Here Lies The Obit

Media houses sometimes bury the news before its time, and Wittgenstein is telling you to pull the plug on the TV.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published: September 30, 2017 1:43:53 am
Fake news purveyor Paul Horner of Arizona was found dead on September 18.

Journalists take anticipatory bail against sudden death, but sometimes it backfires. NTB, Norway’s biggest news agency, prematurely announced the death of the nation’s monarch, prompting the palace to forcefully insist that King Harald V is alive and well. News organisations have the macabre practice of writing the obituaries of important people in advance, so that they can be pulled out at the unhappy moment, updated in minutes and published immediately to beat the competition. In this case, an advance obituary titled ‘Norway in mourning’ inadvertently hit the wires. Like Mark Twain, whose death was misreported, King Harald now knows precisely how he will be remembered. Twain had responded with a terse message: “The news of my death is an exaggeration.” King Harald is yet to make his opinions known.

Meanwhile, the king of fake news which may have swayed the 2016 US presidential election has died. Actually. In an interview with The Washington Post last year, Paul Horner of Arizona had said that his misinformation campaign had put Donald Trump in the White House. His most powerful intervention was the claim that Democrat protesters were being paid $3,000. It was picked up and retweeted by campaign staff and even Trump’s son, and refused to dies down. With Horner’s death by a prescription drug overdose, an intriguing paradox may never be fully understood.

Because in the same Post interview, Horner had flatly said that he hated Trump. He had dismissed his followers as ignoramasus who would believe and propagate anything, and claimed that his fake news operation was a black joke at their expense. The joke is on America, and with the lead actor having taken a bow, perhaps we’ll never know the whole truth.

The publication of an article in The Indian Express by AB Vajpayee’s finance minister Yashwant Sinha was followed immediately by a government handout authored by his son Jayant Sinha, now a union minister. Given the timing, it is being read as a rebuttal, though it is prudently silent on Yashwant Sinha’s specific criticisms of economic mismanagement. Following Bing Crosby and Johnny Mercer’s advice, it only ac-cent-tchu-ates the positive.

Among the news overlooked in India, Audrey Hepburn’s working script for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, marked up by her, was sold by Christie’s for a record $847,000. Appropriately enough, the 140-page document was picked up by Tiffany & Company’s archivist. In the title sequence of the film, the character Holly Golightly, which marked a turning point in American cinema and Hepburn’s career, was seen peering into the jeweller Tiffany’s flagship store on New York’s Fifth Avenue, an establishment that she could never hope to shop in, with Henry Mancini’s award-winning rendering of Moon River for background music. Later in the film, Hepburn did venture in, to buy the cheapest band in the store.

The 1961 film was based on a novella by Truman Capote, who saw Holly Golightly as an “American geisha”. He had wanted Marilyn Monroe in the role, and the script was originally written for her. The novella was bought by Harper’s Bazaar, which then refused to publish for fear of alienating Tiffany & Co, a lucrative advertiser. It finally appeared in Esquire, and Capote’s manuscript was auctioned four years ago for a third of what the film script has fetched. Which tells you something about the place in the value chain of literature and the popular culture it inspires.

Banksy, whose anonymous stencil art in the streets of London in the early 2000s turned the form into a global craze which competes with graffiti, is now a public citizen with his own website and a busy Twitter handle. This week, he tweeted a picture of a vintage 12 channel TV set which is telling you what to wear, eat, think, love and fear. The preceding tweet quoted from Culture and Value, a compilation of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s personal notes: “A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards, as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push.” The meta-message of that sequence: stop pushing the buttons on that remote, hoping that something intelligent will appear. Pull the plug on the TV instead.

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