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 “work” and no congestion. You have put aside your macro anxieties—war, climate change, U.K. tabloid queen 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 program 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 e-mailed the program 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: “Lindsay 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 has gotten in touch to say that everyone knows Afghanistan is really all about . . .”; “Alison from Woodbridge has tweeted that she is in favor of vaccinations but that her 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 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 realize (once again) that you must either endure the misery of millions of atrociously ill-informed opinions or sit in a solitary silence that is filled only with a feverish internalized loathing for your fellow citizens. At home it is the same. All genres of television now contain an abysmal segment during which the anchor or host 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 of 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?
In my world, there will be no phoning, texting, tweeting, or e-mailing 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 subjects at hand. The bare minimum should be seven years of verifiable, serious, and continuing immersion. Ideally, at the start of every show, the host should say: “Please do not attempt to contact or contribute to this program 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, J.D. Salinger break his silence to text during an item about the enduring appeal of the bildungsroman—a novel about a character’s moral and psychological growth—then the newscaster should be permitted to break off and relay his message directly to the viewer. That would be acceptable. Or, conversely, should it transpire that Andy from Cheadle has worked for 10 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 e-mail on the subject. But that’s it.
No Andy from Cheadle on bildungs-romans. No Salinger on sealants.
Edward Docx is a journalist and author of the novels Pravda and The Calligrapher. Reprinted from Prospect (Sept. 2009), a U.K.-based monthly that treats current affairs with no shortage of verve.