Winter has arrived in the blink of an eye again across the UK - and specifically my northern enclave of greater Manchester - swamping all with its chilled blanket of ice crystals and bringing the whole of civilisation to a standstill because of an overnight snow sprinkle. This happened last year at virtually the same time and I wrote then (see "Christmas, New Year & the Big Freeze" for more details) about the absolute uselessness of our culture to perform the most mundane tasks when faced with nothing more than fluffy-white, frozen water descending from the skies. It is certainly a worry to look back at how the machinations of a world power crumbled because of a lack of Cheshire rock salt but we learnt from those mistakes, didn’t we...? Well, no...
“Where is the grit? Councils are accused of failing to plan for winter despite all the forecasts.”
Daily Mail Online, 1st December 2010.
Fast forward twelve months to today and the above Daily Mail Online headline could have been transposed from last year’s frosty spell just as easily and perhaps the heading was just stored on their server for a future snowy day, eh? We all appear to have suffered another bout of collective ‘social amnesia’, conveniently forgetting the lessons learnt last winter and indeed from our prehistoric past: that Humanity has actually lived through genuine Ice Ages in eons past without being sidetracked from Evolution’s great journey because of a snow drift (albeit, rather a large one in comparison to what falls onto us nowadays). This forgetfulness about the seasons’ changes – and almost anything else that is thought of as unimportant - is an accepted part of modern-day living because we require our information to be spoon-fed in manageable chunks by an all-encompassing and invasive media.
In actual fact, a media that is more synonymous now with George Orwell’s “Big Brother” totalitarian regime from his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) than anything before or since its publication and unfortunately, we as consumers are the reason for this state of affairs. We thrive upon attaining knowledge from all walks of life and whether this takes the form of highbrow critiques or salacious gossip makes no difference to our collative palates: a story’s a story when all is said and done, although the more denigration involved in its unravelling, then the more varied the schisms created and thus, the greater public indignation and soapbox outrage for journalistic voices to sing off about left, right and centre.
You see, this is what stokes society as a whole and gives us an outlet to decipher the world around us: the ability to analyse the normal, everyday things we inherently know inside out and then to twist them to form the unknown for new imaginings at our discretion. Now, whether these subsequent constructs are opposed to one another is a moot point, because we as individuals form our own opinions based on our own perceptions of what is acceptable or otherwise to our own social circles: you may find that drinking one’s self to a stupor each night is the only way to live because everyone you know is doing the same but to an outsider, you may be perceived as a pathetic, hopeless drunkard wasting your life. Simply put, there are so many variations, deviations and tangents within everyday life now that any new ideals are found a welcome place within our immeasurably liberalised natures; indeed, we’ll always find accommodation where the balance is always maintained and played out within ourselves - good verses bad, yin-yang, the dark & the light, etc with the conflicting clichés.
So, with this ever-adjusting cultural perception in mind, it is easy to see that the influencing factor across all of our lives is without doubt the media outlets, namely newspapers such as The Daily Mail and their associated websites plus the 24 hour news stations on digital TV channels such as BBC News and Sky News. As our technology has grown exponentially to the current point of internet browsing on the move with mobile smart ‘phones and accessible Wi-Fi hotspots nationwide, so has our constant need for a plethora of ever-changing daily news stories to bombard us with inane, time consuming statistics. Now it is not uncommon to see a breaking story being bumped from the virtual red top of a webpage or the on-screen, rotating headline banner within a couple of minutes of arriving due to a newer and more prevalent tale arriving hot from the worldwide press. This “Simplified Immediacy Reporting”(c) is the purest of Ambrosia to our media and it allows their fares to stay refreshed across their window displays, including both short and long story arcs for the ravenous masses. We can gorge as many reports as we like, but can never slake our addiction to brand new information: from celebrities to famine and from conflicts to the economy, all available narratives are covered and catered for, including the most life-affective story on a personal level - the weather.
The weather is the only constant story pertinent to each of us, day in, day out and as such, has become an indispensible media weapon in the arsenal of the agencies of the powers-that-be. Governments may topple in a distant land, wars may rage on shores far away and singers’ may sing themselves a new song and all these things will be news at one time or another but will quickly pass from the publics’ lexicon; however, the roll of the weather is incessant to our planet and more influencing to our individual lives than anything else surrounding us, hence the need to control it and our reaction to it. With this agenda in mind, it is easy to see the inventive but recycled stories of weatherly dread and panic trying to instil a subconscious fester in the masses, along with endless updating of meaningless and banal information being reported live from reporters who are there, now, living the nightmare so we can all prepare ourselves for its eventual onset.
And this is exactly what we find when we look at the news channels or the newspaper websites in regards to the current November/December snowfall afflicting the UK today: a series of differing reports, each with more and more outlandish facts seeking to monopolise peoples’ opinions by tapping into their insecurities to ensure a safe and secure user base for their products. It is because of this perpetual headline tweaking and spinning that we end up time and time again rising to the metaphorical ‘news bait’ and snaffling it just like greedy, tricked fish should. How can we help falling into the trap though when faced with such diverse gems as these examples below, all taken from the frenzied collection of evocative CSS design at the Daily Mail Online, home of the rapidly-changing understatement:
“Travellers’ abandoning their vehicles due to a one foot-high snow drifts”
“No trains tonight as lines are shut due to snowfall”
“Are they mad? Children jump up and down on lake ice less than 1 inch thick”
“Frozen Britain grinds to a halt as 57% of commuters arrive late for work... and police advise them to head home early”
“Gatwick and Edinburgh airports closed until 6am tomorrow”
“Farmer stopped from helping as he didn’t have the right insurance to help pull stranded motorists clear of drifts”
“Will Cheryl Cole’s assault conviction prevent her from getting a green card and becoming U.S. X Factor judge?”
(I only include the above headline of absolute dross as this "singer" appears to be the only non-snow story adding motivation to peoples’ lives across our nation in today’s age!)
You could find many other examples of media exaltation in reference to the big freeze weather story of 2010, but just taking the Daily Mail Online as an example, the above selection was rotated on and taken off their website in just one morning (although Cheryl Cole seems to inhabit a special place in their red top banner). It is this continual need to alter and fine-hone the headlines - including their summary parenthesis - in order to create the sensations of outrage, disdain and apoplexy in the general public that becomes a staple of everyday life. In turn, these created feelings will be passed from friend to friend, family to family and work colleague to work colleague via a multitude of avenues, thus creating a cycle of anxious discomfort akin to a personal addiction: we’re all becoming dependant on the next breaking story for our media fix in order to help us cope with and make sense of being little cogs in the big machinery of Life.
Yes, just a little bit of snowfall on 21st century Britain - whose inner infrastructure appears to be outdated and still stuck in the Victorian era - is yet again just the ticket for staff writers everywhere to invent elaborate story ploys in order to keep our attentions focused whilst convincing us their worded facade is real and more importantly, relevant to the individual. When our weather inexplicably changes its pattern and confuses everyone by doing what it does naturally each year, it just shows we are all just too preoccupied with our other lifestyle addictions and so, our exaggerated panic is guaranteed via a million typed keyboards.
So, will it be third time lucky for next year’s big weather story? Fingers crossed for winter, 2011 then...
“Sweet Jesus Christ above! Frozen water turns into ‘snowflakes’ as it falls unrelentingly across the UK, bringing country to verge of collapse!”
Daily Mail Online, December 2011?
Daily Mail Online, December 2011?