The news isn’t just about who we are but who we could be, says Alain de Bot­ton

India Today - - LEISURE - By Kaveree Bamzai

As rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies well know, if you want to change the men­tal­ity of a coun­try, you don’t head to the art gallery, the depart­ment of ed­u­ca­tion or the homes of fa­mous nov­el­ists; you drive the tanks straight to the nerve cen­tre of the body politic, the news HQ. It’s a good thing Alain de Bot­ton is not in In­dia. He’d be con­fused about which news chan­nel HQ he should send the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies to. That apart, de Bot­ton’s thought­ful anal­y­sis of The News is subti­tled A User’s Man­ual, and it re­ally is. The pop philoso­pher shows us how news has be­come “the sin­gle most sig­nif­i­cant force set­ting the tone of pub­lic life and shap­ing our im­pres­sions of the com­mu­nity be- yond our own walls” and yet how ap­pallingly lit­tle we know about how to con­sume it.

He may as well be talk­ing of In­dia as it is now with its rau­cous tele­vi­sion chan­nels, fierce news­pa­pers and still vi­brant news mag­a­zines in a plethora of lan­guages. If elec­tions are In­dia’s re­li­gion, news is its church, with its pul­pit thumpers, nutty evan­ge­lists and Sun­day School preach­ers. De­monised by politi­cians when it turns un­com­fort­able, the news is Tony Blair’s feral beast. Or if you be­lieve Arvind Ke­jri­wal, it is a cor­po­rate pet dog, slav­ishly fol­low­ing In­dia Inc’s agenda of want­ing to rule the world.

de Bot­ton is good to read not only be­cause he makes the reader sound more in­tel­li­gent—try sprin­kling a con­ver­sa­tion about the day’s head-

lines with idle chat­ter about per­spec­tive bor­rowed from Titian’s por­trait of Gero­lamo Bar­barigo and con­text from Tol­stoy’s Anna Karen­ina— but also be­cause he makes so­ci­ol­ogy fun. He also al­lows us to ap­pre­ci­ate the tragedy be­hind crime, the re­al­ity be­hind grim far­away news, and the se­ri­ous na­ture of­ten of our celebrity news. Stars are like us! Should we care? Yes, we should, says de Bot­ton, telling us why fame is as im­por­tant as as­pi­ra­tion in the mod­ern world. Which also ex­plains why, he tells us al­most slyly, ‘Duchess of Cam­bridge Due to Give Birth in July’ got 5.82 mil­lion hits on the BBC web­site and why ‘East DR Congo Faces Cat­a­strophic Hu­man­i­tar­ian Cri­sis’ got a mere 4,450 hits.

It is a book that ev­ery politi­cian who rails against the me­dia should read. de Bot­ton ar­gues that the me­dia should treat it­self not like an ex­tended crime branch or a tax of­fice but a govern­ment in ex­ile, de­mand­ing from those in power the same stan­dards it ap­plies to it­self—take that, Kapil Sibal. de Bot­ton em­pha­sises the role of cul­tural jour­nal­ism as a trained prac­ti­tioner of mass ther­apy and in­sists that a per­fect news ser­vice should not just tell a na­tion of the eco­nomic prin­ci­ples that gov­ern it but the Utopia it should aim at.


de Bot­ton re­stores to the reader the thrilling­ness of the whole en­ter­prise of find­ing out who did what to whom and why. It tells us we are not just empty pur­vey­ors of gos­sip or ob­sessed ad­dicts of num­bers but cit­i­zens try­ing to make the best of a world we have in­her­ited. It makes us feel good about our­selves, even when we are an­gry. “The news,” writes de Bot­ton, “should help us in mourn­ing the twisted na­ture of man and rec­on­cil­ing so to the dif­fi­culty of be­ing able to imag­ine per­fec­tion while still not man­ag­ing to se­cure it.”

It should also help us in ap­pre­ci­at­ing what is good be­cause we are not just about a “sev­ered hand; a mu­ti­lated grand­mother, three dead girls in a base­ment, em­bar­rass­ment for a min­is­ter, tril­lions of debt, a dou­ble sui­cide at the rail­way sta­tion and a fa­tal five car crash by the coast”.

In de Bot­ton’s world, jour­nal­ists are not just paid me­dia, to be abused when they don’t con­form to ex­pected no­tions of good pub­lic be­hav­iour, and used when con­ve­nient. They are part chemists, part ther­a­pists, part li­brar­i­ans and part cu­ra­tors, de­scrib­ing, analysing and reporting the world we live in. de Bot­ton trav­els to Sudan in the book to tell us why the reporting of for­eign news need not be pro­saic. In a week that BJP has un­leashed its prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date in the field in Varanasi, pol­i­tics in In­dia is light years away from be­ing pre­dictable.

THE NEWS: A User’s Man­ual by Alain de Bot­ton Hamish Hamil­ton Price: RS 699 Pages: 267

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.