Sunday, February 12, 2006

News vultures

It's probably not a good idea for me to post this because it only draws more attention to something I think we as a society spend waaaay too much time on but I'm not sure how to do it without mentioning it. So apologies to the poor bastard who is the subject for this post, who is having his story retold in order for me to make a point about salacious journalism dressed up as lamb.

Former Cold Chisel roadie dies on flight screams the headline, yet the story is about a man who probably had lots of different jobs in his life given that he was 56 years old when he died. So even if he spent as many as 5 years of his life working for Chisel (which is a long time in the land of rock and roll) he still would have had another 35 years of doing something else - probably lots of other something elses. (For those of you who don't know, Cold Chisel was the same vintage as AC bloody DC - great band but ancient history chronologically).

Is it relevant to the story that in his early 20's he earned money carting around guitars and amps for an Australian rock band? Has he ever been profiled on one of those "where are they now?" shows? Or been interviewed in the music sections of our better newspapers? No. If I had to guess I'd say he'd have had some trouble generating the same publicity for himself if he were still alive.

If he'd died from a common disease, the newspapers would be calling it "fat bastard, divorced, funeral Friday" or something. And his relatives would be the ones footing the bill for the classified ad.

The story isn't about his work with Cold Chisel. Or the fact that he died. It's just a tawdry excuse to tell a sorry tale about a poor man who was having a pretty shitty time of it by the sounds of it, who lost the plot, acted on his rage, felt terrible remorse and then hanged himself.

There. Feel better knowing the story? Tittering yet?

What really disappoints me about this sort of lowbrow journalism is the way they seem to have no concern for how spreading the story may affect the person's family and friends. Is it compelling news? Do people all over the world "need to know"? What if he hadn't worked for a rock band - what if he'd once almost slept with a girl whose sister was the hairdresser of the guy who cast Desperate Housewives? Would that warrant the inclusion of his sorry tale in this Herald, this messenger, this information channel that is the medium through which so many learn about what's happening in the world?

Nor do they seem to have considered how much this poor man must have suffered - certainly at the end of his life and probably for some time beforehand. This, from the same newspaper who on another page will have a story about the importance of understanding the signs of depression.

In the news, over the back fence and by the water cooler, these sorts of stories become the things we discuss because we're bored or boring or just too stupid or scared to reach out and relate to something genuinely interesting or real. I once heard it said that there are three kinds of people: Those who talk about themselves, those who talk about others and those who talk about things or ideas. I thought that was a great way of looking at our own patterns as communicators and thinkers. What kind of society would we live in if we overturned the pyramid, spending most of our time sharing and discussing ideas, then other people, then ourselves? It's a genuine question I'm asking. I really don't know.

While gossip is a fairly common human activity that is evident in many cultures and may even serve some legitimate purpose, it still doesn't excuse the way we collectively contribute to the misery of others by supporting magazines and publications who turn it into a public spectacle. It may have been different in the past, when communities were smaller, where the other person's existence had some relevance to your own life or where the tedium of a harsh lifestyle and few outlets for expression may have required those sorts of channels. It may even still be different at an individual, local level; something to do with the monkey part of us that likes to create and participate in uproar. But surely we don't need to keep mass producing, consuming and practising this sort of stuff? Surely??!

I keep thinking about the life of this man who may have been a father, a fisherman, a dancer, a story teller, a cook, a swindler, a Scrabble player or a drunk. How would we know? And if we don't, is it our business to appropriate the other parts of his story, like he's some character in a book we can pick up and put down again? And whose business is it in the first place at all - are all of us potential fodder for tomorrow's tawdry news? Says who?

I'm not even sure what this rant is about except that I'm really sad for this poor man who by the sounds of it had enough unhappiness in his life without some newspaper using an ambiguous headline (which sounded like it may have been about an air crash) and a cheap rock band connection to sell more newspapers. And that then points to us.

Rest in peace, mate. I wish someone had helped you sooner.


WTF?? In a world where news is pretty thin on the ground, what with world peace certain, no corruption in high places and religious ties between nations being the most healthy for decades, HERE IT IS AGAIN just in case you missed exactly the same story yesterday, although this time we're going for the audience that prefers a headline that cuts to the chase...

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