How the BBC, a general election, David Dimbelby, and The XX made me who I am today.
I was only 17 in 2010. I was studying sound engineering at a small Scottish college and I was deeply in love with a girl, the kind of love that only teenagers feel.
I had all the tropes: the anger, fights with parents, trying to push boundaries, generally being a little shit. So I shipped myself off to university and messed about for a few years. But, with every course change, with every job resignation, and with every idea I had – there was this silly little video that was always at the centre of it.
I never forgot about it, but I didn’t realise it’s significance back then, so I want to share this video with you today.
I’m a journalist now with a confusing career ahead of me, and I take a lot of pride in that. It fulfils my curiosity and it fulfils my compassion for others. But only recently did I come across the video again, and like a flood from the past I began welling up. My eyes felt heavy with tears and I noticed something I had noticed even when I was a silly, angry 17 year old.
Back then, eight years ago, I already knew who I’d be and what I’d become – and it’s all to do with one silly little video from the BBC, a general election, and a band called The XX.
In 2010 we had our elections in the UK – four years before the Scottish Independence Referendum, five before Brexit and Trump – and the BBC launched this video as a little teaser for the campaign trail. Here it is below:
That’s it, almost laughable when I here David Dimbleby’s voice over at the end. But there was something about that when I was 17 that really grabbed me.
Back then, the world had faced a financial meltdown and our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, stepped down from office. This would give way to a Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition, which ultimately boosted the Tories and killed off the Lib Dems.
But for me that video wasn’t about politics. It was about journalism and the importance of truth.
What I still love about that video is the way the world is shrouded in smoke. People don’t know what is going on anymore. They have lost touch and they are confused to the point of apathy.
Then a big fan comes in and blows that smoke away. It’s a simple analogy, but without acting on it that video planted a seed in me; that I wanted to be a journalist.
I can’t believe that eight years on we jest about words like ‘fake news’, and cry ‘post-truth’ or ‘alternative facts’. Are we really wandering around in Orwell’s nightmare? Are we okay with that?
Or generally, as citizens die on the streets in countries we once deemed safe, and more die in the one’s we disregard as ‘unimportant’, or ‘shit-holes’ (if you’re the President of the United States); as more people grow hungry, and more drop out of school; as more pass degrees, overcoming mental strengths to clutch that sacred scroll, just to fill the queues in unemployment offices; as more succumb to illness, building products that the rest of us throw away after one single use; and as more of us reach out through hyper-connectivity but fear an ever-present isolation; and as more people consume information – yet know absolutely nothing about what is going on, and as people who should unite fracture ever more: is it time for another big fan?
Journalism is not just about telling the truth anymore. We have a responsibility to take our time, find the facts, and present them in a meaningful, understandable, consumable, and, I’ll even say it, entertaining way.
But there is a problem; the world is ready to listen – we are probably the most socially and politically active generation to date – but the fans have stopped blowing, and the smoke has started building.
I want to pursue my investigations, my journalism, and if no one publish it in the mass media, then I’ll publish it here. Maybe it’s time to rip myself away from Netflix, and start doing something to be the very thing that I was so inspired by as an angry, loved up, silly, but extremely passionate and smart 17 year old boy.
But I can’t do this alone. A Hope in Health is here to challenge the international development world, to explore stories that people can’t get heard, to understand cultures and to appreciate diversity, to rid the world of neocolonialism, racism, sexism, unjust treatment of human beings, and to defend human rights. With each story I work on, I want to blow just a little bit more smoke out of the room – and maybe then we can all breathe a little bit deeper.
I am not happy with ‘post-truth’; and neither should you be. That’s why that little video changed, or at least will change, my life.