This is my editorial from Thursday 26 August. Apologies for delay updating!
We all have those moments in our lives that stand apart as landmarks. They might be a way of remembering a loved one or idyllic period, or they might be the marker of a turning point or an ‘annus horribilis’. While they are moments that may be historically significant to the entire world, they can evoke a powerful individual nostalgia for that which is no more.
My history teacher used to tell us, “Mammy was making sausages for the tea when we heard President Kennedy was shot”. Every time he said it, we could see him gaze misty-eyed out the window, as he remembered the smell of the sausages, the spit of the pan and the look of saintly suffering in the eyes of the Sacred Heart picture that hung over their black and white television.
My mother remembers the Bay of Pigs crisis, because the nuns made them practice hiding under desks. When she sees old footage of the crisis, or hears of it, she feels cold stone under her bare knees and smells chalk and sour milk and wet wool, that indefinable odour of a primary school. The nuns weren’t to know, I suppose, that a desk wouldn’t be much protection from the type of explosion that vaporises people. But if any of those women, now in their fifties, are ever stuck in an earthquake, I’d say they’ll be absolutely fine.
On my own account, I remember the 9/11 attacks and the feeling of absolute helplessness when I realised that this was happening, we could watch it happening, over and over again, and yes, those dots on the outside of the Twin Towers were people, who were almost certainly dead by the time we watched the footage.
Funny that all three of our memories are based on American events. But the other common thread here is that, despite our different ages and circumstances, and interests, all the events that we remember as somehow defining a particular time in our lives, were major world events brought to us by the media.
Something that happened during the week brought home to me just how powerful media coverage of what happens, and the priority it gets, are in ordinary people’s lives, and how media priorities are changing.
The first was when I watched the – by now infamous – YouTube video of a woman putting a cat in a dustbin in England. Sky News have sent a special team to the woman’s house to report on an angry mob that has gathered.
Yes, it was cruel, and it was wrong. But let’s get some perspective here. It wasn’t really cruel on the scale of, for example, 150 women being raped in one village in the Democratic Republic of Congo in a single day. That was last month. I didn’t see any Sky News reporters on the ground there. Nor, by the way, did I read of it in any Irish newspaper.
Nor was it pivotal to future world politics in the way that the lack of aid being provided to Pakistan at the moment will almost certainly be. The floods in that country, and a process of rebuilding which will be very vulnerable to manipulation from fundamentalist groups, could be a turning point in the ongoing difficulties between hardline Islam and the West in much the same way the Bay of Pigs was for the Cold War.
In forty years time, will our children and grandchildren be asking us where we were, when we found out that a woman put a cat in a wheelie bin on the side of the road somewhere in the UK? I don’t think so. Maybe it’s time the media grew up a little, and recognised where our priorities – all our priorities – lie.
The one thing I’d like to thank that woman for, is that she’s coined a new idiom. No longer will I say ‘storm in a teacup’. ‘Cat in a wheelie bin’ will do just fine, and I look forward to explain it to my grandchildren