I stayed up until 20:00 GMT last night, which is 4:00 AM Beijing local time last night to listen to Hosni Mubarak step down as the president of Egypt. As most of you now know, that didn’t exactly happen. For one thing, the man didn’t even make it to the lectern until about an hour later, which through some difficult arithmetic made it 5:00 AM in Beijing. I was streaming Al Jazeera English’s live Youtube feed, live-Tweeting through TweetDeck, refreshing #Egypt on Twitter’s homepage constantly, and chatting with my friends in much friendlier timezones for witnessing potentially historical footage. My mother discovered I was still up at 3:45 and was none too pleased. She was less amenable to the idea that I was staying up to witness history. She’d much rather witness me go to bed at a reasonable hour, which is not outside the realm of maternal instinct. Tomorrow night, I reassured her.
Judging from my tweet timestamps, Mubarak ambled on stage at around 4:45 am this morning, but not after (the fake) @HosniMobarak and others provided acid commentary via Twitter on #reasonsmubarakislate. This is a reach, but over the summer the Iranian-American comedian Maz Jobrani played “Not My Job” on the July 31st episode of the NPR newsquiz Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! and during his intro bit, described the types of jokes he would tell to audiences while on tour in the Middle East. According to Jobrani, his audiences loved the bits that would compare one Middle Eastern country unfavorably to another and anything that touched on the insane traffic everywhere. Unsurprisingly, the speculation ranged from stuck on top of a lorry to Oscar bait to being on Twitter (♥u metanarrative).
The speech was, as every single possible mainstream new outlet has reported by now, a huge disappointment in terms of concessions by Mubarak and a slap in the face to every single protester out there in Tahrir Square since January 25th. Mubarak agreed to… not run for re-election this upcoming September. He ceded an unclear amount of power to the current vice-president of Egypt, Omar Suleimen, who may or may not be responsible for one of Egypt’s most notorious political prisons. He promised constitutional reforms with regard to the nominating process of elected officials that may or may not be implemented come the next election. Perhaps most tellingly, he stated defiantly that he will not “separate [himself] from the soil of Egypt until [he] is buried in it.” So…guess those Dubai rumors were unfounded, huh? Or are they…?
But besides the gasbaggery of both Mubarak and Suleiman and the uncertainty still unfolding within Egypt, this event marks the first time I’ve been genuinely interested in hard news in a very long time. For those of you who know me, I’m a culture vulture in the most universal sense of the word—I consume it all, as long as it’s related to arts, music, food, cocktails, fashion, movies, television, celebrities, the humanities, graphic design, everything that would be classified as “features” instead of “news.” The last time I read the front page of a newspaper before the Arts section was in 2004. Perhaps coincidentally, it was after that presidential election when I grew a little bit disillusioned with news media. I never really got into web journalism the way many others of my plugged-in generation did (please, please don’t ask to name the differences between HuffPost, Daily Beast, Talking Points Memo and Politico. All I know is that the Drudge Report is bad.) I listen to the Slate Culture Gabfest and follow kottke. Modern Love is weekly required reading in a way that Nick Kristof definitely is not. But last night, something drew me into Egypt. I still can’t really verbalize what that compunction was, but something awoke the dormant newshound in me. Correction, I discovered my inner news junkie last night. Between mentally willing the Al Jazeera English live feed to not die on me, watching #Egypt and trying to explain to my friends and family how this had all happened, I felt a strange sense of belonging in the chaos. I came to China to work in the arts, which I did for a period of time. But recently, circumstances have made it so that I’ve worked with and been exposed to a fair number of journalists who do work in hard news. Maybe they’ve rubbed off on me, maybe following the news in China is a lot more important and compelling than it was in the US. Whatever it is, I kind of like it. I’m still subscribed to A Continuous Lean and the Moment, but increasingly, and especially now that I’m back on Twitter, foreign correspondents and breaking news feeds have infiltrated their way into my consciousness. It’s not a bad thing at all.