Yes, You Can Be Serious, Just a Tiny Bit: Divorce Down, Boozing and DIY Up but Did 11 September Truly Change Us?

By Kampfner, John | New Statesman (1996), December 10, 2001 | Go to article overview

Yes, You Can Be Serious, Just a Tiny Bit: Divorce Down, Boozing and DIY Up but Did 11 September Truly Change Us?


Kampfner, John, New Statesman (1996)


Back in August, as the holiday season was at its peak, I wrote in the NS: "We don't want style politics, we want to get angry again...people like me who wanted more documentaries, more serious news, proper foreign news...used to be described as 'sad bastards' or 'anoraks' No longer, it seems."

At the time, the globalisation protests gave me a nugget of hope that we had turned the corner after the complacent, consumerist 1990s. Then came the terrible events of 11 September and many people asked: has it become safe to be serious?

Piers Morgan, editor of the Mirror, says that, before 11 September, "the lives of Liz Hurley and Madonna became more important because it's frankly all we had to talk about". Now, the hijackings have "restored my generation back to a real meaning of life that perhaps we haven't experienced since we were born". For a one-time showbiz reporter, this seems a conversion of Damascene proportions.

In interviews I conducted for Radio 4's Analysis programme, there was no short-age of such optimism. Clare Short was confident that the "ugly era of celebration of materialism and sneering at people who showed any concern for the weak or the poor" was over. "I think we're near a shift, I really do," she added, suggesting that some of her fellow ministers might have been a bit slow off the mark. "I think most of the political class haven't quite cottoned on in a way that the public is beginning to. But I think 11 September might have speeded up the journey."

Others are disappointed. "11 September is now yesterday's news," the film-maker Ken Loach said. "I don't see a big shift in consciousness at all. I wouldn't say that our politicians are more serious than they were before, or that the mainstream commentators are more serious. They might be more pompous, but they're not more serious."

Tony Blair's promises to reorder the world have remained, as they started, rich in rhetoric but, beyond Afghanistan, light on action. As for the media, it depends on your expectations. More current affairs on television and radio, sure. But also too many journalists rushing around breathlessly telling us not very much. Game shows are alive and well. Even at the height of the crisis, the broad sheets still talked about Liz Hurley's pregnancy and Nigella Lawson's change of hair colour. As for the Mirror, the same paper that has restored Paul Foot and John Pilger to the odd front page still carries a spread on Lara Logan, GMTV's war correspondent, in her bikini.

What about the economy? Or rather, what about Britain's favourite pastime -- shopping? Retail spending figures are strikingly robust. …

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