Stranger than affliction - Monocolumn | Monocle


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21 October 2014

I’m not feeling very well. I’ve flown into London from Madrid for a small dose of self-administered therapy. My symptoms are admittedly vague but no less worrying: shortness of breath. Anxiety. Irritability. None of it very pleasant.

Before you ask, I haven’t got a fever, and no – even though we’ve had a few scares in Madrid lately – it’s not ebola. In fact physically I’m in pretty good shape.

If I had to self-diagnose (and let’s face it: I already have), I’d say that I’m suffering from a severe case of Mean World Syndrome. If you’re not familiar with my abstract condition you ought to look up the work of the Hungarian professor of communication, George Gerbner. In the late 1960s he found there was a direct correlation between the amount of television we watch and the fear and uneasiness we have about the world. Daily exposure to the media’s staple doses of fear, scandal, and hysteria, condition our worldview.

With all the global unrest in recent months, this feeling – that the world is indeed a dark and unforgiving place – has become almost ubiquitous. If the unending barrage of headlines screeching about disease, conflict and diplomatic tension are to be believed, bad things are definitely happening. And even if they haven’t yet encroached on your daily routine, there’s a hyped-up possibility that they could… or will… or are about to take a turn for the worse.

As Monocle’s man in Madrid, I must admit that the Spanish capital is enviable as far as foreign-correspondent postings go. Apart from the obvious attraction of all the sun and Spanish flair, the city is also in the grip of a long-form metamorphosis. I never have to look too far for a Monocle story; the city is brimming with possibility.

So, why have I fallen foul to a bad case of Mean World Syndrome? Well I, too, blame the news.

One of the unavoidable parts of my job is to keep abreast of the local press. Each day, as I peruse the papers I am still exposed to all kinds of nasty pathogens: corruption scandals, unfair government clampdowns and harrowing stories of injustice. Morning reading often sets the tone for the day. It’s not only depressing – it’s exhausting.

I can’t just stop reading the news though; I’m a journalist.

However, if there’s one thing I’ve noticed after just a few days in London it’s that so many people are busy talking about their next positive project, opportunity or creative venture. The woes in the media don’t even rate a mention. It’s refreshing.

After self-diagnosing, perhaps I should prescribe a bit of self-medication, too. When I head back to Madrid next week, I’m going to try and replicate this positive outlook.

Perhaps by complaining less I can build up my immunity to this epidemic of negativity.

I’ll then be able to get back to focusing on the kinds of uplifting stories about inspiring people that so often fly under the mass-media radar.

This is the real antidote to what’s ailing me. And hopefully, with a strong enough dosage I’ll not only pull through but eventually realise that, just like so many abstract modern ailments, maybe this one was all in my head, too.

Liam Aldous is Monocle’s Madrid correspondent.


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