billiards, bazoomas and the Ginger Prince.
‘Thank you and God bless you, and God bless the United States of America’ (1). ‘Thank you and God bless you, and may God bless America’ (2). Once again (1), and then again (2), Barack Obama invokes God and America to draw his speech to a close. POTUS is one of the few political performers who knows how to commute between vocal registers, moving effortlessly between public rhetoric and apparently private conversation. On the campaign trail prior to the presidential election in November, he’s been demonstrating this ability to good advantage. Over and over again. But now a study of Obama and his teleprompters (quoted above) by a Reuters photographer, seems to show that even the variations in what he says, the bit of Barack that comes out differently because that’s how the moment has moved him – yeah!, is really scripted in advance. Just as Dean Martin acted drunk, Obama is performing a patina of confidence and ease. Will it be enough to start a fire this time?
On the inside, the factory is more like a laboratory. No impurities here, though not all-white; instead, peppy colours (yellow, blue, tan) that could have come from Ikea. With its flat planes, immaculate surfaces, and a shop floor so highly polished even the toughest sar’nt-major would have to acknowledge his reflection, the place is pristine as a brand. But this ‘brand’ is not merely decorative; it’s the Hyundai plant at Ulsan (250 miles from Seoul), where cars get made by the million. Conveyed along the spotless track, ministered to by men and machines, slowly the vehicles take shape. Or they would, if production had not been suspended. Hyundai autoworkers are on strike for more pay, better hours, and the integration of subcontracted employees into the regular labour force. Outside the engine plant where the night shift is massing, we are back in another century. Neon lamps give off a sepia light in which the strikers and their clothes are grey and grainy. They way they look tonight, these workers have taken on a rough, old texture, as crude as the long, long poles they carry to keep the police at bay. But this is only an appearance, a trick of the light that shows people lagging behind the world they themselves have made. Or is it?
Gangly Julian fills the frame of the French windows leading onto the tiny embassy balcony. Trademark Albino bob now shaved to short-back-and-sides. Pale skin and a soft mouth. Ever-so slightly sibilant speech. Assange’s statement is framed by reference to legendary libertarian struggles: the world is watching – Chicago, 1968; freedom of speech and the American Declaration of Independence. Appealing to Obama to ‘do the right thing’, he evokes both civil rights activism and Spike Lee’s world-weary re-make of it. But the resonance for Assange comes from none of these. Instead he echoes the new compulsion to make a spectacle of ourselves. His Wikileaks observes the principle that manifesto ergo sum and applies it to the state. Unthinkingly.
The body of a miner, nose and chin nuzzling into the crook of his own arm. Shot by the thin blue line, down on one knee to fire into a straggle of strikers, already regretting the heat of their action. Was this man comforting himself at the moment of death? More likely his head and arm arranged themselves arbitrarily, same as the other bodies strewn around at random. If only this were a Surrealists’ Convention, and they were suffering for their art.