What do we do when something untoward happens, which is most of the times? We “vow” to investigate it, to get to the bottom of it, take corrective measures. Except every time we try to get to the bottom of something, we find ourselves falling headlong, like Milton’s bad angels, into a bottomless perdition.
Take the current aviation tragedy. Here’s how we have gone about it.
First to arrive on the scene, metaphorically speaking, were Twitter aviation experts. It’s a great medium where everyone seems to be brimming with knowledge about everything, from agriculture to nuclear strategy to, in this case, an aviation tragedy.
It is of course a minor irritant that most of these aviation experts are as knowledgeable about flying as Huckleberry Finn would be about particle physics. But since life is all about being spirited and character is not the same thing as 140 characters, most would not put up to be put down even if someone could, in theory, encapsulate the entire cumulative knowledge of aviation and shove it down their throats.
In this, dear reader, and if you were to bear with me, they remind me of Shadwell, the subject of Dryden’s Mac Flecknoe and one who is ready to “wage immortal war with wit”!
Says Flecknoe, King of Nonsense: Shadwell alone, of all my sons, is he/Who stands confirm’d in full stupidity. /The rest to some faint meaning make pretence,/But Shadwell never deviates into sense./Some beams of wit on other souls may fall,/Strike through and make a lucid interval;/But Shadwell’s genuine night admits no ray,/His rising fogs prevail upon the day…
Allah be praised!
Next to come were TV reporters. As I wrote many years ago, “TV is the new god in Pakistan, the camera its thunderbolt”. But this god doesn’t sit atop Mount Olympus, it resides in Hades and reminds me of what disgraced US president Richard Nixon once said about the media. “People in the media say they must look at the president with a microscope. Now, I don’t mind a microscope, but boy, when they use a proctoscope, that’s going too far.”
Nothing and no one is spared. Forget the living, not even burning corpses are spared. Add to this the very impressive IQ of these monkeys and you would have Comedy Central at its best if the situation in which they appear, jumping up and down, were not so tragic and grotesque.
Take this question. X is lying in hospital, injured, having just survived a bomb blast: “What did you feel when it happened?” Here’s another: X’s loved one has just died in a crash. The genius reporter asks: “How do you feel?”
I am still waiting for someone to kick one of them in the short and curly and then ask how he felt. To be honest I have some other suggestions too but they fall in the category of the unmentionable and I don’t want my editor, a rather mild gentleman, to fall off his chair.
Meanwhile, we have a problem. One newspaper congratulated its TV channel for being the first to break the story of the crash. How long before such morbid sense of competition will get someone to actually arrange a tragedy to be the first to report it?
To be fair this morbidity is not confined to the Pakistani media, more appropriately TV channels. Most are familiar with Evelyn Waugh’s great work, Scoop, which criticised and satirised Fleet Street. One of the themes of Waugh’s satire was — and remains true to wit — that when not much is happening, the media would try to make something happen to get a sizzling copy across. Lords Copper and Zinc of Daily Beast and Daily Brute become, in this scenario, archetypes of what we have in today’s world, the owners and publishers of media houses. By the same token we have spineless editors like Daily Beast’s Mr Salter who can never say yes or no but will use phrases like “Definitely, Lord Copper” and “Up to a point, Lord Copper”.
The tail, going by the film Wag the Dog, begins to wag the dog when it gets smarter than the dog.
Finally, we have the government. The best depiction of its efficiency and priorities is the story about the chairman of Islamabad’s Capital Development Authority, who took the blackbox and cockpit voice recorder home so he could present the two things, reports suggest, at a press conference. And pray, what the hell has the CDA chairman got to do with an air crash investigation? Why was the site not immediately cordoned off? Why were media people and others not kept off the site, which should only be accessed by authorised personnel? Footage shows people going to the site and walking in the debris as if it’s a theme park. And as one friend, an exceptional reporter, said to me: “I can bet you a month’s salary whatever could be carried away easily has ended up with Raja Bazaar’s kabariyas.”
One moronic reporter was reporting the “fact” that the debris hadn’t been cleaned and there was the danger of an epidemic breaking out. His sources: his own genius and a few SOTs of illiterate dwellers. He didn’t realise that until all evidence is collected from the site, there can be no cleaning up. Of course what is required but hasn’t been done by the authorities is to cordon off the area and not allow anyone to get in. Instead, we have unauthorised people loitering about and reporters going around with cameras and demanding of the rescue teams why this or that was not being done.
Much else can be said and should be about how easy it is in fact to be efficient but that requires a separate treatment. For now, between the twitting twitterati, illiterate people, a cannibalistic media and an utterly inefficient government, we have just enacted another comedy of the grotesque.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2012.
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