Angels over Australia


Saw a news (I use the term loosely) item the other day about some human (I use the term loosely) who had just set a new world record (you will be as amazed as I was to discover that the previous world record was also his) for smashing watermelons with his head. You really want to know? Oh, okay, 47.

Once upon a time students used to go in for setting records. How many students could you fit into a telephone box? A Volkswagen? A Carlton bedsit? They were sort of amusing in a rainy afternoon kind of way, with pictures of various body parts projecting through various doors and windows. It was a fad that came and went just like hula hoops, yo-yos, marbles, swap cards, and roller skates. One moment you were attempting to make your yo-yo walk the dog or rock the baby in the cradle, the next you weren't. Fashions arrived with a rush and not being there meant being square, then left so quickly that if your claim to fame had been 1000 rotations with a hula hoop you were suddenly yesterday's hero.

And then the fashion for these fashions, these "records" also went the way of, well, vinyl records. Television news (again, loosely) bulletins settled down to an intellectually nutritious combination of sport, celebrity news, sport, car crashes, sport, murder, fires; and all of us, especially sport's fanatics, were well informed on current affairs. Well, the current affairs of celebrities, and sport's stars, anyway. But even this combination seems too up-market for Australian (increasingly a loose term) television executives, and bulletins increasingly contain paid promotions (thinly or thickly disguised) for films, CDs, shows, events, products; cross promotions of other shows on the same network; and, yes, record breaking attempts.

Last week was a man setting a record for splitting bananas, and another one jumping the Tower Bridge on a motor bike, the world's biggest lamington, and a man riding a roller coaster on roller skates. Every time the news comes on there will be hundreds of couples getting married at the same time, men growing silly beards, 5 year olds sailing around the world, people stuffing hot dogs into their mouths, hundreds of couples boot scooting, models of San Francisco made of tooth picks, dominos falling over; tallest, oldest, shortest, youngest, fattest, thinnest. Any day now I expect to see a record set for the number of angels on the head of a pin. And the half of the bulletin that is sport's news also gets into the act – any game now is sure to "rewrite the record books" one way or another, even if just by one additional goal.

Look I know everyone in the world deserves their 15 minutes of fame, and the television executives are determined to give it to them. But couldn't all this stuff go on a late night show somewhere ("The world's silliest records")? Couldn't the actual news bulletins go back to, well, presenting actual news? Providing context for events? Letting people know what really happened? Explaining environmental and economic and political issues in an informative way?

How about setting a new record for the amount of information contained in a news bulletin? Shouldn't be too hard. Rewrite the script books for the teleprompters.

Now that would be news.

All David Horton's earlier writing is here.