Letter From Behind The Beyond
To whom it may concern on Earth:
If this reaches you, please note that it comes from the planet Zog. Yes, it is known here that you use that name for any celestial body with which you are not familiar, but this is the real thing. I am currently our designated correspondent for extra-planetary contacts. The incumbency changes once a year. I shall give my name below, though you will probably find it unpronounceable without clarification. We have only one language, the words of which comprise about ninety percent consonants and regardless of the order or number of letters are usually pronounced ‘Zhlykx’. In this respect, I believe our tongue is perhaps somewhat like one of yours, I think an East European one, though I may be wrong about this, as the information we received was severely garbled.
I will not weary you with details of how this missive is to be launched. Suffice it to say that it is the interstellar equivalent of a message in a bottle. I just hope that my primitive effort will succeed. My reason for writing is to let you know that an envoy we sent to you some time ago returned here recently. On his way back, the poor fellow passed through a belt of harmful radiation which, among other things, selectively destroyed his memory and caused his speech to be intermittently unintelligible.
Following touchdown at our space centre, the man lived for only a few days, during which time he told us that your planet is rather similar to ours in size, development and inhabitants. The main difference seems to be that we are much like you were 200 million years ago, in that we have only one continent, taking up nearly a third of our surface area. Sadly, that was about all our man had to say, except that for some reason he was most insistent that we should inform you about the means of communication here. I am trying to respect his wish.
For slow interchange of ideas, we have traditional books. Until recently, more rapid methods were radio, telephone, television, newspapers and something we called the Interweb, which allowed people to keep in touch by computer. Books are still produced, but the position with regard to faster channels has altered dramatically.
Television was suspended to save energy during a recent shortage. As the content was astoundingly banal, nobody wants it back. Telephone and computer systems were destroyed by aliens who dislike us, and we have no means of reinstating the networks. Newspapers are still produced, but not read. After printing, they are conveyed directly to various dumps, from where people recover them for producing paper mash articles, including furniture and even houses.
For instant dissemination of news and general entertainment, we are now left with radio. There is only one organisation of this kind and it operates planetwide. It is called the Big Broadcasting Corporation. Most of us refer to it only by its initials, though a few insist on the nickname, Uncle Beeb. There used to be four universal channels, two of them offering mostly popular music, one classical music and one mainly devoted to speech. The first three fell by the wayside when the above-mentioned energy problem arose, so there is now only the fourth. I cannot go into great detail about how it operates, but will give a few examples of its offerings.
There are certain flagship programmes. The first that comes to my mind is ‘Remote Island Records’. This is transmitted once a week and features a presenter asking a guest to select eight pieces of music he or she would like to take to a fictitious island. Generally speaking, the guests are narcissists who wish to speak about themselves for forty-five minutes, in most cases telling us about a difficult childhood at the hands of at least one overbearing or neglectful parent, a battle against some life-threatening illness, a struggle with alcohol, drugs or both and a long inner conflict leading finally to a revelation of their homosexuality. Hardly anyone cares about this last point, so why it should be brought up is a mystery to most of us.
There are chat shows, which in most cases are merely vehicles for three or four invitees to slip in plugs for their new books or forthcoming lectures. Whoever is in the chair feigns surprise when some comment induces them to say “Oh, of course, you’ve written a book about this haven’t you?” This is too silly for words.
Another favourite is the weekly ‘Topical Questions’, in which four people – a different quartet on each occasion – are asked to give opinions on whatever is of interest to many members of the public. It is strange that these panellists most of us call them rentamouths not only have strong views, but if we are believe them care passionately about every subject that comes up. They must wear themselves out with such strong emotion. They often speak, or rather shout, two or three at a time a bad situation which is exacerbated by a supposed moderator who not only fails to stop their cross-talk, but frequently outdoes them in excited jabbering
Six days a week our weeks are the same length as yours we have a three-hour programme of news and current affairs. This should be a showpiece, but is ruined by the two interviewers constantly interrupting their guests, whom they allow to speak for at most a few seconds between harangues. This ill-mannered conduct usually results in a most unedifying babble.
One recent development is the inclusion of inappropriate popular music into a variety of documentaries and other serious presentations. This mindless racket starts and finishes a large number of these programmes and is constantly faded in and out in the meantime. Though there has been a large number of complaints about this, the position seems to get progressively worse.
The Big Broadcasting Corporation offers each week its own forum, in which listeners air their grievances in writing. This is another farce, as the Corporation repeatedly wheels in executives who almost always stoutly defend whatever they have done. I have only ever heard one of these people admit to having got something wrong. It is amusing to note that many of the correspondents sign off as ‘disgusted’, usually giving their whereabouts as some town in the Southeast.
I cannot get anything more into this communication, but if you are able to reply, I would be very pleased to hear whether you have anything on your planet similar to what I have described above.
Xzhlycxksz (pronounced Zhlykx)
* * *