Monday, March 19, 2007

The old rules

The following is from "Taboo: what newspapermen can never, never say", by Nicholas Tomalin, published in Punch in 1973 and republished in the posthumous Nicholas Tomalin Reporting two years later. It was probably ceasing to be true by the time it was written, but it may be suggestive about how hard it would be to restore a culture of "positive" commentary:

The final taboo that really irks me is the still lamentably general rule that all newspaper writers must be optimistic. 'Upbeat' is the word used. In a strict sense, an upbeat is of course the unimportant hiccup before the musical bar line; it is the down-beat that makes the important statemen. The word has become peculiarly corrupted to mean some tone of voice that makes readers cheerful, and more liable to buy advertisers' products. It means always looking on the bright side. I consider the effect of this taboo is quite disastrous on the national life. Because every second-rate hack knows he must be 'upbeat', and every advertising slogan is upbeating perpetually, anyone with a spark of intelligence comes to feel happiness is a totally unacceptable, vulgar, lying emotion (...) I am quite incapable of saying how utterly wonderful it is to be going onward and upward with ths great country of ours (even when I feel it), because so many idiots are saying so, so very often and so very insistently.

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