I know the news has never been a source of mirth, but it seems to be unrelentingly depressing on just about every level at the moment. It’s almost impossible to watch the nightly news without envisioning a near future in which we barter for goods and services around a camp fire, over which the slowly rotating body of an expired neighbour sizzles and crackles, breaking the silence of the oppressive darkness surrounding our makeshift encampments.
These dark imaginings are only superseded by harrowing images of the latest Syrian massacre – darker than anyone’s imagination could ever muster – with wailing mothers and distraught fathers in bloodstained clothes, clawing at the camera to direct the world’s gaze down to their tiny, lifeless bundles wrapped up on a hospital floor. The news only ever leaves you with one question: ‘why?’.
On the other end of the news scale (but upsetting nonetheless) was the recent story about two giraffes dying from stress at a Polish zoo after vandals broke in and threw benches and bins into animal runs. Yet again, we can only ask: ‘why?’.
I long to hear a story about hooligans breaking into a zoo only for staff to later find their trampled and mauled bodies in a twitching heap, perhaps with vultures picking over their steaming entrails and chimpanzees playing catch with a severed, baseball-capped head. But the universe isn’t that kind. Good news is in short supply.
Other grim news stories of late sound like they’ve made it to air via Channel Five’s documentaries department. Only this week, there was the disturbing news that a naked man was shot dead by Miami police after devouring roughly 80% of another naked man’s face (Channel 5, 8pm, ‘Zombie cannibal attack!’). The unfortunate victim was a homeless man called Ronald Poppo and his violent attacker was Rudy Eugene, who was apparently high on ‘bath salts’ – a mixture of chemicals sold as a synthetic alternative to LSD, PCP, cocaine, and methamphetamine, which can be snorted, smoked, or injected and can drive users into a state similar to ‘cocaine psychosis’ – (Channel 4, 9pm, ‘Bath Salt Psychosis: Jimmy’s Homemade High’).
[I genuinely thought that regular aromatherapy bath salts had been the cause of this unspeakably violent act, which had the potential to transform Boots’ ‘Here come the girls’ campaign into a terrifying, but wonderfully naked, zombie apocalypse. But on reflection, perhaps not.]
This story was disturbing in the extreme, but one that online news outlets simply couldn’t get enough of. Typically the Mail Online went to town on it, running multiple screen-grabbed images from video of the aftermath of the attack. They even ran two heavily censored, pixelated photos of Poppo’s bloodied face, so it felt more like you were looming over a slain demon on the SNES version of Doom instead of staring at something gorily real. “Only Mr Poppo’s goatee remains,” the Mail morbidly noted under the photo (which I guess makes a refreshing change from their usual caption style: “What was he thinking? Ronald Poppo’s goatee looks unkempt and matted as he attempts to carry off the mauled and featureless homeless look.”).
But if the multiple screen-grabs and graphic description of the attack wasn’t enough, you could also scroll down to the bottom of the Mail’s article and watch a two and a half minute video featuring an aerial shot of Eugene’s and Poppo’s lifeless legs jutting out from beneath a Miami flyover. (Well, you could do after you’d sat through a 30 second advert for Windows 7. Morbid voyeurism is all about patience.)
Typically, Rudy Eugene’s attack on Ronald Poppo brought other dark news stories to the fore – each more disturbing and depressing than the last. We’ve had the Swedish professor who cut off and ate his wife’s lips after suspecting her of having an affair; the 21-year-old student from Maryland, U.S., who murdered his room-mate and then ate his brain and heart; the homeless woman who snatched a baby from a pram and tried to break off its arm to eat it. And to top everything off, there’s Luka Magnotta’s murder of Lin Jun; a sickening crime that’s as disturbing as people’s appetite for watching video of the murderous act online.
It’s the level of detail that accompanies news stories these days that sometimes makes it feel like depressing news pervades our lives. News still had the power to shock and disturb before the advent of the Internet, but we didn’t have the capacity to absorb those stories on so many levels. Today, we consume news through print, TV, dedicated news websites and social media, watch accompanying videos on YouTube, then free-fall down Google’s rabbit hole in a hopeless effort to quell our appetite for more and more information.
Years ago, the news also used to be largely confined to newspapers and around four daily news bulletins on TV (save for the heart-skipping occasions when ‘Breaking News’ used to flash up on screen in the middle of Bullseye, when that term used to actually mean something), but now the news is everywhere – and constant – with rolling news stations providing us with forensic, though often completely unnecessary, analyses of absolutely everything.
In an effort to break up the constant stream of bad news, celebrity stories – in all their aspirational glory – are hurled at us relentlessly, like the aforementioned chimps flinging generous handfuls of shit at a Perspex window. And like visitors at the monkey enclosure, we watch with fascination and react with uncontrolled glee whenever a fruit-filled turd thuds against the window before our eyes. So we hold our faces closer to the windowed divide to encourage more of the same.
But celebrity news is so achingly vacuous that it regularly leaves me feeling just as bereft and bewildered as if I’d just watched a harrowing ‘real’ news story. I’m always left with exactly the same question: ‘why?’.
Kerry Katona furniture shopping at IKEA – is that newsworthy? Kim Kardashian taking her own pillow onto a flight – what a fucking scoop! Endless coverage of the cast of TOWIE sunbathing in Marbella – that will only truly be considered news if a vast meteor obliterates southern Spain during their stay (and so far, that’s only happened in my imagination). Imogen Thomas visiting a skate park in the middle of the day, wearing Daisy Dukes and a bikini – and wouldn’t you just know it, it’s the exact same park in which paparazzi are lurking with their telephoto lenses and pitiful erections – WHY?!
There’s nothing remotely interesting about celebrity news. It may pretend to offer us respite from the daily news grind, but it’s every bit as bleak. It’s just a shower of [cosmetically enhanced] tits performing mundane tasks. Isn’t there anything to lift the gloom? Something good we can turn to? Something uplifting?
The only thing that’s made me cry for the right reasons lately was a hilarious photo of Graham Linehan on the toilet. I’m thinking of saving it to my iPhone, to look at whenever I need a welcome distraction from unending bad news and bland celebrity mind-dribble. I suggest you do the same. And with that, I shall wrap up this most miserable of blog posts.