Do you sometimes come out of a building and feel that the world outside is somehow unreal? Maybe if you have been very immersed in your work, or if you have seen an engrossing film or even just read a thrilling saga?
Recently, I have had that feeling almost every day, but not when I relocate between physical spaces. No, I am discombobulated by a sense of unreality every time I enter the space of – the enormous space of – mass media.
During Covid, we clung to mass media, not only for entertainment. Banned from the real world, many of us had to resort to laptops, mobile phones and TVs, to see a beach, cows in a field, and the delightful hubbub of a train station. We even turned to broadcasting outlets for comfort and reassurance.
In my country, the benign, familiar face of one of our news anchors would remind us every evening to maintain a two-metre distance distance, wash our hands thoroughly, and wear the mask properly. We would anxiously wait for the daily figures (remember the Worldometer?) – active cases, critical cases, deaths…. Almost every evening, the news included a brief lesson, such as “How to put on your mask”, “How to wash your hands”, “How to sneeze”, “What to do when you feel ill”.
In Norway, there was hardly any political opposition to government imposed measures regarding Covid. In fact, there was practically no political debate at all during the Covid regime.
We hoped, month after month after month, that it would soon end, that this was only a parenthesis in our normality, but it lasted for two years. Strictly speaking, it is still not entirely over. And we all know that it will happen again. And again.
Yet, we return with a vengeance to a semblance of normality, to a pretence of normality – to the realm of make-belief. News anchors are still telling us that everything is fine, except of course in Ukraine, but we will all do our bit to help Ukraine, and everything will soon be all right there too. Of the looming energy crisis in Europe, particularly in Germany and UK and of the numerous apocalyptic fires devouring hundreds of square kilometres (yes, kilometres, not acres) of forest, not to mention homes… hardly a word. As for the tension in South-East Asia – all China’s fault, of course, just as the war in Ukraine is all Russia’s fault – we choose to hope that justice will prevail, and justice is, of course, on our side. No doubt about that, at least.
There are doubts, though, fears even. Not about justice’s being on our side. We are, after all, like all human inhabitants, inculcated with certain values. (Inculcation is just a polite word for indoctrination – which, of course, is only practised by “Commies” (i.e. the Russians and Chinese). So justice is no doubt on our side, and we believe in progress, and just look at what science has accomplished, even in our lifetime.
Yet, something feels wrong, and definitely not right. Deep down, under our apparent complacence, there is angst. Everywhere.
Overnight, in my country, the mainstream press has become monolithic. Faced with a common enemy, Covid, the competing news outlets joined forces. Now that the threat of Covid may or may not be over, there are still threats, most notably that of Russia. Russia stands accused, and no news outlet or newspaper will allow the defendant to state his case.
As for the rest of us, we all know that the government is and has always been lying about the energy situation and about the urgency of the climate situation, yet, we put up with increasing militarisation, the theft of our hydroelectic energy and the refusal to seriously cut back emissions. Every evening, the benign, familiar face of one of our news anchors still tells us that everything is fine except for the people in Ukraine, and since most of us feel, for some reason or another, more kindly towards Ukrainians than to Syrians, we hope and believe that NATO’s defence of democracy and liberty will prevail.