Swimming in the Fishbowl of Journalism
Posted on May 4, 2022
I defy anyone who’s listened to Pink Floyd’s song “Wish You Were Here” to deny that at some point they’ve hummed, slowly rocked, or sung along to a lyric or two.
It’s one of those melodic creations almost pure that fluoresced through the 1970s, simple in structure with rounded phrasing and punching dynamics: its whole as inescapable as the hearkening back to that epoch by some forgetting that the problems of today existed then too but in a different guise.
The inability to escape.
“Wish You Were Here” is a questioning song of life’s alternatives: heaven from hell, blue sky from pain, green fields from a cold steel rail, a smile from a veil. And it’s accusatory as it starts. David Gilmour sings, “So you think you can tell [the difference between these]?” And then he consoles, “Did they [make you feel this way]?”
It’s a song that weaves into the tapestry of life including life working in the media. There’s one lyric that throws open the doors:
Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a leading role in a cage?
“Wish You Were Here” was originally intended as a double lament: an erosion of camaraderie within Pink Floyd and of the band’s artistic enslavement to a behemoth known as the music industry.
As a military observer, I saw the verse as a literal play on the song’s times: the “walk on part in the war” referring to the near-youth conscripts of the 1965-75 Vietnam War: the “leading role in a cage” to the plight of those who became its prisoners of war. Indeed, being a song of analogy that’s likely it but as a metaphor, I believed there was more.
How much of our world is inescapable only by the perceptions and actions we throw on it—or allow to be piled on us?
Years ago, I discussed this lyric with someone whose opinion I valued, a respected executive. She said the “war” referred to everyday employees, and the “cage” to their managers.
“Managers are caged,” she said, “because they oftentimes find themselves trapped by their responsibilities. They want to be part of their teams, even friends, but the burden of leadership (war) isolates them.” It’s lonely at the top in a cage.
Funny thing is this interpretation wasn’t even within the realm of the paradigm I had running. What if the “walk on part in a war” is a news story that needs to be told and the “leading role in a cage” the corruption of journalistic integrity to the demands of a masthead’s ownership?
How many in media today feel trapped in their roles by policies they don’t agree with, editorial mandates that clash with their honour, in-house cultures contrary to their honesty: not to downplay the slippery ladder of promotion darkened by a tapering tunnel the further climbed?
How many graduates today are saturating job ranks encumbered with five-figure tuition debts, an emptiness of vocabulary, an obliviousness to history and an antipathy to the social good ripened by a need to pay the bills?
How did we become resigned to a lack of social promise when just thirty years ago lifetime employment was a a culture in Japan, network news had a codified ethos, and broadcasting had an eclectic rhythm that stuck day-on-day?
How did the prophecy that Hollywood satirised in the 1976 film “Network” ever become reality?
“Wish You Were Here” blares like a klaxon, reminding us that the power to change sits in our hands. But it means shattering the fishbowl that’s the 24-7 news cycle and the motivation that post-2001 turned news into propaganda.
It means media houses putting more feet and eyes on the ground, re-focusing their editors on quality rather than copy, investing in knowledge that disseminates to an audience and not drowning messages for political gain.
It means reporters and non-opinion journalists doing what should be done when on the job: having the professionalism to stifle bias, and if paid to offer an opinion—having the fortitude to reject opinions that aren’t their own.
Many may not have noticed. The days of media immortality are over. Hollywood greats barely receive 30 seconds’ news time in obit as it is. The world of the Putin School of Press, that changed forever the manner of Right-Wing media in the West and the Asian subcontinent, is now spinning so quickly, that once gone—you’re over with leaving behind a great deal of societal pain.
Grab yourself a copy of “Wish You Were Here” and see what it does to transform you. It’s amazing how words, and an urging riff, can spur one’s thinking along.
This essay is a heavy re-imagining of a piece I published in 2014 whose subject matter then was the world of business management.
Barely a year after writing, David Gilmour went on an anti-Semitic bender in support of the Palestinian cause that soured Pink Floyd’s brilliance for me. So, I wiped it and them. Till now.
Last month, Gilmour re-united the band to release their first new music in 28 years: their cause this time was Ukraine, and their song “Hey Hey Rise Up” has become an anthem for anti-Russian resistance by a country led by a Jewish president and in whose environs in Kyiv rests one of the largest killing sites of the Holocaust, a ravine that in 1941 was called Babi Yar.
I’ve listened to “Wish You Were Here” again often.
I’m a Gen Xer. As a kid through adulthood I witnessed controversial journalism. South African apartheid, the aftermath of the Munich Olympics massacre, the downfalls of Nixon and Whitlam, the terror of Pol Pot, the ousting of despots, the cover-up of the Iranian Hostage Rescue, the corruption of El Salvador, skyrocketing interest rates, the float of the Australian Dollar, stagflation, recessions, the birth of neoliberalism, the epic tragedy of the Balkans, the fall of Gorbachev, the Gulf War, the rise of Putin, the pretence of Iraq, epic corporate frauds, insider trading, myriad political corruption probes, terraforming the South China Sea, the fall of Trump, the US insurrection, and today’s billionaire-Western media barons calling for a Russian victory over Ukraine.
But media treatment of the Covid-19 pandemic torpedoed me.
The fruition of the Putin propaganda doctrine in North American, European, Asian and Australian commentary pushing Covid denial and social division, reminded me of Joseph Goebbels’ news baiting of the Third Reich. That journalists would treat a killer pandemic as a political weapon gutted me. That their relentless garbage would force self-interested politicians to abandon preventative healthcare convinced me to return once again to imparting the lessons of Pink Floyd’s protest song to this new theme speaking directory to them.
Russian ethnic cleansing and genocide are tearing Ukraine apart as I write. The pandemic is still raging. Proof both, that those who forget history are bound to repeat it. This time Pink Floyd has heeded the call.
The twisting of history is an existential threat for humankind. Using propaganda for profit is nothing but a fishbowl of sleaze. Why are you still swimming in it year after year? The same old fears?
© 2022 Adam Parker.
Picture credit: “Wish You Were Here” album cover art. © 2022 PinkFloyd.com. Lyrics credit: “Wish You Were Here”. © 1975 Pink Floyd Ltd.