Art into article – a new way of doing journalism? Barack Obama is Dorian Gray (debauchery of power surely shows up somewhere). Crisis of Authority: Doubtful performance by Georgy Porgy, Pudding-Pie Chancellor. Eyeless in Rimless Glasses (Lord Leveson and Nick Pollard). F-word Mitchell. George Ent, whistling up half a million. Hillsborough – like pigs not plebs. Iphone therefore I am. Jay walking across press freedom. Kim Kardashian’s chiselled booty. Lathicharge on the road to Lutyens’ Indian mansion. Miliband more Wallace than Wolverine. ‘No Surrender’: the Orange Heritage Experience. Qaedamonium in New York, wrought by Superstorm Sandy. Rueful Rupert, King Lear in Leveson’s High Court. Santa-in-reverse – death scene in Newtown, Tucitcennoc. Tunis, Tripoli, Benghazi to Chennai, the Anti-American Soul Train. USA Unemployment at 23 million? Victory for sheer athleticism, winning out against London’s Olympic Legacy-Logorrhea. Winsome from Wisconsin, GOP’s Wannabe V-P Paul Ryan – who he? Xi Jinping’s Elvis Hair. YTake2? For brief compositions of our common humanity, from source material already published on major news platforms. Zzzzzzzzz.
‘Lathicharge’ sounds ceremonial but turns out to mean New Delhi police officers beating back the crowd with sticks as tall as they are. Legs planted firmly apart, leaning back slightly then swivelling forward from the hips to get a good scything motion. On his way down, one demonstrator is still talking into his phone. There’s another one, also still talking, as he manages to throw a tear gas canister back at the police. Earlier, protestors seemed surprised to find they had broken through police lines across Raisina Hill, the thoroughfare leading up to the presidential palace (built for the British viceroy by imperial architect Edward Lutyens). Before they made it to the top, the police retaliated with tear gas canisters. When demonstrators defused these by dowsing them with water, they moved on to water cannon and lathis. But the crowd was not cowed. One teenaged girl was overheard encouraging her companion: ‘Aaja, aaja. Thhoda ro lenge, koi baat nahin (Come, come. We’ll cry a little, it’s fine)’. The ultra-violent gang-rape of a 23-year-old paramedical student and the lackadaisical police inquiry into this brutal crime, have prompted mounting protests against the authorities’ relaxed attitude towards ‘eve teasing’ – the almost-accepted term for a gamut of sexual harassment from bum-pinching to grievous assault. With their smartphones, wearing ‘street clothes’ rather than street clothes, the mainly middle class protestors of New Delhi would not look out of place in London or Manhattan. They are facing an elite which continues to inhabit structures inherited from the British Raj. Meanwhile the paramilitary stance of the police – that scything motion – still owes something to pre-modern regimes. In India, in the final days of 2012, time comes in three dimensions.
Gone is the goatee; now he flaunts his double chin like a badge of office. Roly Poly (Jon) Gaunty (Gaunt) boasts he’s ‘not thin on ideas.’ Look at me, I’m too busy speaking for the people to be fastidious about food intake. Former Sun columnist and Talksport ‘shock jock’, recently turned media trainer and PR consultant, this self-styled ‘populist’ has been working with Midlands branches of the Police Federation, voicing their opposition to government cuts. Gaunt’s clients include the Federation branch covering the Sutton Coldfield constituency of ‘plebgate’ MP, Andrew Mitchell. The patricians don’t like Gaunt or his commissioners in the lower ranks of the police service. Of course, David Cameron refused their invitation to ‘a Balti in Birmingham’ during the Conservative Party conference there (no ‘beer and [curry] sandwiches’). Of course, Gaunt is the epitome of cheese compared to Andrew Mitchell’s chalk-stripe elegance (‘epitome’ – etymology: Ancient Greek – being a word that Mitchell might use but Gaunt surely wouldn’t). Mitchell’s good bones mean that he really could be gaunt, in a way that round-faced Gaunty simply can’t be, ironically. The real irony is that the policemen’s preferred self-image, as projected and personified by their ‘populist’ PR, means it goes without saying – that very word, the extremely controversial term, which this particular patrician may never even have said.
They can hardly be called ‘aims and objectives’, having only emerged during the course of writing these entries; rather, these observations have come to the fore while proceeding with the writing. Even so, they may provide some insight into what this writing is for.
(1) How lyrical is the language of advertising, especially compared to matter-of-fact journalism in its long established forms. Advertising handles its characters with humour, affection, even tenderness. Whereas journalism has tended to dismiss the people featured in it: its peremptory tone has often served as their dismissal notice. Perhaps lyricism is permissible in advertising because the characters who appear in the adverts come with the authority of the commodities they are there to represent. This would mean that the discrepancy between peremptory journalism and lyrical advertising is a further example of the fetishism of commodities; yet another example of things taking precedence over people, with the latter only recognised as such insofar as they are also recognisably bearers of the former. High time, then, for journalists to write lyrics about the people in their stories, i.e. to write about them in a lyrical way; and, by this means, to address the absurdity of things-before-people, which is also how things really are.
(2) The New Journalism of the 1960s was just such an attempt – the lyrical austerity of In Cold Blood; the poetic violence of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It arose in reaction to the reification inherent in mainstream journalism, and took its place in the contemporary counter-culture. Subsequently re-titled ‘the journalism of attachment’, the same kind of long form journalism became part of the advocacy culture of the 1990s, calling for more intervention by Western elites rather than less. Aside from its political trajectory, however, the length of this long form journalism has always been problematic. Given the length of time it takes to write, it cannot keep up with the new: it can’t do the news. What’s needed is something which reaches similar levels of descriptive power, but in short form.
One with hair, the other without. Same rimless glasses, though; same reading from a lengthy, prepared statement in a camera-friendly room with just the one, ambient colour. Blue/Grey. Leveson/Pollard. Leveson-Blue/Pollard-Grey. Following publication of Lord Justice Leveson’s report on the ‘culture, ethics and practices’ of the British press (29th November), on 19th December Nick Pollard presented his findings on the culture, ethics and practices of Newsnight and the BBC, beginning with (then) programme editor Peter Rippon’s decision not to run the story exposing TV personality Jimmy Savile as a pervert. In less than three weeks, first Leveson and now Pollard have lined up to diagnose the failure of journalism’s ‘management systems’. Their accents are different (North v South); and their provenance (high court judge v television news editor); so too are the objects of their attention (privately owned newspapers v public service broadcasting). Nonetheless, the two pontiffs share the same priority: management systems must be managed better. Managers managing management – that’s their solution. Journalists thinking independently; using their own judgement – anyone?
The line of his jaw, the gloss on her lips, the self-assurance of being the people other people always have to fit in with. Is it that the lonesome nurse – working away from home and family – was always going to comply with their request? With trumpets blaring, on Monday 17th December a phalanx of sombre family members laid the body of 46-year-old night-sister Jacintha Saldanha into a brick-lined grave. It is widely known that Saldanha fell for a prank phone call from two Australian radio hosts pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles asking after Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, who had been admitted to King Edward VII Hospital suffering from acute morning sickness. Three days later Saldanha was found hanged, driven to suicide by her failure to spot the prank, presumably. But perhaps she half-knew when she put the call through to the ward. The banter, the easy manner, their physical, sexual confidence – these characteristics stayed with Michael Christian and Mel Greig even when they suppressed them, donning sackcloth and ashes in TV interviews designed to atone for their part in Saldanha’s death; and Saldanha the Serious might even have heard these characteristics, understood them, in the grain of the voice at the end of the phone. In which case, it was not that she was fooled by Mel Greig’s desperately poor attempt to sound like the Queen; rather, that she immediately recognised all those years of not being fully in on the joke. Anticipating the insiders’ mocking tones – circles of hell for the uninitiated, perhaps Saldanha played along and put the call through pronto, in the forlorn hope of exiting their terrifying orbit.
Girl crying, the man carrying her appears to be smiling: ‘even if it’s not the doll you wanted – well, darlin’, you better take what you got’. Children in single file, the fingertips of each one resting lightly on the shoulders of the child in front. Grown-ups shepherding them, holding back the first-in-line who’s getting ahead of the game. Christmas in Reverse, that’s what it’s called, the awful game that came to Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut (‘Connecticut’ – make that Tucitcennoc). Instead of the Nativity, a death scene devised by Santa’s evil twin. Where there was life, he takes it away; where there is sunlight – a sparkling day in New England, Atnas reverses it and darkens the soul. Hence the crocodile of children evacuated by State Police; the girl with downturned mouth who’s heard what happened inside; or perhaps she was brought out of there alive. On this day, in this terrible place where live seems to run backwards.
Swirl of her frock coat as she steps neatly across the astro-turf in high-heeled suede boots, hockey-stick in hand. Playful, she makes contact with the puck. Thwack! At the podium, her pretty voice can pull strings with the audience. Twang! Too much hair falling over her right eye, but it only adds to the impression of modesty. From decorous Duchess of Cambridge (DC) to full-on Kim Kardashian, coming on stage in Bahrain to a backdrop of Kim-Kardashian-coming-on-stage-in-Bahrain; her booty as chiselled as her eyebrows. Screaming crowd, a few words from KK (‘beautiful Bahrain’ etc, etc), a homegrown MC who has learned to say ‘Kim Kardashian’ the LA way (she doesn’t get to say anything else). Meanwhile, frock coated like DC, narrower hips than KK, an unnamed woman strides down Russia’s M10 motorway, walking past cars and trucks gridlocked since Friday in a 125km traffic jam. A police officer brings a kettle of boiling water to the pop-up, roadside shelter she is heading for. Inside, beyond the hiss of all that slushy snow, there are benches and tables and glasses of tea; and nothing to do but wait.