Friday, 18 April 2014

SNIPPETS #31: Interview of Alain de Botton

SNIPPETS is published in the National Interest. No action should be implied or inferred. The opinions expressed remain those of the author entirely.
by Benn Yogarni 
ABC TV Channel 24 One Plus One 8.30pm Frigasday 18th April 2014 (30 minutes):
Reporter Jane Hutchence interviews philosopher & author Alain de Botton.
JH: “Your father was an Egyptian Jew and your mother a Spanish Jew. You were raised in Switzerland and Britain.”

AdB: “After WWII my father had high hopes but under Nasser they were forced to flee and became refugees”.

JH: “They arrived in Switzerland with nothing but your father became a wealthy financier”.

AdB: “Yes, he handled the financial affairs of some very wealthy people but was appalled at how badly their children turned out. He didn’t let that happen to me. Thankfully, I wrote my first book at 22 years old and it became an instant bestseller so I have never depended on my family for money”.

JH: “You write about the role of the media and critics, in particular the critic of one of your books”.

AdB: “What is more interesting is the media interest in my criticism. They said: ‘how odd he is to criticise a critic’. Why? The role of a critic is to improve culture by guiding people towards what is good and by pointing out where things could be made better. Unfortunately, I have found very few who match that role. They have little interest in improving the way books are written or films are made. Instead, they major on negative character assassinations. How does that help the production of culture?”

JH: “what is your problem with the news industry?”

AdB: “the job of the news industry is to give us the information we need to flourish both as individuals and as a collective society. But when we turn on the TV news any day of the week we think: ‘that’s not helping me understand anything. It’s not helping life to go better. Why did I just waste the last hour watching this? This has not enriched mankind in any way. So in my latest book I look at what could happen if we deleted all existing news organisations and ask ourselves: what, ideally, do we need from the News? I am quite idealistic. I believe news and news gathering has an important part to play in democracies but I believe that it has in many ways gone wrong.

JH: “But why should we in the news enrich?”

AdB: “there is a strand that says: ‘the news is too negative. We just need it to be more positive and cheerful. I disagree. It is essential for the news to report both the flaws and virtues of a nation. It is not good news versus bad news but what is in the National Interest. Those who watch too much news grow to feel the community is unbearable. For example, your car breaks down in a bad area. It’s time to talk to a stranger. Because the news has unformed you, you know what to expect next. Any stranger you meet will be a paedophile, a weirdo or a murderer. You think this way for one reason: you have come to understand your Nation not through personal contact but through the News. And the News focus on the anomalous. How could it be any other way? We are too busy. We live in one place and have a few friends. We give the job of telling us what the world is like to the news organisations. But the picture coming back is skewered, it leans to one side or the other. The news has a problem. It stands for authority. That’s why it’s called The News not some news when it is in fact just some of the news. We obey it as we did a teacher at school. It has the same authority over our childlike minds. For example the New York Times strap-line reads: ‘all the news fit to print’. Yet in 2006 when the greatest financial scandals of the 20th century occurred, that almost destroyed the world were happening 20 blocks away, they missed it. They tells you something very basic. We have to think. Many find it easier to surrender their capacity for independent judgment to the news”.

JH: “This was the era of the phone hacking scandal in the UK. Many celebrities talked openly about their inner lives and their lives with the media”.    

AdB: “the phone hacking scandal was not about what it seemed to be about. It involved only 15 journalists breaking into people’s phones. There was a mass public reaction against more than just those 15. The reaction was more broadly against the media in general. The feeling was: ‘the media are nasty. It is grubby. It goes through people’s bins. It pursues victims of crime. It is betraying the highest hopes people have of journalism. So there was a muted call for better journalism. The UK media is a phenomenally nasty place. On the one hand it keeps politicians clean but there are real costs. It is also very cynical. It cuts down a lot of initiatives. It makes Britain the raw, parasitical and cynical place that it is. Many are fed up with that. This motivated me to write my latest book. In Germany the media is, in comparison, almost scholarly. Even their tabloids. They have one of the most sophisticated media’s in Europe. Britain’s media is not great. America’s media is not great.  Rupert Murdoch exported from Australia a style of journalism that is now global. It has not done humanity justice. We can certainly do better”.

JH: “what is your view of celebrities?”

AdB: “serious journalists hate the public obsession with celebrities. I understand the public want to be taken out of their own world. Every civilisation has had its own celebrities. Ancient Rome, Ancient Aztecs. It’s not the idea of celebrity: it’s that we have the wrong celebrities. This is because the media have given up their role of creating good role models. And it is the media that does this. Celebrities are created by the news. You guys make them up. Let’s focus on positive characters. Kim Kardashian isn’t teaching humanity anything”.

[ANA Comments: ‘Egyptian-Spanish parents…arrived penniless but became rich…how?’ Duh! Same reason they were made refugees in the first place and were then allowed entry to Switzerland. Really, Jan, wake up. And AdB: are you so blind? 
Is laudable that AdB still thinks the media can play a positive role in culture production but his fellow ‘refugees’ are the ones who've degraded the media to its current low estate, along with film, music, print. Is why so few young people now buy any of these. They prefer the still-free open ranges of the Internet. But how long before Zuckerberg and heirs of Steve Job corral this, too? RE] 

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