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What's news?

IKEA-MONKEYWe went to an Apocalypse party on Friday night, where I got into an interesting discussion with my friend Andrew about Darwin the Ikea Monkey. Andrew has tried to completely ignore Darwin. He has seen the headlines, but has refused to click on them. He managed to know nothing beyond the fact that something called the Ikea Monkey was trending in social media.

I, on the other hand, followed Darwin’s story closely, because from the moment I first saw him in his little faux shearling coat, I was in love.

As a child I always wanted a monkey. A chimp, actually. I wanted to dress him up in little striped overalls and a railroad conductor’s cap and high-top sneakers. Fortunately no actual chimpanzees were harmed in the making of this fantasy, and I outgrew it when I got my real live human brother at the age of 12. But I still have a residual soft spot in my heart for the idea of pet monkeys wearing cute clothes. Not the reality, but the idea.

Anyway. The discussion at the Apocalypse Party wasn’t about whether people should have pet monkeys (they shouldn’t) or whether pet monkeys should wear faux shearling coats (oh yes!), but whether the Ikea Monkey had any business being in the news in the first place. Not just the Ikea Monkey, but the fake baby-snatching eagle, the Dutchess’s morning sickness, and pretty much everything celebrities do and say.

Andrew believes that frivolous, trendy memes have no place in the news, and by accepting them as news we are complicit in allowing ourselves to be collectively distracted and distanced from real news that actually matters. We are not paying attention to serious problems that need us to fix them. He might even have mentioned something about the fall of the Roman empire.

So who decides what’s newsworthy? Is it the news industry? Or are they taking their cues from us? When we click on a headline, are we saying we want more of this kind of news? Because if we consume news the way we consume most other things on the net, we’re probably saying we want short, snappy, entertaining news that demands very little of us in terms of mental effort or action required. And that kind of news is easier and cheaper to produce than thoughtful, well-researched pieces.

Ikea Monkey notwithstanding, I think Andrew’s right. What do you think?

22 comments to What’s news?

  • grace

    Andrew is correct. And somebody would have to tell me about the Ikea monkey too. Does it come with an Allen wrench?

    • Okay, the Ikea Monkey was found wandering around the Toronto Ikea parking lot, wearing a fitted faux shearling coat and a diaper. (He’s just a baby.) Animal control seized him and when his human “mother” came forward to claim him, she was fined $240 and told keeping monkeys in Toronto is not permitted. (He had been in a crate in the locked car while his mother shopped, and he managed to escape both containers.) The monkey was sent to live with retired lab monkeys in a monkey sanctuary near Toronto. His “mother” is trying to regain custody of him, saying her family will relocated to a nearby municipality that doesn’t outlaw monkey love. (She’s a real estate lawyer, by the way.)

      Anyway, Darwin the Ikea Monkey went viral on Twitter, and to a more limited extent, on mainstream and other social media sources. People photoshopped pictures of him doing all kinds of things. There were hundreds of jokes (including the Allen key joke), and people knew him all over the world. He captured the collective imagination, however briefly.

      • grace

        Poor little thing. I don’t even want to think of how he was separated from his real mother.

        • From what I understand, he was born in Montreal 7 months ago…so at least he wasn’t wrenched from his mother in the wilds. But yes. He should still be with his monkey mom.

  • Your friend Andrew is dead on.

    You may recall that a former Ottawa Citizen managing editor ran all manner of crapfluff on the front page because he thought it sold newspapers.

    Andrew would, no doubt, recall unfavorably from that era a spate news stories illustrated with Hollywood publicity shots, and the endless semi-cheesecake photos of starlets, for no particular reason except that he could.

    He was promoted to something highly (self-) important in “digital strategy” at Canwest News HQ on the strength of that groundbreaking program. He was later blessedly, ummm, repurposed right off the org chart.

    I like to think that something resembling sanity finally prevailed. I hope it also means there may still be hope for real news, but I am an old and cynical coyote, and braced for disappointment…

  • Mel

    I think frivolous news gives us a break from the heavier stuff that tends to weigh down the heart.

    • I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it as long as people don’t consume the light frivolous stuff INSTEAD of the real news. That’s the danger, I think, when you start blurring the lines between entertainment and news.

  • The Internet is supposed to know so much about me, how come it has not noticed that I rarely click on celebrity news? I would like to get more “real” news myself, but I am usually in the minority on issues like this. On the other hand, without *some* awareness of pop culture, I would not be able to complete crossword puzzles.

    • I’m the same, bitten. I have absolutely no interest in celebrities and I don’t care what they’re doing or saying. You could show me a lineup of the top 10 trending celebrities, and I probably wouldn’t be able to identify any of them. Not only that, but I don’t understand why ANYBODY has any interest in any of them. I’m mystified by the whole phenomenon.

      But I do love a little monkey love.

      • grace

        Last time I was at the dentist’s I looked through a People magazine and recognized John Travolta.

        • Ha ha! I went for a pedicure one time and all they had was celebrity magazines and a single issue of the New Yorker. So I was sitting there with feet soaking in hot sudsy water, reading the New Yorker, when the previous client returned.
          “I’m sorry,” she said. “But that’s my personal New Yorker, and I want it back.”
          …leaving me with no choice but to flip through People. I couldn’t find anything to read in there.

  • lucy

    I agree with Andrew too. And I (almost) managed to ignore the Ikea monkey. I still don’t know the details of the story, other than the photo you posted above. I have to say I wasn’t that successful with ignoring the Duchess’ morning sickness though. But I only just saw the baby-snatching eagle two days ago and I only watched it twice.

    And I completed ignored the whole Apocalypse nonsense. Wasn’t there supposed to have been another Mayan-calendar Apocalypse just about a year ago or so ago? Surely we can’t have 2 within the span of one year. Or was this the same one that people talked about a year ago, then forgot about and brought up again?….

    • Ok Lucy, if you want to catch up on Darwin the Ikea Monkey, I posted the story on Grace’s comment, above. As for the morning sickness, I did click to see why on earth anybody would be hospitalized for it. And then I really got interested when the nurse killed herself, because of morbid curiosity. (Hmm, that sounds funny. I’m not suggesting that she killed herself because of morbid curiosity…) Like you, I watched the baby-snatching eagle twice, just enough to determine I thought it was a hoax. And the Apocalypse was a good excuse for a party.

      Do you read the serious, legitimate news too?

      • lucy

        Yes, I see you posted details on the Ikea Monkey. Thanks for getting us up to speed on that.

        I can’t avoid hearing the serious news because I’m a CBC radio listener. Hearing the serious news every hour is more than enough, I think. Sometimes I tune out the news because it’s the same bad news I heard an hour before and I don’t want to hear it again so soon. I get the silly news whenever I check my yahoo mail and end up clicking on a link to best or worst dressed celebrities or something like that, which are sometimes amusing in a mindless sort of way, although I don’t know who half of them are. I kept seeing the pics of the monkey, but I don’t think I clicked on any of them.

  • Andrew

    Well, it was more of a selfish, offensive rant than a discussion. I apologize for being such a fanny.
    And what with all my cussing and foaming at the mouth, I don’t think I managed to be anywhere near as eloquent as your summary.
    Oh, and I think the reference to the Roman Empire occurred during a completely separate (though just as self-indulgent) rant about copyright law. Or was it corporate tax-evasion?
    In any case, I was acting a bit of an arse and I’m sorry.

    • No apologies necessary, Andrew. What better time to get fired up and passionate than on the eve of the Apocalypse? Besides, I like an intelligent and inspired rant, and I wish more people gave a damn about what’s wrong with the world.

      So you weren’t being an arse, unless it was during the copyright law rant or the corporate tax evasion rant, of which I have no recollection whatsoever. (Maybe it was after I left?)

  • Sharon (wife of Andrew)

    Well, you know, this is the first time I’ve actually seen the Ikea monkey and it really did make me chuckle – can you imagine seeing this little thing from your car in the Ikea car park?! I’m all for getting shot of all the celebrity crap out there, that, I have absolutely no interest in. But the Ikea Monkey? That made me chuckle so? I’ll keep him any day. Lets go for getting the balance right and allowing me and the likes to have our giggles.

  • mudmama

    I’m not sure how I feel I search out and read a whole lot of important stuff – Aboriginal rights news from around the globe, war, crimes against women and children, queer rights news, health and welfare news, farming news from around the globe, corporate lobby group news, child labour news…and I still like me some monkey news and LOL cats. I think I’d drawn in despair without some fluff to keep me afloat and keep me passionate enough to write to my member of parliament, to the PM, keep on sharing info, and banging my drum and pots and pans.

  • Chris

    Bald, hard news is boring and depressing and overwhelming. It’s good to be informed and involved, but people are interested mainly in other people. I think that’s healthy. They want to know what other people who like them are doing and they want to know what other people who are completely different from them are doing. It’s human nature. We can pretend to be highbrow and only interested in the economy and unadorned politics and war and stuff, but then we wouldn’t be here reading blogs or sharing our life experiences in blogs.

  • Andrew

    The Ikea monkey is back in the headlines.