April 30

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The News by Alain de Botton : Is “Love it or **** off” really a measured response?

News coverIf you’d like to see if the work suits you, I’d suggest flipping to the third-to-last page, where he begins a summary of the book’s argument, which fills two pages. De Botton’s main argument is that the news does little to make our lives better, and that it could be a far more powerful force for personal and social improvement, if it would examine complex events more deeply, award celebrity more carefully, and encourage us to ponder our own fragility and foolishness both more directly and with greater self-compassion. I enjoyed this book, reading it slowly, in sections rather than straight through, so I had time to compare its thesis with the stories in the daily news.

I particularly enjoyed the brouhaha which blew up when De Botton was in Brisbane on his book tour. The Courier Mail caught him in a gaffe, in which his blog included a photograph of Ipswich in defense of his expressed sentiment that Brisbane’s riverside was ugly. Rather than suggesting that many people had noted that the freeway along Brisbane river is ugly, and that it’s something of a cliche for people to point it out as a failure of planning, the Courier went ballistic on him. They did that lazy, tricky thing, where they take a photograph when someone is talking and gesturing, so they look drunk or deranged, which they usually use for politicians. They declined to name his book or talk about its contents, beyond taking a sly dig at the fact that he was selling them (on his book tour, no less). They welcomed commenters to their pages who were of the “love us or **** off” position concerning Brisbane’s architectural history, and cherished the many, many, many witty people who noticed that by changing a letter of de Botton’s name, one can make a pun concerning his anus. I’m not saying he made his gaffe deliberately: but I am saying it demonstrated, with a beautiful precision, the points he was making in his book about the way stories are reported.

My one criticism is that it did not answer my primary question about news, which is why anyone considers the amount of sport described necessary, particularly in a regional centre like the Gold Coast where the teams depicted almost never play.

In the spirit of preventing the inevitable backlash of Brisbanites pointing out that their city’s architecture is nicer than the Gold Coast’s, I’d cede that point immediately. I’d note it’s the policy of my employers to build a world-class Cultural Precinct centred on a global-standard iconic building, because as yet, we don’t have one. As such, sure: you win. Your river freeway is however, as de Botton pointed out, ugly, and its presence makes the vista of the river incoherent. I’m not sure anyone would consider that news. City Libraries has copies of the book.

(If anyone knows excellent books about either medieval Genoa or London Bridge, drop a comment because a friend sent me a copy of this book, and I know that’s what he’s writing about at the moment.)