If I ruled the world

Prospect Magazine

If I ruled the world

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I’m not interested in what the public thinks. Nobody is—not even the public. So enough of their inane feedback on radio and television

Imagine this. You are driving along following a reasonably successful holiday—or at least a not-wholly-disastrous change of scene. To your unfolding amazement, the road is clear: no road “works” and no congestion. You have put aside your macro anxieties—war, climate change, Katie Price; and you are likewise enjoying rare psychological respite from those of a more personal nature—hair, weight, the staggering tedium of your life thus far. You are not required to make any decisions, there are no strangers in view whom you find attractive and there is nothing to spend your money on or to remind you that you haven’t got any. In other words, you are happy.

Thus, foolishly buoyed, you reach for the radio hoping for a programme worth a sentient adult’s time and the very first thing you hear is the presenter’s voice saying: “With regard to the global economy, Andy from Cheadle has emailed the programme to say he thinks that…” Blocking the irritation you switch stations. Another presenter with a different accent seems to be finishing a discussion about Israel and Palestine but, just as you settle back, she says: “Lindsey from Wrexham has texted in to say…”

Now the fury surges. Recklessly, you dial through as many stations as there are frequencies but it’s always the same: “Sandy on the M11 has got in touch to say that everyone knows Afghanistan is really all about…”; “Alison from Woodbridge has tweeted that she is in favour of vaccinations but that her own doctor is on holiday so…”; “Nigel in Hyde is listening while he gets dressed and wonders why, when it comes to the polar ice caps, there can’t there be more people like Jeremy Clarkson since…”

And so the rage takes full flame and your brief happiness is destroyed. As the traffic comes to a halt, you realise (once again) that you must either endure the misery of 61m atrociously ill-informed opinions; or sit in a solitary silence that is filled only with a feverish internalised loathing for your fellow citizens. At home it is the same. All genres of television programme now contain an abysmal segment during which the presenter reads out a series of inane views from variously mad people with an inexplicable surplus of time and self-regard. And then reminds you that you can find more of the same at the commensurate website, on which you are urged to “join the debate” (debate!) with MilesofSmiles and MrLunchBox and Hg5Ylo and Gandalf.
Well, in my world, all this would stop.

I don’t care what Andy from Cheadle thinks about the Gaza strip, the ice caps, Manchester City or even Cheadle. Nobody cares. Nobody except Andy, and presumably he already knows. When I turn on the radio or the television, or when I open a book or a newspaper, what I want is an expert. I want insightful commentary. I want stylistic elegance. I want eloquence. I want uninterrupted expertise.

I’m simply not interested in what the public thinks. Nobody is except pollsters and marketing research agencies (and they only do it for the money). Not even the public is interested in what the public thinks. That’s why they are listening to the radio and not stopping to inquire of one another in the street. Neither do I wish to suffer the endlessly transparent and disingenuous efforts of presenters pretending to care what the public thinks. Why the soul-incinerating sham?
No more.

In my world, there will be no phoning, texting, tweeting, or emailing in. There will be no “feedback.” Nobody will be able to “join the debate.” Viewers will not be allowed to vote. Instead, the only people allowed to appear, speak or write will be experts—men and women who have devoted substantial parts of their lives to the intricacies of the subject on hand. The bare minimum should be seven years of verifiable, serious and continuing immersion. Ideally, at the start of every show, the presenter should say: “Please do not attempt to contact or contribute to this programme unless you have a Nobel prize in the specific subject now being considered.”

Spontaneous “getters in touch” will be acknowledged only on very rare occasions of extreme expertise and relevance. Should, say, JD Salinger break his silence to text Sky during an item about the enduring appeal of the Bildungsroman, then the newscaster should be permitted to break off and relay its contents directly to the viewer. That would be acceptable. Or, conversely, should it transpire that Andy from Cheadle has worked for ten years in the timber-sealant business, then, on the occasion of the first timber-sealant documentary, Andy from Cheadle should feel cautiously licensed to essay a single email on the subject. But that’s it. No Andy from Cheadle on Bildungsromans. No Salinger on sealants.

Edward Docx is a journalist and author. His  second novel,“Self Help” (Picador), won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial prize

  1. November 9, 2009


    Mr Docx,

    Daniel from Dundalk, Ireland here, getting in touch with some positive feedback – I LOVED this!

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Edward Docx

Edward Docx
Edward Docx is an associate editor of Prospect. His latest novel is “The Devil’s Garden” (Picador) 

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