When I was growing up, the first thing my parents did in the morning was have a cup of pu-er tea (my father) and a glass of hot water (my mother). The next thing they’d do was turn on the radio, specifically to the BBC. My sister always jokes that the first words we recognized as children were ‘No!’, and ‘This is the BBC World Service’, the latter invariably accompanied by the chimes of Big Ben.
No one was allowed to say anything during the news broadcast as everyone listened intently to what had gone on in the world while we’d been asleep. It occurred to me very early on that the news was always bad. The BBC never ran stories about a lost dog being reunited with his family. It was always something dramatic or depressing. If it wasn’t an oil crisis, it was a plane blowing up. And if it wasn’t a disgraced prime minister being found outside out a hotel room without his pants on (true story), it was someone famous dying. Or about to die.
But that was kind of it. When the news segment ended about five minutes later, that was it. Life returned to normal and people started chatting and gossiping about the day ahead. Unless you worked from home, you didn’t listen to the news again till later that evening – which would usually be a quick recap of what had happened that day.
Somewhere along the way though, the news has taken on a life of it own. There’s so much of it. You now have entire TV and radio channels devoted to news. 24/7 news channels broadcasting nothing but bad news all the time. It’s like a virus, multiplying faster than you can read it or hear it. They usually tell you the same thing every 3 minutes, so that by the 18th time in half an hour that you’ve watched an entire village being sucked up by a landslide, you’re so immune to the horror, you find yourself sitting on the side of your bed contentedly clipping your toe nails.
“It’s why I try to only ever read Vogue,” Saffy said the other day. “In the world of Vogue, bad news is when you wear the wrong shoes with your outfit.”
Amanda grunted. “Yeah, you want to bring down the energy at a party? Talk about the financial crisis.”
Saffy’s bosom inflated to dangerous volumes. “Oh my God, I’m so bored with the financial crisis! Can we please talk about something else, already?”
“And don’t get me started on the magazines and newspapers,” Amanda went on. “It’s bad enough that you just made me waste 15 minutes of my life ploughing through 25oo words telling me about how the European leaders can’t agree on the future of the Euro…”
“Care factor: zero!” Saffy announced.
“But don’t make me read,” Amanda went on, clearly gathering steam, “another three pages of commentary by a whole bunch of academics and experts about why the leaders can’t agree and what they think will happen if this state of non-agreement continues for the next two months!”
Saffy cheered. “And then listen to more of the same on the BB bloody C for the next five hours! Put on some disco!”
All of which explains why our collective new year’s resolution is to watch and read less news in 2012. Leave it to Saffy to take it to the extreme of resolving not to watch or read any news this year.
“Har? Where got such thing, one?” Sharyn asked, her huge eyes unblinking behind her super thick spectacles.
“If it’s really important news, someone will tell me about it,” Saffy said serenely. “I’ll get everything else I need from Vogue!”
Sharyn looked unconvinced. “Aiyoh, if tsunami hit Singapore, then how?”
Amanda sighed. “Sharyn, seriously. If there was a tsunami, we’d be too busy swimming for our lives to be reading about it in a newspaper!”
“Exactly!” Saffy said. You could tell from the faraway look in her eyes that she was mentally practising her breast-stroke.
Later, Sharyn pulled me aside. “Ay, cannot like this, lah! How can you ignore the news?”
I told her that, for once, I was with the girls on this one. “There’s just too much bad news out there, Sharyn. It’s depressing. And it’s time we stopped feeling guilty just because we didn’t know that the Dow Jones and Hangseng have dropped another two points.”
I’d meant it as a joke, but Sharyn spent the next half hour on the phone screaming at her remisier to sell all her Bank of China shares.
“She’s too tense,” Saffy said. “She should read more Vogue.”