One of things about writing a blog that is the source of much fun and often a deal of frustration is the process of deciding what to write about. Obviously, when you’re a politics anorak like myself there are the major political topics of the day. Occasionally, however, there’s just nothing that pokes your imagination with a sharp stick. You look at the news web sites and it’s wall-to-wall scandal involving some celebrity or royal or politician. If the streets are littered with journalists writhing in the throes of orgasmic ecstasy you can assume a particularly salacious story has broken involving one or more individuals combining the essential attributes of substantial wealth, unearned privilege, elected office and an uncommon (preferably unnameable) sexual peccadillo. That sort of stuff leaves me cold.
Then there’s the situation we have just now, What I call a mono-crisis. As the term suggests, and as is illustrated by the COVID-19 megafuss, this refers to the sort of incident or development that comes to occupy all the top spots on the news pages. The sort of thing that quickly becomes a hook on which to hang any and every piece of reporting and writing. When you scroll down a bit from Coronavirus death toll and find Coronavirus recipes you know you’ve got a mono-crisis.
Somewhere between these extremes you get the single-issue campaigns and hobby-horse issues trying to piggy-back on the mono-crisis frenzy while it lasts as well as the well-meaning advice and the ‘Lovejoys’ – collectively known a the colon pieces. (I hasten to point out that this refers to the punctuation mark and not the lower intestine.) Here’s an example from today’s Sunday National – Coronavirus: ‘We need new ways to protect women from violence’. This is not to diminish the issue of domestic violence. It is merely to illustrate a piggy-backing colon piece headline. No judgement on the article itself is implied or, indeed, possible given that I haven’t yet read it. There’s bound to be an article somewhere in today’s papers that brings together coronavirus and climate change and/or coronavirus and nuclear disarmament and/or coronavirus and some other hobby-horse issue. Often involving an appeal for charitable giving. Again, no judgement.
The Sunday National also provides an example of the advice variety of colon piece, although this time the colon is implied. How can you take care of your emotional well-being during COVID-19? In a lesser publication, this might well be a quick rewrite of a piece that appeared last November or early December under the headline How can you take care of your emotional well-being during the Festive Season?
What about the ‘Lovejoys’? Named for the character in The Simpsons this refers to the appeals to consider a particular demographic or special interest group. The line ‘Won’t somebody please think of the children!’ has passed into everyday language, often replacing ‘children’ with some other specific category of people. Recently, for instance, we’ve heard ‘Won’t somebody please think of the self-employed!’. You can probably think of your own examples. Again, I am obliged to state that these may well be deserving groups of individuals. I’m talking here about media, not people.
The point is that a mono-crisis breeds predictable offshoots of various sorts which pack the media and push everything else out of sight. Which may suit some people just fine.
One last mention of a particular type of offshoot – the gesture. This is the pieces urging people to make a common gesture to mark, celebrate or memorialise a date event or person. You know the sort of thing – ‘Put a candle in your window as an expression of the nation’s gratitude for the work done by candle manufacturers!’. That sort of thing.
The focus of the mono-crisis becomes almost like a commodity or a brand. Or even a celebrity. It is attached to all manner of things either to pique he interest of browsers or to fill the spaces between advertising material. Coronavirus/COVID-19 is no different. It gets used. It gets exploited in diverse ways. That’s neither necessarily a good thing nor a bad thing. It’s just the way people work. And the way the media work. It can be a good thing if it leads to people being better informed and more aware. It can be a bad thing if it trivialises a serious issue or misleads people.
The latter is an aspect of the mono-crisis phenomenon which is a significant concern. The mono-crisis can drag on for weeks or months or years. People being what they are, interest wanes. So there is always the temptation to embellish mono-crisis-related stories to make them more titillating. Just yesterday, I encountered some buffoon on Facebook talking about the population being “wiped out”. We may dismiss this as being of no consequence both because it is such an obvious and ludicrous exaggeration and because it’s on Facebook – where stupid goes to get a lobotomy. Research that I’ve just made up has shown that your IQ drops by one point for every hour spent on Facebook. The guy ranting about coronavirus wiping out populations had obviously been on Facebook for several days.
Early estimates put the case mortality rate no higher than 1%. That’s a much smaller percentage of all infections, around 80% of which will result in only mild symptoms and may not even be noticed. At population level the impact is negligible.*
It would be good if we could dismiss such nonsense. But how often have we found that today’s social media drivel is tomorrow’s Herald headline? One Facebook reference is enough foundation for some ‘journalist’ to author a piece ‘asking the question’ as to whether there is growing panic about mass deaths. The sort of article that offers solemn warnings about irresponsible exaggeration spiced with lurid language of the kind it purports to be condemning. MILLIONS WILL DIE! has the same effect as WILL MILLIONS DIE? when shouted from headlines.
I was thinking all this as I perused the papers looking for inspiration. The train of thought was prompted, in part, by Mike Russell’s comment piece in the Sunday National, the gist of which may be gathered from the headline – Politicians are solely focused on Covid-19 fight. That headline caught my attention. It is interesting, not so much for what it says, but for the reaction it is likely to prompt. It’s surely safe to assume that most people seeing that statement would feel reassured. They’d think it a good thing and a proper thing that politicians should be exclusively focused on the public health emergency. It is a mono-crisis, after all. We all know what ‘mono’ implies from common expressions such as ‘monotonous’, monosyllabic and ‘monomaniacal’. And we all know what a crisis is because there is never a time when we aren’t in the midst of a crisis, just recovering from a crisis or preparing for an imminent crisis. It’s appropriate that our politicians should be “solely focused” on the current mono-crisis. Isn’t it?
A few people – probably very few – would look at that headline and think to themselves that this exclusive focus on a single matter was extremely irresponsible. No matter how serious the issue, there are always other issues. Some of these are chronic and will deteriorate rapidly if not properly managed and overseen. We don’t elect politicians to deal with a single issue. We elect them to manage all the nation’s affairs. ALL the nation’s affairs! Either Mike Russell is indulging in a bit of rhetorical micturation or our elected representatives are being derelict in their duty.
Context is essential to a proper understanding of any situation. It allows us to bring to bear a sense of proportion. Of course, it is right that there should be concern for those affected by COVID-19. But what about the 99.997% of the population who will not die from coronavirus-related causes? Do they not deserve some consideration also? Should our politicians not be focusing at least partially on the future beyond this mono-crisis?
Another thing that nudged my neurons when considering what to write about today was a comment on a previous blog article. The individual posting the comment gave the impression of being incandescent with indignant out rage calling me “inhumane” and suggesting that articles such as mine should be the target of some kind of official censorship. My offence? Apparently, I am a monster because I wrote about the pandemic from the perspective of a political commentator rather than from the point of view of someone actually witnessing the suffering of the afflicted. It seems that this is the only perspective that is permissible. To even entertain in one’s private thoughts, never mind one’s published writing, the wider implications of the pandemic equates to some kind of heresy. Context is prohibited. A sense of proportion is forbidden. Proper understanding is improper. It all lends a new and ominous meaning to the term mono-crisis. Not only must we focus solely on the one issue, we must see it in only one way.
This comment had a profound effect on me. I decided not to write about coronavirus.
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