I’ll bet I’m not the only one who feels we’re being sucked into a gloom manipulation championship which awards gold stars to whoever can make the vulnerable feel even more apprehensive?
Now you might say it would be just as unrealistic to ignore all the compelling evidence of our own apparent reckless charge to oblivion – greed, debt and binge-induced climate change. Obviously there’s a balance to be struck. But it’s hard to ignore a trend.
No sooner had the midnight fireworks fizzled out, the media doom-mongers were at it again, indulging in more prophesy fulfilment. The New Year was greeted with newspaper headlines: ‘Broke Brits to face 2009 ruin’, ‘Recession to cost one in ten their jobs’. And there is a danger that we easily catch this gloomy mood and talk ourselves into a deeper slough. The old F D Roosevelt aphorism: ‘There’s nothing to fear except fear itself’, has been repeatedly trotted out by year-end commentators, and it can be infectious.
I recall back in August before the full effects of the credit crunch tsunami appeared on the radar, sitting with a group of journalists being addressed by the Lord Mayor of London – not the Boris variety, but the figurehead and ambassador of the City. Though with hindsight his confidence might seem misplaced, he forcefully denied recession was upon us and in polite but assertive tones, suggested if it did arrive, it would be the fault of the media talking it up. And you can see his point.
It’s easy to recall that same month the disappointment on the face of the ‘parachuted in’ TV reporter perched on a lapping levée in New Orleans, aware that Hurricane Gustav was not after all about to wreak the much heralded disaster.
Mayor Ray Nagin was in a media ‘no win’ situation. Damned if he had appeared to have panicked by ordering the evacuation of two million residents from the predicted path of the hurricane, damned if he’d held on and the city were to have been inundated, causing the sort of loss of life suffered three years earlier when Katrina struck.
Eventually, there were expressions of faint praise and relief that the operation had been carried out successfully. But make no mistake; the media was there to report a disaster.
You may also remember the long-faced media analysts dealing out misery six months ago, warning us that because oil prices had hit $140 dollars a barrel we wouldn’t be able to afford to heat our homes, drive our motorcars or take a plane to escape. Subsequently, they appeared equally morose when the price dropped and revenues fell.
Now they’re at it again over the slump in car sales, and the giant manufacturers screaming ruin and running cap in hand to government. It’s an odd state of affairs when the health of car making is taken as the barometer of a nation’s prosperity. It tends to underline a society wedded to ephemera and unable to build anything that lasts.
Who needs to change a car every year just because some design geek has altered the position of the headlamp six centimetres closer to the pavement? Just think how much waste could be saved if, for example, consumers in a small Island such as ours were to say: ‘No more new cars for five years, thank you. We’ve got enough. The ones we’ve got all work pretty well. Our low annual mileage figures make them all able to go on far longer than those in the UK, and we won’t be dumping them into quarries or incurring transport and excise costs. So, smile please, we’re saving the planet.’
Well, we’re unlikely to be as radical as that, but, maybe the outcome of all this encircling gloom will be to bring about a new way of thinking. Reckless exploitative practices have been exposed for their sand-challenged foundations. Cruel though it’s been for the victims, there’s an opportunity to clean up our collective act, wean ourselves off the too-good-to-be-true ‘celeb’ obsession and learn to balance the books.
If nothing else, we’re in a period of adjustment. People will learn to do things differently; our collective sense of values could change for the better. So it’s not inevitable that we should enter the New Year on a pessimistic note – just the opposite.
Obliquely, the media did present many positives last year for us to reflect on: Nicolas Sarkozy married a very nice lady, who brought a twinkle to Prince Philip’s eye during their state visit to Britain. Barry Obama added a ‘k’ and won the world. Team GB picked up 19 gold medals in Beijing and the Paralympics team was triumphant too, including our very own Simon Laurens. British troops learned they would soon be released from the purgatory of Iraq. Jersey gained international acclaim for one of the ugliest buildings on the planet, and Sark proved that resilience and independence can still be a spirit to be reckoned with.
At lunch-time on New Year’s Eve you could have listened to a catalogue of depressing news from the stock markets and man’s inhumanity to man in the Middle East.
Equally, you could have sat in the crisp winter sunshine sipping a welcoming brew at Green Street slipway. Given the marvels of modern technology, you could have done both. In which case, the choice would have been yours: wallow or swallow – brood on all that’s depressing, or consider the light on the horizon however pale the mid-winter rays.
Happy New Year.