Thursday, 28 April 2016

Happy Joy Luck, Comrades!

A recent report found that the rate of dementia in men of a susceptible age is less than all the horror stories predicted. A decade ago we were told of the ticking Alzheimer’s time bomb that would devastate the state of old age and bring unbearable pressure to the NHS. Not only has that doom prophecy proven false, the onset of senile dementia is actually 40% lower than expected. Perhaps the wisest thing Nostradamus ever did was set his vague predictions in the distant future where the gullible of a certain bent could, by squinting and being selective with interpretation, fit a prophecy to an event.

How is it, people will ask, that the very best medical soothsayers were so wildly incorrect in a forecast that has been used to plan expensive intervention with public funds? How indeed. This is, of course, a perfectly regular phenomenon and relies for its efficacy on the general tendency not to worry too much about the truth; better yet to just let such sleeping dog predictions lie. We are, of course, still awaiting our colonies on the moon and the cure for cancer but most of the output of futuristic think tank thought is long forgotten.

But there is another option; fit the current ‘facts’ to the retrospectively adjusted past. They say the victor rewrites history to suit the narrative and this has been happening for years, but why be so blunt when instead we can use the current news to drive change? We can fit the future to the present, rather than fixing the past. Veteran reporter Martyn Lewis said recently that negative news is disempowering. We don’t want to hear bad news - it makes us ill – so we should instead be focusing on what has been called ‘solution journalism’. (Or, for Labour perhaps, 'final solution' journalism.)

Events, he suggests, should be reported more positively and constructively and instead of just laying bare the facts as they are known, journalists could offer helpful solutions to the misery inducing problems those tricky facts bring. So, hey, a tsunami may have just swept away hundreds of homes on a Haitian shoreline but on the positive side, watch out for some fabulous opportunities to buy seafront real estate at garage sale prices! Or, the economy is tanking but at least this should deter the number of immigrants who want to come to Britain... eventually. And the trains will only ever be late because of the right kind of leaves on the track.

As a commentator observed, this approach risks journalism veering perilously closely to becoming PR, media spin for the promulgation of centrally approved stories. In 1984 the chocolate ration is ‘increased’ by the ingenious device of altering last year’s chocolate ration figure to around half of today’s and presenting a decline as a doubling. Last year’s terrorists become this year’s freedom fighters and grubby events of the past are given a thorough hosing down and sanitised for current consumption.

There are no problems, only opportunities. You may be out of work but the jobless figures could be presented as a count of the growing number of optimists out to realise their true potential. Kids may no longer be able to read and add up but this is a good thing, preventing them from ever discovering the joylessness of critical thought. And now that Hillsborough has been disinfected and all traces of unpleasantness expunged we can see that everything we ever believed about the football supporters of the eighties was wrong. They were all blameless angels and you are a hater for thinking otherwise.

The next twenty years' headlines

Yes, the news of the future will only ever be spotless, scrubbed clean news. No more death or war or famine, just endless shining solutions for a brighter tomorrow. Dour, negative reporting of disasters will be consigned to the dustbin of history – and not any old rusty, fat-streaked galvanised dustbin hiding dirty secrets and surrounded by wasps, but the Brillo-pad scoured, gleaming wheelie bin of joyful past carnivals. They must think we are all going senile.

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