The events of last September were horrible, but I will not grope for hyperbole since that has already been used to excess. Anyone, of the Western world, who was not stunned by this terrorism, was either in a coma or utterly without empathy. But now that we are less stunned, and the images of aeroplanes crashing into tower blocks are now cynically being used to decorate T-shirts, it might be useful to step back and take a look at the language, the rhetoric, that was used, and the hypocrisy and self-regard it reveals. For a writer, if he is to be any good at his job, must learn from something like this.
News reporters were the most immediate guilty parties. Obviously they were shocked by the story they were telling, but their tendency to stray from pathos to bathos and make outrageous assertions was inexcusable. Apparently the world has been changed forever by these events – something that will come as a surprise to anyone who lived through the blitz, Lockerby, Dunblain and numerous others, (the only differences being of definition, rather than of final physical result). However, the reporters were not so shocked as to forget to remind us of who they were, or to burble on at length to acquire more screen-time for themselves. We also got plenty of the usual ‘I am going to stick to my script even though you have just answered the question I am about to ask’ the ‘Let’s go to our reporter at the scene who knows less than we know here, but what-the-hell’ and the eternally insensitive and idiotic ‘Tell me how you feel about having had your husband incinerated?’
Politicians found this a wonderful time for their usual two-faced rhetoric, but the present lot, with their political correctness and tendency to blame victim rather than criminal, experienced some difficulties. Our Prime Minister carefully called what happened ‘mass’ or ‘global’ terrorism, to make it distinct from normal pub bomb variety, or the kind in which a soldier has the back of his head blown out, (for which you are provided with a get-out-of-goal-free card and your organisation is given political weight), before running to President Bush’s heel with his tail wagging. The opposition were quick to follow his lead, knowing that the zeitgeist would not allow them to point out how the government had been crippling the armed services it was now sending into action, and was a soft-touch for home-grown terrorists. Other world leaders damned the atrocity and also pledged undying support (entailing plenty of bombast but no bombs), which we knew they’d renege on in a month or so, as they did.
Our politicians and media came out of this whole farrago lower than my original low estimation of them (When Julia Roberts in ‘Pretty Woman’ said, “Slippery little suckers” she wasn’t referring to the snails she was attempting to eat, but to the MPs and BBC execs she’d just spotted at a nearby table). It is unsurprising how few people bother to vote at elections. And it is unsurprising how many people are purchasing satellite systems in search of something worth watching on television. During events like this, I am always reminded of an illuminating class for English language I once attended. We were asked to read an article about the same events in papers with opposing political leanings, and to compare them. Do this and you begin to see just how much the English language can be bent to a particular agenda. Keep this sort of thing in mind and you become painfully aware of the bullshit the media is throwing at you every day.