When life re­sem­bles soap opera

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - James In­verne

THE THING about mu­sic, per­haps more than any other art form, is that not only is it un­clear what it means at any given mo­ment, it of­ten loses its mean­ing the sec­ond the com­poser sets down his pen. Beethoven’s Fifth Sym­phony – what is that? The clues we have are ten­u­ous – most fa­mously, one ac­count has it that the com­poser de­scribed his fa­mous four-note open­ing mo­tif as “Fate knock­ing at the door.” Most schol­ars agree that this wit­ness was ei­ther mak­ing it up, or that Beethoven just said any­thing to avoid ir­ri­tat­ing ques­tions. Not help­ful. But if we can agree (can we?) that it is heroic, cleav­ing as it does to the straight­for­wardly ma­cho C ma­jor key, what hero­ism did he mean?

You see the prob­lem. Beethoven him­self could be in­de­ci­sive. His Eroica sym­phony, the Third, was com­posed as a hero-gram to Napoleon, then, af­ter that par­tic­u­lar dic­ta­tor showed his true colours, Beethoven fu­ri­ously scrubbed out the ded­i­ca­tion in the score. As for the Fifth, well, both sides used it as a vic­tory an­them dur­ing World War Two. What Beethoven in­tended, his truth, at that point ceased to mat­ter.

That’s how it is with the arts. In that I in­clude the most slip­pery art form of all, news re­port­ing. I re­alised with a jolt just how close the world of news re­port­ing is to that of en­ter­tain­ment when, in the news­room of a UK na­tional news­pa­per, I once de­clined to write a big story on how “An­drew Lloyd Web­ber has lost it” on the ba­sis that it wasn’t true. “Come on, it’s only news!” re­joined the news ed­i­tor with a grin.

En­ter­tain­ment is usu­ally as much as any­thing about two things, from the point of view of its cre­ators – au­di­ence num­bers and drama. I in­creas­ingly be­lieve that nearly ev­ery­thing is fil­tered at some point through those two fac­tors. Add to that the nat­u­ral bias of many news re­porters for or against their sub­jects and you have some­thing much closer to a work of the­atri­cal art than to ob­jec­tive, de­tached re­port­ing of the facts. Not to say that much of news re­port­ing doesn’t do a great ser­vice, but the point re­mains. Playschool also does so­ci­ety a great ser­vice.

The re­port­ing of this Gaza war has re­sem­bled noth­ing so much as a host of freely cre­ative

With arts, the truth of­ten ceases to mat­ter

in­ter­pre­ta­tions of a work of art. Let me give you my view of the plot – three Is­raelis mur­dered against a back­ground of con­stant po­lit­i­cal tension threat­ens ex­plo­sion of vi­o­lence in the re­gion, of which a Jewish re­venge at­tack is a symp­tom but whose cul­prits are quickly ar­rested by Is­rael; the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment seek to defuse tension, send back-chan­nel mis­sives to Ha­mas to avoid war and main­tain quiet, Ha­mas launches thou­sands of rock­ets and their vast at­tack tun­nel net­work is soon re­vealed.

They fire from amidst civil­ian cen­tres, next to schools and UN build­ings even though most of Gaza is ac­tu­ally un­pop­u­lated, and al­though Is­rael seeks to avoid loss of civil­ian life there is in­evitably some (though those num­bers are ex­ag­ger­ated by Ha­mas). Re­spon­si­bil­ity there­fore lies with Ha­mas, yet still Is­rael is wracked with sor­row.

That’s not what most news re­ports have been show­ing. What we get there seems at times as twisted as Beethoven’s Fifth Sym­phony be­ing used by the Third Reich.

And no, I’m not call­ing Al Jazeera or CNN Nazis, of course not, but there is a time when truth gets ma­nip­u­lated and lost. And you know what? That’s not ac­tu­ally what they call art. It’s what they call pro­pa­ganda. Some­one should write a play about that.

James In­verne is an arts writer and broad­caster

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