The Digital Journalist

by Beverly Spicer

May 2006

Most of us have heard of the Chinese curse that says, "May you live in interesting times." By all accounts, it is a myth that the phrase is a real curse or that it is Chinese in origin, even though there may be some merit to the sentiment that interesting times are hard to bear. The first appearance of the saying has been traced to the science fiction book, U-Turn, written in 1950 by Duncan Munro, the pseudonym for Eric Frank Russell. We don't know if Bobby Kennedy read U-Turn but he used the phrase in a speech Cape Town, South Africa, on June 7, 1966, and at the time it resonated so much to journalists that the saying is now commonplace. Perhaps people have always thought their times interesting, but no one could argue that ours really ARE. As witnesses, journalists are among the first to see, and are therefore among the first to feel accursed by holding and delivering the truth. I couldn't find a picture of the cover of Monro/Russell's U-Turn, but I did find this one even though I have no idea whether The Great U-Turn is any good. Possibly not.

"Truth will out," said Shakespeare's Launcelot, and it may be that truth flows best during boring times. As soon as things get really interesting--and controversial--the conduit provided by the Fourth Estate can get clogged like an old sewer line made out of Orangeburg Pipe, the bituminous fiber kind used before plastic and especially during WWII, when cast iron was scarce. As an alternative to metal, Orangeburg Pipes work great for a while, but over time, with relentless stress from caustic materials, they tend to blister, peel, finally collapse, clogging just like the Fourth Estate during really "interesting" times.

Enter, COMEDY.

I've rarely met a serious journalist or photographer who didn't have a sense of humor, and one axiom seems to apply: the heavier the truth, the greater the sense of humor. It's interesting that the solution to inferior sewer lines was "plastic," a word which describes the kind of mental and emotional flexibilities required of long-term inhabitants in the world of witnessing. Humor is anesthetic, sometimes antidotal to suffering, and we are living in funny times. Very funny times, indeed. Speaking of which, check out monthly wit and cartoons from The Funny Times, a monthly review of "humor, politics and fun," deemed by The Washington Post as "the one [magazine] absolutely essential to understanding the human condition." Click on this Photoshop illustration based on an image we all recognize.

Enter, WIRETAP; THOUGHT POLICE lurks in shadows, stage right

It looks like things are shaping up like an Orwellian best of times and worst of times (no pun intended nor apology to Times), when everything means the opposite of what it is supposed to mean and we make our Frommesque escape from Freedom. As in the fictional 1984, our Ministers of Truth spread not fact but propaganda; Love is Hate, and Peace is War. Dystopia, and all of that. A couple of days ago, I read on a blog (which one?) the origin of the term, "Court Jester." In days of old, every king had a spokesman to tell the people what their Decider wanted them to hear. Response to these sorts of mystifications was generally, "why, surely you jest." Sound familiar? Actually, this is not what Wikipedia says about court jesters, but what it does say is fascinating. Click on this Jester and learn more.


In interesting and funny times like these, a phenomenon emerges whereby fiction and fact get all mixed up, when, oddly, truth can best be delivered by fictional means. Violence is epidemic in fictional movies, but it is heavily censored in legitimate, non-fiction reporting. Fear, intimidation, censorship, and suppression of dissent, like the Bird Flu, threaten an epidemic right here in our open and free, once more resilient society. Hence, while spin from news organizations distorts reality until it is unrecognizable, cartoons and comedy routines deliver searing opinions and truths that cannot be delivered any other way. Lest we risk being metaphorically euthanized, best stick with Comedy when speaking to Truthiness. I haven't checked a poll lately on the number of people who depend on fake news shows such as "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" to find out what's really going on, but at last report, it was astonishingly high. Comedy, Thought Police, Wiretap, Truthiness—all have arrived. Epidemics and rumors of epidemics abound.

When Bird Flu hits Florida


The White House Correspondents Dinner was held April 29, and Mr. Colbert, not only the father of a Baby Eagle and all that it symbolizes, but who also gave Truthiness his name, delivered an excruciating and veritable inferno of a roast that had the members of the audience and the Roastee-in-Chief, alike, gasping and choking into their stirrup cups as they chuckled nervously. Some thought they saw Victory and others were not amused, but anyone watching knew that Something was Happening. Click to view the entire speech in two parts.

Part I

Part II

Enter, CHANGES, ANXIETY, SUFFERING, with COMEDIANS sitting front center

As if it happened overnight, we find ourselves in this brave new world, and Changes that make these times so intense and interesting are accompanied by Anxiety and Suffering. Just when you think it can't get any better, or it can't get any worse, along comes something you've never, ever seen before. As testimony to the fact that there is no end to Inventiveness, Creativity or clever things to do with your body to amuse your mind and spirit, the following video by R.A. Wilson shows that Comedians never stop thinking about new ways to relieve the suffering of our country and our people, and neither do we.

There really is an authentic Chinese proverb that says, "It is better to be a dog in a peaceful time than a man in chaotic times." Maybe so, but you have to admit, even if chaotic, these are interesting times. Have a relaxing May.

© Beverly Spicer

Beverly Spicer is a writer, photojournalist, and cartoonist, who faithfully chronicled The International Photo Congresses in Rockport, Maine, from 1987 to 1991. Her book, THE KA'BAH: RHYTHMS OF CULTURE, FAITH AND PHYSIOLOGY, was published in 2003 by University Press of America. She lives in Austin.