I was listening to the latest edition of Here’s the Thing, with Alec Baldwin. Josh Fox, the man who directed the excellent documentaries Gasland and Gasland 2, was on. It, like every previous edition, was fantastically packaged - Baldwin smoothing things along, Fox being given the space to really explain how awful fracking is. I recommend it. But there was this weird sense, listening to it, and it’s one that I’ve encountered a lot.
A sort of “we, the people” feeling is probably what I’d call it. Specifically, the American people; more specifically, citizens of the United States of America. Maybe it takes something like that - a generally positive, inclusive condemnation of corporations rather than states - to really highlight this attitude, but it’s kind of everywhere.
It’s also something that every country does. The UK does national pride, too, both in an ugly racist way (the BNP, the EDL, the general anti-Islam streak you find in certain urban and suburban communities) and a sort-of nice way (the Olympics opening ceremony, the Queen’s jubilee, the Royal Chestburster). There are news stories that make it into our news that would never grace the US media. But - and maybe this is contentious - it feels like the US does it more than most.
Take the cadence of the reporting of Edward Snowden’s leaks, for example. Every news story I have read has talked about the fact that the US government doesn’t spy on US citizens (a contentious claim by itself), and only foreigners, as a moderating factor. As if monitoring the internet use of people in other sovereign states is perfectly okay.
Or, going back, the reporting on the BP oil spill in 2010, and how every US media outlet referred to it (inaccurately) as British Petroleum, as if a giant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused primarily by the shoddy workmanship of American contractors was a distant echo of the War for Independence. Or the hysteria over North Korea based on next to no information. Or the fact that on the same day as the Boston marathon bombing, a wave of bombings in Iraq killed 75 people and injured 350 others, several orders of magnitude larger than anything that happened in Boston, and it was a story that was buried in favour of a comparatively smaller domestic story.
This probably isn’t a huge revelation. Most countries have a media bias toward their own domestic issues. Even if the US does it more than other countries, that’s still not exactly new information. It’s what it betrays, though. If we cover three American deaths instead of seventy-five Iraqi deaths, does that mean that we have to acknowledge that those three Americans were more than twenty-five times more valuable to us than the seventy-five Iraqis?
I switched to NPR News recently for my daily compressed dose (it used to be NBC Nightly - mistake), but even they’re guilty of a slight skew. We have a problem, in that newsrooms have to editorialise now more than they did in the past. Every story is immediately accessible, so you have to decide what people want. And that desire opens you up to some weird moral charges.
I think I’ll continue to listen to a mix of the 7am podcast and the Guardian website when I move. I want to stay informed. I want to keep abreast of current events. I just wish that somewhere was really committed to presenting it without deciding first what I want to know.
I’ve realised that of all the people that I lie to (and, chances are, I have lied to you about something or other over the time we’ve known each other), I do it around my parents the most. Nothing huge, but it’s almost a defence mechanism - there are fundamental differences between the philosophies of my parents and my own, and because they’re my parents they just aren’t content to live and let live.
Example: yesterday, I was off sick. I had (and still have, hence why I have the time to write this) a stinking cold, and just didn’t feel like sitting in a stuffy office for eight hours serving - at times - the lowest dregs of the human food chain. But my Dad is a civil engineer whose career depends on him turning up to work every day without fail (except for extreme emergencies), and my Mum is a teacher - if she doesn’t turn up to work, she ultimately creates more work for herself because substitute teachers are awful. So - yes - I might be an office drone with no real responsibilities, but the ethos of “don’t call in sick unless you have typhoid” is something that I can’t escape. So I lied. I said I had gone into work, thrown up and been promptly sent home by my manager. Out of my hands. Nothing I could do. Can’t argue with the boss, guv.
There are a lot of little white lies like this. I had a summer of looking for jobs, but there were some days where I felt like the walls were closing in and I just needed to zone out to prevent the onset of anxiety. Of course, my parents were still told that I was hard at work, looking for whatever I could find. At university, I lied about my social life, saying that I was going out with friends at least once a week (I wasn’t). There is an idea of me that I give my parents, just because I don’t want to be put down by them.
This probably paints them as monsters, but I should back up: at least half these lies are probably pointless. They’re risk aversion rather than last resort - depending on their mood, there’s always a chance that they’ll launch into a tirade, but there’s at least an equal possibility that they’ll take it reasonably.
Alternatively, it makes me sound awful - in some eyes, the fact that I occasionally struggle at being a regular, functional human being is a character weakness that I should be ashamed of, and my parents have every right to be frustrated with me. I’ll take that. I find it all too easy to lie, or bend the truth, or omit crucial details. Over the course of my degree, according to the understanding of my tutors, my family were hospitalised around thirty times, and that’s why I couldn’t make it to their seminars. These are funny anecdotes, but as part of someone’s character it’s a little ugly. Lying should be difficult, but competent liars tend to avoid trouble, so long as they can do it convincingly and not obsess too much over their conscience. It’s a hard thing to unlearn, and I think I’ll be better at being honest once I’m around people who don’t provoke that instinct, but dishonesty is sometimes better than the alternative.
This blog is me gone private - although I’m not trying too hard, a quick search of my name doesn’t return this website, and that was my main aim; it means I can scream about my employers if I need to, and talk about fucking, and I won’t get in trouble. I have a hundred and twenty-two followers here, most of whom I invited to the party.
Relatively recently, I changed the address of my old blog to this to obscure it a little. That blog, despite a period of inactivity amounting to seven months now, still has 1,899 followers, down from about 2,500. You can retain a lot of people regardless of how you behave.
I also still have my old username, “chris”. I have never posted on the blog where it currently lives. That blog has 341 followers, a number that grows every single day.
People are really strange.
For typography nerds: this site now uses Oswald as a header and title font, and good old-fashioned Georgia for body text. I’m aware that most of you read this site through Tumblr or RSS; that said, I like to have somewhere neat to call my own, and I think this looks pretty impressive now.