Forget history, politics or understanding the world around us, we are obsessed with feelings and the media know it. It’s so much easier for audiences, auteurs and editors to identify with feelings than with ideas. Vicarious agony, joy and everything in between can be absorbed on instinct, no messy analysis or tricky doubts. We’re comfortable with feelings the way we once liked Hammer films – they shock us but don’t challenge us. That’s one reason why feelings, usually pure feelings with no discernible added nutrients, come gushing out of our screens, radios and print media.
You want evidence (apart from ‘reality’ TV)? How about the dumb question routinely asked by apparently intelligent reporters when interviewing victims or winners: how do you feel about losing a loved one, suffering some other disaster, winning Olympic gold, you name it?
“Losing the house to a hurricane? Loved it! Can’t wait for the next one.” Yeah, right, and the same applies to the tsunami of personal letters, diaries and other memoirs that makes up the vast majority of First World War commemorative material put together by the heritage industry.
We get the message. We honour the sufferers and admire their courage, but we get the message. We’d love to know about and sympathise with all their feelings during that terrible time, give each and every one of them the place in our memory they undoubtedly deserve, but maybe we could do that after you’ve had a go at telling us about the war itself.
I’m not going to pick on individual media organisations, not even the BBC, because pretty much all of them are contributing to the flood, and though personal memoirs often include fascinating insights into the social history of the day, most of the output makes sure to keep feelings to the fore. Check it out – count the editors and authors cashing in by providing a million shocking but comfortable versions of the journalist’s dumb question.
“So what was it like going through Hell during the War?” “It was like going through Hell, actually.”
Stop it! It’s poppycock!