Josna Rege

333. Like Some Forgotten Dream

In Britain, Education, India, Inter/Transnational, Media, postcolonial, reading, Stories on May 31, 2015 at 11:42 am

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And all the news just repeats itself
Like some forgotten dream
That we’ve both seen
             Hello In There, John Prine

When I was younger I was a news hound. In the late 1970s a group of us founded No Nuclear News, a cooperative anti-nuclear clipping service which covered newspapers and relevant journals across the United States and around the world. As an expatriate I kept up with the news from India and Britain religiously so as not to fall out of touch, subscribing to India Abroad and The Manchester Guardian Weekly, which was then a compilation of the best stories from The Guardian (UK), Le Monde, and the Washington Post. During that same period I was also an avid reader of Race Today, a British monthly produced by a collective based in Brixton under the mentorship of C. L. R. James and edited by Darcus Howe. To me it was a model of engaged journalism, covering stories over the long term, and assigning a member of the collective not only to follow but to participate in the initiative being covered. Throughout my 20s and 30s I made sure to keep abreast of current events both locally and globally, at least on the issues and in the places about which I cared the most.

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In my 30s I embarked, belatedly, on post-graduate study, embracing joyfully the then-emergent field of postcolonial studies, which seemed designed for me personally. Inevitably my reading habits changed, but because more than half the reason I chose this particular field was to maintain my connection with South Asia and Britain, keeping up with the news was still important to me. From India I read everything from Femina and India Today to Manushi, The Hindu, DawnFrontline, Seminar, and Economic & Political Weekly. From Britain I started reading the New Statesman and the London Review of Books.

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Post-PhD in the mid-1990s, I started full-time teaching around the same time email and the internet were becoming a source of news. The demands of teaching and scholarship were both an incentive and an impediment to keeping up. I had to scan scholarly periodicals in my field as well as newspapers and more popular magazines. To save time, I began to subscribe to email news digests and to receive notices of the new issues of journals I followed. Sadly, but perhaps inevitably, over the next decade or so I found myself slipping. My father-in-law Ted renewed my LRB subscription annually and faithfully clipped articles for me on India, Britain, and my favorite writers from his beloved New York Times, and I counted on Andrew to update me on the many international issues which he followed. My father took over the India Abroad subscription and alerted me to new novels by South Asian and South Asian diaspora writers. But somewhere along the way, especially in the mass-media environment after the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City (which I still resist referring to as “9/11”), it all caught up with me; I felt myself caring less.

In my late 40s and through my 50s I became overloaded with information. I still tried to keep up, but in vain. The increasing demands of everyday life, both personally and professionally, and the media-saturated internet environment were responsible in part, but so was my world-weariness. In the aftermath of September 11th, 2001, the idea of imperialism underwent media rehabilitation and in many quarters was no longer a dirty word. When the U.S. occupied Iraq and began bombing several other countries without even declaring war on them, it was more urgent than ever to combat colonial ideology; but now there was a new buzz-word: globalization. Despite the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, the nuclear power industry began going on the offensive again after a couple of decades in hibernation. Even as the neo-liberal ideologies espoused by politicians on both the left and the right (these categories not making much sense any more) touted post-nationalism and free trade across national borders, rabid nationalisms seemed to be on the rise the world over while, for ordinary people, borders and boundaries became more impermeable than ever. Never had these issues been more urgent, but never had I been so tired: I had heard it all before.

While my father-in-law still clips India-related articles for me from the New York Times, I no longer read a print newspaper or magazine on a regular basis, let alone from cover to cover, as he does. I still receive my LRB every fortnight, but it is my father who reads it from cover to cover, while I scan the Table of Contents and read selected reviews, then too several weeks late. With the hyperlinked news stories one’s friends post on Facebook and other social media, it is easy to be under the illusion that one is keeping abreast of the news; but in fact one is consuming superficial and highly selective fare. Of course there are now excellent online news sites, journals, and news blogs that one can follow for free or subscribe to digitally; but again, just because one subscribes to them one does not necessarily read them consistently or in depth. (For instance, I have a digital subscription to The Nation, but only read it from time to time. I have downloaded special issues of Himal Southasian that still await my perusal.) More frequently one (okay, I) merely scans the headlines, skims a hyperlinked story that catches the eye on Facebook over a cup of tea, and clicks “Like.”

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Lately, though, my old craving for currency has revived. Although I still feel, like the old couple in John Prine’s song, that “all the news just repeats itself/like some forgotten dream,” I can’t stop believing that it matters. It is precisely because the powerful will keep on acting in their own interests and manipulating the news media to reflect them, that one has to keep abreast of the news behind the headlines, following stories in depth, not as soundbytes, and offering informed interpretations to counter the constant commercial media barrage.

This morning I visited The Hindu online. In the past couple of hectic weeks the only Indian/Indian diaspora news stories that have filtered through to me in headlines and on social media have been the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to China, the heat-related deaths in India, and the Indian American winners of the National Geographic spelling bee. How much more there is behind those stories, and how much more pressing! Similarly in Britain where, since the recent elections all I seem to have heard about is the FIFA scandal, half an hour browsing the world news and opinion pages of The Guardian (UK) website suffices to remind me of recent developments on a dozen fronts from immigration to youth culture.

So much news, so little time. For me the solution is a combination of selective skimming and in-depth reading. Yes, the news repeats itself; all the more reason why we oldsters who have seen it before must continue to weigh in. It is not a dream, and those who would wish us to go on sleeping are not our friends.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

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  1. The one consistent theme that emerges everywhere in the news is that the rich and powerful are getting even more rich and powerful and the rest of us are getting pushed further out of the way. The class divide gets bigger and the feeling of helplessness gets all the stronger. The red top media in the UK and Ireland keep the masses bolstered up with fear and suspicion, thereby playing right into the hands of those who dictate our lives.
    Recently we stayed with a retired professor of international politics who sat to have his dinner each evening watching the news from Al Jazeera as he felt it gave a much wider viewpoint than what we receive from the BBC who are definitely broadcasting a biased view of the world. Occasionally I’ve done likewise and it does make me look differently at the main stories. But as you say Josna, it’s the same old story over and over again and it’s easy to get bored and blasé about what we’e hearing and not even pay attention any more.
    Thank you for the thought provoking essay.
    Fil
    Fil’s Place – Old songs and Memories

    • Thank you for your eloquent response, Fil. (BTW, this was the first time I’d heard the expression “red top media”, which I’ve looked up–literally, the tabloids with red mastheads, including The Sun, The Daily Star, and The Daily Mirror.) And yes, the few reports I’ve read or watched on Al-Jazeera America have been in-depth, well researched pieces. I don’t get it on my TV, but should visit it online more often.
      It occurs to me that another reason we hear the same old stories time and time again, may be that deep structural problems give rise to them, structures that will go on producing the same results until they are changed.

  2. Josna, been there, done that.. your progression sounded so fsmiiar… I even threw away some fifteen year old unopened London Reviews of Books the other day as I tried to clear out the garage..
    I’ve topped reading newspapers, and no longer have a TV… I skim various blog headings before deleting them and that keeps me up with as much news as i want to know these days!!!
    On the other hand I scan the wind map of the world on the internet every day !!!!Much more fun!

    • Lovely to hear from you again, Valerie. Thank you for visiting. I love the thought of you scanning the planet’s wind map: Weatherwoman, tell us which way the wind blows!
      I was so glad to see that you have started posting again and have been reading your posts, which are lovely as always and wiser than ever. Will get round to responding one of these days. (I did write a long response to one of them the other week, but somehow it didn’t get posted and I didn’t have the energy to re-write it!) x J

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