Sometimes it is clichés such as ‘Stop the World – I Want to Get Off’ that best capture the zeitgeist.
In the turmoil of the 1960s, even as a small child, I realised there was something profound in that phrase, oft-uttered back then. It’s retained popular currency through the decades, though not because of any great fondness for the eponymous stage musical, which is a piece of cheesy sentimental claptrap.
The show is about a man dissatisfied with his life, seeking solace in the arms of various women. He’s searching for something better than he has, only to realise, eventually, that it’s the love of his wife that matters. Talk about conceptual mediocrity …
But, now, when I’m in my mid-50s, and the world rushes by in a blizzard of trashy images and infotainment crap, I realise that ‘Stop the World – I Want to Get Off’ is an accurate way of summarising how so many humans feel about living today. We are fatigued by the relentlessness and increasing infantilism and narcissism of digital communications.
I remember the moment, a couple of years ago, when the phrase re-injected itself into my consciousness with renewed vigour for the modern age.
‘Stop the World – I Want to Get Off’, I thought as I handled newswire copy about Lady Gaga dressing up in strips of meat to make a point about human rights, apparently.
She was parading around draped in offal at the MTV awards in LA.
“If we don’t stand up for what we believe in and fight for our rights pretty soon, we are going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones,” she cooed. “And I am not a piece of meat.”
Er, yes sweetheart, all right, you’ve made your point, now move along, you’re beginning to stink the place out.
As a craft-trained British newspaper journalist, I feel the news has gone weird, with showbiz dross everywhere, thick tarts (men and women) on and off football fields, and telly programmes designed for morons.
We’re heading to Hades in a Ferrari.
When I first started in newspapers, there was a typewriter and an ashtray on every desk, a bollocking editor in every newsroom, union posters on the walls. If the masters dared upset us hacks, there’d be an immediate mandatory disruptive meeting on the company premises.
It was real. We journalists were in control of the information back then in the 1980s and for much of the 90s.
We were professionals, trained to block out bullshit. We weren’t amateur communicators like most people now in the digital age. That’s what the web is in essence – publishing for amateurs; all the bonkers bloggers, the posters of emotional diarrhoea on Facebook, and all those tits-in-trance on Twitter.
We real hacks were battle-scarred from all the death knocks we went out on. You don’t know what a tough job is until you’ve stared into the eyes of a mum whose sons have been killed in a road traffic accident on the mean streets of … Colchester, Hackney, Hull and Stirling in my case, plus a few other places.
And we were thumped and spat at by the wrong-doers occasionally, threatened by the powerful and wealthy, but we didn’t care. We got to the truth and told it. No-one closed us down.
Now, look at the newspapers, full of TV-related trash and public relations drivel, running scarred of regulation, state censorship and state censure.
Years ago, journalists used to talk about the SFW factor. SFW – a test we applied to all potential stories. SFW. So Fucking What? Years ago, most stories that ran would pass that test. But on the day of writing this a UK national newspaper breathlessly reports that the model Jodie Marsh is considering ‘going gay’ because she can’t find love with a man. SFW!
Elsewhere there is much commentary about pop singer Jessie J being bisexual. Again, SFW! It just means that girls don’t fancy her either. (OK, I nicked that line from Frankie Boyle.)
The news was real back in my prime as a hack, and newspapers were best at providing it. Generation after generation within the same families had gone out day after day to buy their evening newspaper.That’s how much they valued it.
Imagine if people had to pay directly to listen to local radio! What a massive turn-off there would be. It’s the same for websites. Very few websites can sustain a paywall. It’s because they’re not loved in the way that newspapers used to be. They don’t have soul, in the way newspapers used to have soul – and proper columnists and colour-writers who’ve come up through print journalism rather than being cherry-picked fluff-heads off the telly.
The media. I work in it and I have seen it expand massively in quantity and decline hugely in quality simultaneously.
This is not all sour grapes from an auld curmudgeon. There’s a serious point. The explosion in web and mobile phone-based communications is causing human relationships to fragment and weaken – and that’s encouraging superficial thinking, stupidity and social isolation. Soon the I-phone is to get an APP for loneliness.
We’ve created a world of far too much communication without considering the consequences. No wonder we feel jaded. ‘Stop the World – I Want to Get Off’.
What we are gradually losing in the printed word is something resembling truth and beauty, achieved through proper, professional fact-checking and editing. And that is much more valuable than what we’re gaining – instant publishing open to virtually all – even the barely literate and the staggeringly stupid and hate-filled.
In terms of images and sound (music, film, and spoken word) the digital revolution has led to a terrible dumbing down and coarsening. Ever more startling presentation does not necessarily mean better. That much is clear, at least to me.
As a hack, I’m not just worried about the future of newspapers. I think local radio is dying too.
I’ve been experimenting with my car radio, picking up Heart FM, a programme sponsored by Birds Eye Potato Waffles and hosted by the inane drivel specialist Toby Anstis, who used to be on children’s telly. Toby’s voice … the adverts for stupid social engineering projects by ‘the government of the Welsh Assembly’ … the hideous music. It’s torture beyond endurance.
And from the BBC my local Radio Merseyside is just as bad. It’s become a glorious self-parody. The ‘flagship’ breakfast show goes like this …
“And just before we have another go at guessing this week’s mystery giggler, here’s travel news from Laura Wannabe…”
“Thanks Snelly. We’re getting reports of major delays … in Greasby where NHS Wirral have been digging a big hole for their unused Quit Smoking press releases. More details as we get them. And if you know something, give us a call, if it’s safe and legal to do so. Laura Wannabe, BBC Radio Merseyside Travel! Now back to Snelly.”
Oh no. Now I’ve gone and done it. I’ve mentioned smoking, and the UK’s smoking ban. ‘Stop the World – I Want to Get Off’. I love smoking, and I think it was an act of neo-fascist violence by the state to ban smoking in workplaces – particularly in pubs and restaurants. For me it has ruined pubs and restaurants.
The publicly funded anti-smoking campaigns in the UK are truly sinister in their attempts to rewrite cultural history and force people to stop taking part in a long-established social pleasure.
Not since the Nazis ruled Germany has there been such a determined attempt to stigmatise smoking.
The Nazi anti-tobacco campaign included: banning smoking in trams, buses and city trains, promoting health education, limiting cigarette rations, organising medical lectures for soldiers, and raising the tobacco tax.
The Nazi authorities also imposed restrictions on tobacco advertising and smoking in public spaces, and regulated restaurants and coffeehouses.
But Hitler’s henchmen never went as far as the last Labour Government did here – helped by its cronies in councils, schools and the NHS.
The Nazis never managed to ban smoking totally inside virtually all workplaces, including pubs and restaurants.
No-one points out the undoubted health benefits of smoking, Yes, that’s right – the health benefits!
Smoking is the best reliever of stress we have. And stress is a killer. By their campaign of pressuring and persecuting smokers, our modern-day health Nazis have added to the stress of millions of good people.
Millions die unnecessarily because of the efforts of public health zealots – including all those employed to wage war on smokers by the Liverpool City Council.
I’ve no doubt that many more people will now suffer fatal strokes and heart attacks while under stress because they have been coerced into giving up smoking.
Also a massive problem for our country is obesity. People who are pressured into quitting smoking start snacking on crisps and cakes as a replacement for ciggie breaks. The result – more fatal heart attacks.
Not that this is primarily a health issue – it’s a freedom issue, and that’s more important. There is little point being healthy if you have your freedom taken away.
Stop the world. I want to get off, but not just yet, eh? Time for a fag break first …
© Stephen Regan, 2013.
Photo «vintage halloween» -author unknown
Steve Regan has poems published on The Passionate Transitory e-zine (December 2012), on The Screech Owl e-zine (Oct 2012), and in print in the Best of Manchester Poets Vol 2 anthology (Dec 2011).
His ‘Unhappy Valley Sunday’ won the Runner-up Prize for Poetry in the Sefton Arts Writing Competition 2011.
His poetry has also appeared in the following print publications: Vertical Images 7 (London, 1993);Poetry of my Shoulders (London 1994); London Voices (1993 and 1994); The Mental Virus Arts Magazine issue 7 (Wigan 2009); and Wirral’s Winter Words anthology (December 2009).
He is founder and co-organiser (with David Costello) of two poetry clubs – THE LIVER BARDS (Liverpool) and the BARDS OF NEW BRIGHTON (Wirral).
SAM BRADY: Steve created the popular TV critic persona, Sam Brady, which appeared regularly on ITV’s ORACLE and Teletext services in the UK from 1989 to 2002. Sam Brady continues as a bloghttp://sambradyoracle.blogspot.com/