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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hostile takeover: Screwtape at News Corp.

Anthony Lane, reviewing various memoirs and other evidence of the culture and ethos at Murdoch's sleazy British tabloids, recounts an incident from Piers Morgan's memoir in which a victim of deliberate misrepresentation in the News of the World refuses to take it as a joke.  Lane sums up:
Such is the quintessence of the tabloid: to bruise and bully, and then to back off, exclaiming, Come on, we're only having a laugh. Can't you take a joke? The British sense of humor is both an invaluable broadsword and an impenetrable shield.
Screwtape lives, and still stalks the sceptered isle! C.S. Lewis  fans will recall the savvy counsel of this senior devil, provided to a junior colleague charged with tempting a Briton to perdition:
The real use of Jokes or Humour is in quite a different direction, and it is specially promising among the English who take their "sense of humour" so seriously that a deficiency in this sense is almost the only deficiency at which they feel shame. Humour is for them the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame.  If a man simply lets others pay for him, he is "mean"; if he boast of it in a jocular manner and twits his fellows with having been scored off, he is no longer "mean" but a comical fellow. Mere cowardice is shameful; cowardice boasted of with humours exaggerations and grotesque gestures can be passed off as funny. Cruelty is shameful--unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke ( The Screwtape Letters,1947).
There are other echoes -- Lane, are you a CSL fan? After recounting scenes of workplace cruelty from another News Corp. chronicle, Peter Chippindale and Chris Horrie's Stick it Up Your Punter!, Lane steps back again:
All of which suggests that the seeds of the current crisis were planted long ago. If your attitude toward the lives of others is that of a house burglar confronted by an open window; if you consider it part of your business to fabricate conversations where none exist; and if your boss treats his employees with a derision that they, following suit, extend to the subjects of their inquiries—if those elements are already in place, then the decision to, say, hack into someone’s cell phone is almost no decision at all. It is merely the next step.
Cf. Screwtape:
But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made.  No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy [God] that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it...
News of "the World" indeed!

More on C.S. Lewis
Aliyah on an escalator
Myths are all very well, but...
Siblings at the end of days
C.S. Lewis on Matt Latimer
C.S. Lewis, democrat by default

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