Private Eye ran a controversial cover after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
As you can imagine it caused controversy. Some people claimed it was in bad taste. Others felt it was telling an uncomfortable truth. People didn’t like to be reminded that she was just as interesting to us dead as she was alive. We didn’t really want to be confronted by the fact that the paparazzi who contributed to her death also provided the stories that made us love (or hate) her. They were only doing their job.
There has been a lot of hand wringing about whether people should read Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers after all the allegations about phone hacking and police corruption. Everyone agrees that his and other tabloids have misbehaved and should be controlled. However, News of the World became the largest circulation paper in the country because they ran the kind of salacious, mucky and highly speculative stories we love to read. We want to read them, but we don’t want to know where they come from. A wise man once said it is okay to love eating sausages but don’t ever see them being made.
The one flaw in all the debate about this scandal is the belief that the sort of stories the tabloid papers turn out can be “ethically sourced” like coffee or green beans.
Can we ever believe that there is an ethical way of producing the trivial and celebrity driven news we desire? Apart from the subject opening their heart, this kind of news can only be produced by eavesdropping, bribing friends to betray secrets, invasion of privacy even the FBI would balk at or even worse: just making stuff up.
We will believe everything is okay because we want to believe it. In the “fat free frozen yogurt” episode of Seinfeld, everyone patronizes a particular frozen yogurt shop because its offerings achieve the impossible: fat free and delicious. At the same time, Jerry and his friends start putting on weight. It can’t be all the yogurt they eat, because it is fat-free. The owner says it is, so it must be. The situation is only resolved when they get the yogurt tested and behold, it is full of fat and the shop has to go back to selling fat-free. It soon goes out of business.
If we want a better popular press then we need to change what we crave. Ideally it would have been better for the paper to be closed or reformed because our hunger for what it offered had waned. Rather than face reality, we focus on gossip, rumours and lurid stories. Does that lead us to a better life? No, it amuses while the world crashes around us. The Jam once said, “The people want what the people get” and by that logic, we all phone hacked Milly Dowler’s phone because we wanted the stories that hacking made possible. Rupert Murdoch is the paper boy of our desires.
Sex scandals, photos of celebrities looking ragged while nipping out to the shops, gossip about a footballer’s marriage; all these are great distractions from a world of real issues that demand our full attention. Our economy is fundamentally unstable and vulnerable, our infrastructure is underfunded and crumbling, our standard of living is on the decline and is still unsustainable. Right now we live in a world that requires us to be grown ups and to have minds focussed on grown up things.
Jesus told his friends and followers to hunger and thirst for righteousness. We might define righteousness by the two great commandments: love God with your whole self and love your neighbour with every fibre of your being. Rupert Murdoch and his ilk offer us gossip, lies and smug judgemental stories so that we get what we want: to feel superior to other people as they are made smaller. It is like feeding starving people with the empty calories of fast food.
What we hunger and thirst for defines who we are and forms the basis of our spiritual, moral and emotional nourishment. The heart of righteousness is hungering for what is good for you and for me because that is what God hungers for. The world can be transformed by changing what we hunger and thirst for. All it takes is the courage to change our diet.