This is a short piece which came to me all in a rush. There's a very subtle satirical point being made - see if you can spot it!
Any resemblances to persons living or dead, yadda yadda yadda. All feedback appreciated!
High above the crowded city streets, Robert J. Barret, the owner and CEO of Shining Wit Television, the eighteenth wealthiest man in the world, the
proud owner of a spectacular Manhatten penthouse, a fabulously expensive retro-primitivist Maui beach-hut, a large chunk of Montana, sixteen pristine
Rolls Royce motorcars and a recurring duodenal ulcer, three-time winner of the Power Behind The Throne Award (given out each year by Media Puppeteer
Weekly) and erstwhile Time Magazine Man Of The Year, husband to the delicately-scented nineteen year old supermodel and former Miss World Heidi
Zopovona, multibillionaire, patron of the arts, philanthropist and humanitarian, stared out at the city and frowned.
“You know what our problem is?”
The immaculately-furnished office was silent for a long moment. Sarah was beginning to regret taking the job with Shining Wit. She’s been
head-hunted, lured away from the Frontline News Network (strapline: ”We Put The Grit In Integrity”
) by the promise of a paycheck so fat it
should have been considered morbidly obese. But here, four days later, seated in Barret’s ostentatiously tasteful office, she had given up. No
career, she decided, was worth this level of sheer nuttiness
. Barret could find himself another Senior Associate Current Affairs, News And
Drama Commissioning Sub-Editor And Programming Consultant – particular since the largest part of the job involved sitting through interminable
brainstorming sessions just like this one.
Thus emboldened with suicidal disregard, she took a breath.
“No,” she answered.
Barret clasped his hands behind his back. “Our problem,” he said portentously, “is things.”
“Very astute, sir!” said the short, oily man who was the only other person present. Sarah didn’t try and fight the urge to roll her eyes. Samuel
Warmleigh was Barret’s right-hand man and Sycophant-in-Chief, and Sarah found him disgusting in any number of innovative and imaginative ways.
“No it isn’t,” Sarah replied. “You can’t be astute and obtuse at the same time, and I don’t care how many people you can fire.”
Samuel looked aghast. “It’s an insightful vagueness,” he said, paling visibly.
“No it isn’t. Shut up.”
“Our problem is,” said Barret, seemingly oblivious to the exchange, “that you take a thing. As soon as you have a thing, everyone has an opinion on
it. People like the thing. People hate the thing. People think the thing is a work of genius or sacrilegious. That’s our problem.”
“Sounds to me as if your problem is people,” observed Sarah.
“Well, yes, but they’re the part of the equation I can’t do anything about. Yet.”
“I don’t see where this gets you, Mr. Barret. So ‘people’ plus ‘things’ equals ‘problem’.”
“Exactly,” exclaimed Barret, turning from the window, his eyes alight with a messianic zeal. “It ’equals problem’, exactly! And how do we resolve
this? We take away the things
“Genius!” ejaculated Samuel. Sarah shook her head.
“There’s a fine line between genius and talking bollocks. This is the latter.”
“You take away the thing,” repeated Barret in a soft, velvet tone.
“You take away the thing
!” repeated Samuel in a higher, rasping one.
“Leaving you,” said Sarah flatly, “with nothing.”
“Which people have no opinion on. No-one cares about nothing.”
“That’s zen-like sir,” whispered Samuel, awestruck.
“It’s a stupid double-negative, is what it is.”
“People will watch things they have no opinion about. You have a thing, and you polarize the audience. You have nothing, and everyone’s with
“With you?” asked Sarah sceptically.
Barret didn’t miss a beat. “Everyone’s not against you!”
“And this questionable piece of semantic jiggery-pokery gets you where exactly?”
“I have had an epiphany. A revelation, if you will. People like nothing
. What is the most popular religion in the world?”
“Hinduism?” Sarah guessed, somewhat entranced by the man’s magnetic insanity. “Christianity?”
“No, Hindus and Christians, by and large, are born into their faith. There’s nothing we can do about those poor bastards. I’m talking about the
religion people choose
, the world’s number one elective faith.”
“Buddhism?” said Samuel tremulously.
“Buddhism!” exclaimed Barret, turning on the smaller man with a triumphant grin and a raised index finger. “And what is Buddhism about? What does
it teach? Nothing
! ‘Find your own truth! Look into yourself!’ It’s about nothing!”
“I’d like to protest on behalf of the international Buddhist community,” Sarah said severely.
“It’s the truth,” Barret protested with a boyish grin. “It’s about nothing and people love it. So here’s my revelation: we need a show about
A sullen pause descended on the room.
“A soap opera,” observed Sarah.
“No, soap operas are about things,” Barret contradicted. “Mindless trivia and clunky issue-driven plots, admittedly, but things nonetheless. I
have a dream. A show about nothing. It has no plot, it has no characters, it has no drama. No-one has an opinion on it, everyone watches it.”
“People would notice,” protested Sarah. “They’d be irritated.”
“They won’t. They’ll love it. Or, to put it another way, they won’t love it. But they will watch. My God, how they’ll watch!”
“You’ll make a show about nothing?”
“It’s the nothing show!” shouted Samuel, his pale forehead beaded with sweat, his eyes unfeasibly wide. Barret considered the unpleasant man for a
long, silent moment.
“That,” he said at length, “is terrible. And no,” he continued, turning on Sarah, “we’re not making a show about nothing, we’re making a show that
nothing! And we’ll broadcast it twenty-four hours a day! No-one can watch it all, so everyone thinks that they’ve missed the bit that
explained what’s going on. It’s fly-on-the-wall. It’s gritty, real-life. It’s improvised! Special celebrity guests, everything that makes a show
great! The critics will fawn over it because they’re afraid of looking stupid by admitting they don’t understand it. We’ll make the actors and
actresses attractive enough that the tabloids will whip themselves into a foaming frenzy.”
“Actors? You said it was real life.”
“It is, but not real
real-life. Who’s interested in real
real-life? This is better: it’s televisual
Sarah could sense her future diminshing. “Mr. Barret, I’d like to tender my resignation.”
“Nonsense, young lady, that would never do. Cold feet, I understand, cold feet are natural
when you stand on the brink of a televisual
revolution. But you were here when inspiration struck, you were here when the God of Ratings bent down and patted me on the head and said ‘good boy,
Robert’. You were here, and your name will forever be associated with mine -” He turned back to the window, throwing his arms out wide in
exultation, and yelled, “- and with Nothingness
Who knows how history would have been different, dear reader, had Robert J. Barret’s recurring duodenal ulcer not chosen that exact moment to go
into spasm. Clutching at his stomach with clawlike fingers, his face twisted in tortured agony, he stumbled sideways, rebounded from the side of his
hand-carved walnut drinks cabinet, slipped on the pages of ratings figures which were scattered carelessly on the floor, and fell, finally and
gloriously, through the open window. Fortunately, his fall was cushioned by the roof of his seventh pristine Rolls Royce, which meant that he
remained alive for just long enough to gasp the word “nothing” at the stunned face of his delicately-scented nineteen year old wife Heidi. She,
misunderstanding her husband’s meaning, declared on the spot that the vacuity of the television industry had led Robert J. Barret to commit suicide.
She claimed on his substantial life insurance, and sold Shining Wit Television for an estimated $16 billion. She also sold the spectacular Manhatten
penthouse, the fabulously expensive retro-primitivist Maui beach-hut, most of the large chunk of Montana, and the remaining fifteen pristine Rolls
Every penny of her new-found wealth was pledged towards combating the decline of standards in television. She formed the Robert J. Barret “No More
Nothing” Campaign and finally succeeded in forcing all major international television companies to adopt minimum standards regarding the content of
their programmes. The world became a better place, Samuel Warmleigh discovered a talent as a designer and manufacturer of small ceramic pots,
spending the rest of days quietly in the northern Canada. Sarah, in time, became a senior executive in the newly-formed television regulator, and
spent her career working with Barret’s widow, trying to realise her former employer’s ironically-misinterpreted dream.
Sarah didn’t tell anyone what Barret’s dying word had really meant. Sometimes, it was better to stay quiet.
Sometimes, nothing can make all the difference in the world.