Wednesday, December 14, 2016

NUMERO ZERO - Umberto Eco

1945: Lake Como. Mussolini and his mistress are captured and shot by local partisans.  The precise circumstances of Il Duce's death remain shrouded in confusion and controversy.

1992, Milan.  Colonna takes a job at a fledgling newspaper financed by a powerful media magnate.  There he learns the paranoid theories of Braggaadocio, who is convinced that Mussolini's corpse was a body-double and part of a wider Fascist plot.

This sounds like a conspiracy theory thriller but what it is a savage indictment on the media; how news is manipulated, how journalists themselves are manipulated and how what is purported as fact can be any ones agenda - facts are quite irrelevant.

It shows how opinion can be inserted into a simple news story so that this opinion may have the effect of altering some reader's perception of the event.  When you see it written out I realized that this happens everyday.

E.g A car crash occurs and an individual is killed. This is an everyday occurrence with basic facts.
       To alter the readers perception of this everyday occurrence you insert witness quotes.

       Local Quote One:  "Its a sad event but a common occurrence."

       Local Quote Two:   'Its a bad bit of road and we've been on to the Government for a                                              long time  do something about it.  Why won't the Prime Minister do   something?

So all of a sudden a drunk crashing on Saturday night is political and directly becomes the Prime Ministers fault even though the witness may have no idea what has actually occurred at the crash. Because the latter quote is more memorable it " must be better" than the former bland one, even though all it is is opinion with the only fact being some individual has died.

Or how bad political news for the party the paper owner supports will be put among something very emotive like a large spread on violence against women or children, something that all agree is abhorrent and the bad poll or scandal may be overlooked.

How statements no longer have to be disproved rather it is now more common to attempt to undermine those that make the argument  - identity politics.

This is my book of the year and this is unlikely to change in the next 18 days.  For Eco it is a very easy read, a short book with a bath and a one and a half hour flight seeing it finished.  If you are concerned about the state of our media its well worth the effort, it explained a lot for me.

I've had a look at other reviews and mostly they have concentrated on the conspiracy theory aspect of this book, then again lots of these reviews are published in newspapers.

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