In the iconic film Groundhog Day, a weatherman wakes up every morning and finds he is living the same day over and over again. I experienced a ‘Groundhog Day’ moment recently.
As I idled in front of the TV watching the news, it struck me that it felt like I had seen this all before. I do not mean literally of course, as this was a morning news bulletin. However the essence of it gave me a real sense of deja vu.
There is a startling cyclical nature to the news. It seems to me that every news event is something I’ve seen a million times before.
Violence in Pakistan? Check. Israel-Palestine talks at a deadlock with extremists on both sides stubbornly refusing to compromise?
Yup. Chaos and extremism in Somalia? I’ve heard that bulletin since the day I was born.
Even the credit crunch seems like an old tale.
Granted, we haven’t had an economic crisis this bad in our lifetime, but it always seemed that the global economy was in trouble long before we heard the phrase ‘credit crunch’.
And how long has North Korea been a rogue state and played the same games with the international community over its weapons? It feels like centuries. The same goes for Iran.
Even technological innovations now seem wearily familiar even though every such development should feel fresh and exciting.
Meanwhile, rigged elections, high-profile celebrity divorces and moral panics are all on the same conveyor belt. As the French say ‘plus ca change...’
Of course, some of this is an illusion since the events are different in their own way. They obviously have their own dynamic, that is not fixed to their historical origins and as such, news about the same issues cannot be exactly the same. However as I said earlier, the essence is what matters here.
This cyclical idea of history has often been challenged. Writers like Thomas Friedman and Francis Fukuyama suggested that the world would become a more peaceful place at the turn of the twenty-first century.
Friedman’s views were a bit misguided to say the least; however, Fukuyama’s were a bit more interesting. He argued that we had come to the end of history in the sense that liberal democracy had won the battle over communism and as such, ideological conflicts would soon disappear.
As is becoming increasingly clear, both men are wrong and the tedious repetitive nature of current events bears testament to that fact.
Of course this does not make tragic events any less depressing, but it is a reminder about how consistently such narratives play out in front of the media.
It is perhaps no surprise that one of the most common clichés is the expression ‘history repeats itself’- a statement wittily contradicted by Mark Twain who said ‘History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme’.
Twain was probably joking, but he may have had a point.
The author is a lawyer and social commentator