My boyfriend’s a breakfast radio producer, which sounds like a pleasant enough career path. But in reality, it’s rendered our apartment into a relentless, blaring 24-hour multimedia news hub.
Every morning, radio news and talkback wakes me up, and Kevin Rudd bleeds into my dreams. By midday, every computer is uploading an avalanche of news sites: Fairfax, News Limited, ABC, Crikey, CNN, BBC. I’ve learned that, if you so desire, you can actually watch 180 minutes of evening news bulletins, non-stop. By Saturday, the place is a disgrace. The gutted remains of weekend newspapers line our floor, as if we’re taking care of a runaway creature that’s lost control of its bowels.
Perhaps this gives the impression I’m educated, intelligent and worldly. But I should make an admission here. Often, what I’m reading are stories on conjoined twins, Austrian men who keep their daughters locked in dungeons, and men growing tree-like warts out of their hands and feet, not unlike Tolkien’s Ents. My friend Vic is a terrible influence. Bored in her London office, she will email me stories about girls born with too much skin, telling me, “Dude, I think I barfed a little in my mouth.” We click through photos of a woman with oversized hands together, email the mandatory jokes about fisting, and then it’s time for lunch.
I’ve discovered I’m not the only one. For a month, I started casually logging the top five stories from Australia’s leading news websites. The headlines makes for a stunning portrait of Australia’s intellectual landscape, a testament to our concerns and hopes, our fears and dreams: “German media shocked as ‘Merkel shows cleavage’”; “Tree frog alive, but in which spinach packet?”; “Govt defends implants for 12yos”; “Eight-year-old wife wins divorce”; “F-111 almost downed—by a pelican”; “Man ‘had sex’ with underage ‘vampire’”; “Person lives with dead woman on couch”; “Police Taser naked man in cavity.”
It reminds me of when I was a kid. We used to sit next to my dad while he read the Chinese newspapers. In one edition, there was a photograph of a 12-year-old girl’s face, which was somehow attached to a pig’s snout. She looked sad. “What does it say, Dad? What’s wrong with her face?” Dad would read the story, looking serious and squinting. Then, he’d announce: “This girl. She is half person, half-pig. The newspaper says this is what happens when humans have sex with pigs. Disgusting.”
Recently SBS broadcast Bush’s War, a four-part series made by US network PBS, in time for the fifth anniversary of the current Iraq War. It’s actually riveting, and pinpoints the reasons why Iraq is an illegitimate mess. However, most of us don’t have four hours to spare, and my digital reception for SBS is horrible. And if it takes four hours, spread over four weeks, to explain the intricacies of one issue, is it worth bothering? Because in the meantime, there’s good, old-fashioned paedophile or incest stories waiting in queue. They’re simple to understand, and they bring the family together.
We live in an age where the world is complicated. We people like Al Gore to explain complicated issues like climate change, preferably in bullet points and animated diagrams. People who can do this are necessary and rare. I never thought it would come to this, but yes: some people deserve the Nobel Prize for a Powerpoint presentation.
Years from now, we’ll be desperately sandbagging our country from rising sea levels, and look back on the news headlines about petrol prices and interest rates, celebrity cleavage and exposed genitals, wondering why we ever cared. Perhaps these stories do belong on scattered on the floor, collecting shit, after all. Yet I have to say: there is nothing quite like watching a Brazilian priest float up gently towards his death, attached to an umbrella of helium balloons, unable to work a GPS system. Now that, my friends, is news.