Announcing the demise of his US talkshow, Piers Morgan has found himself the guest of honour at a bukkake party of schadenfreude. Detractors of his vainglorious manner and weird little mouth are revelling in this blip of failure amidst best-selling books and transatlantic TV stardom. But what does this mean for civilisation? Why is no one trying to divine what one smarmy man's career hiccup might mean for the rest of us? Any story of decline inevitably prompts a flurry of scouring the sky for proof that it's falling in. We grab at disparate snatches of information and erect them as signposts to disaster. So, as Piers humiliatingly banks the final pay cheque of his reported £5.5 million CNN deal, what is the big question that must be asked? Is America's love affair with the British over? Has oily smugness had its day? Does that bad thing that happened to one person mean that our own doom is at hand?
We love to warn that the end is nigh. At the first sign of a crack in our culture, we're ready to hammer up the 'CONDEMNED' notice. Rock and roll is never far from the undertaker's tape measure. Its extinction is so frequently predicted that Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys was moved to loosely invoke the lyrics to the 1958 hit Rock and Roll is Here to Stay at the BRIT Awards last week. He then emphasised his point by knowingly dropping his wireless microphone to the ground, probably inspiring an existential crisis in the unpaid work-experience kid who had to crawl around on the floor to retrieve it. The words about rock and roll's state of health were well-intentioned, but unnecessary. As long as there's a cultural need to stick a middle finger up at The Man, and as long as The Man can figure out how to exploit that need financially, rock and roll isn't going anywhere. Turner was actually responding to our obsession with pronouncing death in the absence of a corpse.
Doom-mongering has its uses: Highlighting climate change, or keeping the ailing placard industry afloat. It's also handy groundwork for a future "I told you so". We jostle to be the first to spot the rot, like news channels clamouring to call an election result. If Facebook reports that its user base only grew by the size of a breakaway African state in the previous six months, we draft its obituary and reserve a graveyard plot between Bebo and MySpace. In the same way that an internet search of any minor symptom will invariably lead to a prognosis of swift death, we forge non-existent links between piddling setbacks to predict ruin and downfall.
More often than not, there are no patterns. We see what we want to see. Our forefathers defined the constellations in the night sky by the shapes the stars formed - the Plough, the Little Bear, The Hunter. In actual fact, they were playing freeform dot-to-dot. Those shapes are barely distinguishable, they could have just as easily been The Tricorne Hat, The Power-Drill and The Earworm. Events in our culture are frequently no different, and like a Rorschach test, what we perceive says more about ourselves. Sometimes there are no downward trends to be spotted: Dolly Parton playing Glastonbury probably isn't the death knell for festivals. Flappy Birds-mania might just be a daft fad, and not proof that the human brain has started to devolve. And Piers Morgan losing his American job may simply mean he has more free time to devote to extra episodes of ITV's Piers Morgan's Life Stories. Perhaps doomsday is upon us.
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