Sunday, January 22, 2006
The Televised Death Of The London Whale Was Like The Funeral Of Princess Diana, Replayed As Circus Farce With Added Blubber
I have long been of the opinion that so-called "rolling news" is to television viewers what staring at the fire was to cave-dwellers, but the grotesque coverage of the long, slow death of the London whale took matters to a new level. I write this in the full knowledge that by watching the coverage I contributed somehow to its existence, and that I must, on some level, be guilty of a level of voyeuristic idiocy.
The whale is dead now, as it was always likely to be, and the enthusiastic commentaries about the near-perfect rescue operation seem at best naive, and at worst misleading: an example of the newscaster playing ringmaster in a theatre of cruel events.
On reflection, the drama of the whale, and its motionless passage down the Thames, watched from above by helicopters, reminded me of nothing so much as the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales (no pun intended). Diana was not transported to Althorp on a barge, but the behaviour of the spectators, running over motorway flyovers to get a second view of the passing corpse, and the urge to bear witness, to be able to say "I was there", was repeated with the whale, as was the banal commentary, and the nagging sense that, actually, what was being witnessed was a slow swirl towards oblivion.
I was reminded, also, of Jonah the whale, who toured the B-roads of Britain from the 1950s to the 1970s on the back of a refrigerated lorry. I encountered Jonah twice; once in the Meadows in Edinburgh, and again in Montrose. On both occasions I was almost overcome by the heady cocktail of blubber and formaldehyde.
I recall a doorway cut into Jonah's head, and a small office, illuminated by fairground lights. I thought then, and I think now, that hell might resemble a circus inside the belly of a whale.