The Naked Truth

Matéi Visniec

Artwork by Samuel Hickson

Journalism without hypocrisy. Lesson 1.

For the first few minutes, the screens show live footage of ERIC on his way from backstage to the set. We see ERIC in hair and makeup, getting ready. An assistant gives him a head massage.

He walks through several corridors. Someone gives
ERIC a microphone, the director taps him on the shoulder, colleagues wish him good luck.

Tango music.

ERIC appears, instantly lit up by a spotlight. It feels as if a tango teacher has burst onto the dance floor.

On-screen applause (or, a few strategically planted "fans" could start clapping in the auditorium).

Throughout this scene
ERIC will be in dialogue with a group of "fans’"who absolutely worship him. We are already in the middle of the "show," although it isn’t clear if ERIC is in a TV studio or a lecture theatre.

ERIC:  Welcome to the Eric Nowicki course of journalism!

STUDENTS applaud him.

ERIC:  The only place in the world where journalism is being taught without hypocrisy! The Eric Nowicki School of Journalism!


ERIC:  And because this is a course of journalism without hypocrisy, I won’t be a hypocrite either!

STUDENTS:  No! No! No!

ERIC:  I’ll tell you everything . . .

STUDENTS:  Yes! Yes! Yes!

ERIC:  You’ll find out the truth about this profession!

STUDENTS:  The truth! The truth! The truth!

ERIC produces a remote control from his pocket and switches all sixteen screens on. On each screen there appears a different image from news bulletins transmitted by various international channels (BBC WORLD NEWS, CNN, FOX NEWS, AL JAZEERA, LCI, EURONEWS, SKY NEWS, FRANCE 24, RAI, etc.)

ERIC:  There is nothing I would hold back from you!

STUDENTS:  Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!

ERIC begins a striptease number. Spiralling mayhem.

ERIC:  You’ll find out the naked truth!

STUDENTS:  The naked truth! The naked truth! The naked truth!

ERIC throws off his hat, removes his tie, then his vest, and then, wantonly, undoes the buttons on his shirt. He opens it suddenly to reveal the words BORN TO WATCH TV! tattooed onto his chest.

ERIC:  Look at the naked truth!

STUDENTS:  Aargh . . .

Agitation. A few female STUDENTS want to touch ERIC. He turns his back to the audience and removes his shirt altogether. On his back the following words are tattooed:  BORN TO HAVE FUN!


ERIC:  So what is journalism?

STUDENTS:  A TV fucking bloody fun!

ERIC:  Yeees!


ERIC:  You got it?

STUDENTS:  We got it!

ERIC:  Journalism is a form of planetary show!

STUDENTS:  Yeaaaah!

ERIC:  Pure adrenaline! Excitation! Sensation! Spectacle!

STUDENTS:  Yes! Yes! Yes!

ERIC:  What is the eight o’clock news?

STUDENTS:  Adrenaline, provocation, sensation, spectacle!!

ERIC:  A slice of the world’s misery! A sample of horror! A hovering flight over humanity’s failure! Each and every news bulletin is ninety percent human filth, moral repugnance, violence and cowardice, cynicism and existential diarrhea, rottenness and abandon, ethical snot and civic disaster.

The STUDENTS remain silent.

ERIC:  This is what you get on television, this is what you get in newsreels, this is what you get in news bulletins . . . A hymn to death, violence, money, sex, and theft! This is what information has become in our world . . . A forum for showcasing death, violence, money, sex, and corruption! Would you like to become good journalists? Here are your topics . . . Death, war, crisis, famine, catastrophe, delinquency, blackmail, prostitution, trafficking, torture, theft . . . An interesting information, by definition, has to be a negative information! Repeat after me, you bastards!

STUDENTS:  An interesting information is a negative information!

ERIC:  An information that doesn’t produce adrenaline is useless.

STUDENTS:  An information that doesn’t produce adrenaline is useless.

ERIC:  A train that arrives at its destination on time is not an information.


ERIC:  So what is an information?

STUDENTS:  A train that is delayed . . .

ERIC:  Well done, you idiots!

STUDENTS:  A train that derails . . .

ERIC:  May I call you idiots?

STUDENTS:  Eric! Eric! Eric!

ERIC yanks the tattoo off his chest as if removing his skin.

Underneath BORN TO WATCH TV! there is another textFUCK THE PUBLIC.

ERIC:  Why does modern man need information?

STUDENTS:  For stimulation . . .

ERIC:  How should a news bulletin begin?

STUDENTS:  With blood!

ERIC:  Blood indeed, this is what modern man has for breakfast. As soon as he wakes up, modern man craves blood. And then, while shaving, he listens to the news . . . And he drinks his coffee watching the first foreign affairs programme of the day. And if the news wasn’t enough of a scoop, if the day didn’t start with an adequate number of deaths, if nothing sensational had happened on the planet, our man is frustrated . . .

ERIC turns the volume on all of the TV sets down (or better still, the images are to be frozen at this point).

ERIC:  So then, what is our mission? If our modern man wants blood for his breakfast?

STUDENTS:  We give him blood.

ERIC:  Gooood . . . Well done you rascals . . . Now we’ll move on to a practical task. Task number one. Listen to this recording from 1952 . . . There was a time when all news bulletins started like this . . .

The face of a newsreader from the 1950s appears on the gigantic screen composed of the sixteen individual screens. The newsreader reads out the news:  "Belfast, Northern Ireland. An explosion in a Protestant neighbourhood leaves three dead."

ERIC:  Listen again . . .

Repetition:  "Belfast, Northern Ireland. An explosion in a Protestant neighbourhood leaves three dead and four injured."

ERIC:  Can you see how journalists started the news seventy years ago? First they located the event geographically, then they defined it and only after that did they evaluate its consequences. Can we afford such a waste of time today, when we live in an era of total show, of information as spectacle, of topical news as entertainment?

STUDENTS:  Noooo . . .

ERIC:  So, how do we need to transmit news today to raise adrenaline levels?

STUDENTS (hands up, as if they were at school):  Me! Me! Me!

ERIC approaches a student with his mic.

STUDENT 1:  Three dead and four injured, this is the outcome of an explosion occurring today in a Protestant neighbourhood of Belfast, Northern Ireland.

ERIC:  Very goood.

ERIC approaches another student with his mic.

STUDENT 2:  Three dead and four injured, one of which in a serious condition, is the outcome of an explosion that created panic in a Protestant neighbourhood of Belfast, Northern Ireland.

ERIC:  Very, very good.

ERIC invites a third student to the mic.

STUDENT 3:  Three dead and four injured, one of which needing both legs amputated, is the provisional outcome of an explosion that created panic and horror in a Protestant neighbourhood of Belfast, Northern Ireland.

ERIC:  Well done! You got the gist. Any piece of news that isn’t sold at its maximum potential of suggestion is wasted. You need to learn first and foremost to broadcast news in a theatrical and sensational packaging, which should generate instant shivers upon reception. The butchers have already done their job, so your mission is to show these pieces of meat to good advantage . . . On a set that should stupefy consumers . . . As paying consumers they are entitled to news provided with competence and subtlety, akin to a bomb exploding in their brain or to drugs dispersing in their veins . . . This is what they expect from a piece of news, ultimate consumers and purchasers that they are . . . An emotional shock, a form of information-induced orgasm . . .

STUDENTS:  Yeees . . . Eric! Eric! Eric!

ERIC:  What shall we do now, continue?

STUDENTS:  Yeees . . .

ERIC:  The course of journalism without hypocrisy continues!!

STUDENTS:  Yeees!!

ERIC:  Task number two. How does one begin a news bulletin?

STUDENTS:  With a scoop!

ERIC:  Idiots, imbeciles, half-wits! A news bulletin has to begin with a bomb! When you start your news bulletin, you first and foremost have to launch a news-bomb. If you don’t, then these idiots, imbeciles, and half-wits that are your viewers will simply switch to another channel and discard you straightaway. When you begin the news you have to grab them by the collar and hold them tight, flabbergasted and hypnotized from the off . . . If the first item of news doesn’t hypnotize them and turn them into loyal customers, then farewell; viewers will look to your competitors for their fix . . .

All STUDENTS raise their hands.

ERIC:  What?

STUDENTS (all together):  And how do we follow on from the news-bomb?

ERIC:  After the news-bomb you throw in a news-gun. And after the news-gun a news-grenade. And after the news-grenade a news-slap. And after the news-slap a news-lightning. And after the news-lightning you move on to a news-horror . . . An ideal news bulletin is a battlefield, a bloody expedition, a commando operation. And the key word is death. People watching or listening to us in the morning need death in order to get started with their day . . . So, you pack of hyenas, what does an ideal news bulletin need to contain?

STUDENT 1:  A terrorist attack in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon or . . .

STUDENT 2:  Or, better still, in a Western country . . .

ERIC:  Then . . .

STUDENT 3:  A coup d’état if possible . . . Or at least a suppressed protest.

ERIC:  Yeees. Then . . .

STUDENT 4:  A natural catastrophe, if at all possible. Tsunami, earthquake, flooding, subsidence. With an adequate death toll, of course . . .

ERIC:  Bravo, vous êtes les génies de l'info... Et ensuite?

STUDENT 6:  A story about rape . . . or paedophilia! Or incest. Or adultery, provided it has planetary implications!

ERIC:  You’ve got it! You’ve understood everything.

STUDENT 7:  A story about high-level corruption. The deposition of a president. An impeachment.

ERIC:  Yes, yes, yes! A news bulletin is only perfect when each and every word of it emanates death, violence, cruelty, barbarism, shivering, adrenaline, consternation, indignation, stupefaction, surprise, loathing, filth, fear, and immortality. You’ve got what it takes! You’ll be the best journalists in the whole wide world!

STUDENTS:  Yeeees!!

ERIC:  You can get started in this profession straightaway.

STUDENTS:  Yeeees!!

ERIC:  On your marks! (The STUDENTS get set on their marks as if they were running a race.) Ready, steady, go!

The STUDENTS set off, all running in different directions.

ERIC remains alone onstage. Behind him the screens are being switched off, one by one.

Journalism without hypocrisy. Lesson 2.

ERIC enters, rolling in several bizarre gadgetssmilometers.

ERIC:  [. . .] To mark the beginning of the ten o’clock news, I have ten different facial expressions to choose from, graded from zero to nine.

(He points to the smilometers positioned on trolleys. They look like ophtalmological devices used by opticians to check eyesight, but also like miniature guillotines. Ten actors place their chins on the respective dials of the ten smilometers. One by one, ERIC sets their smile levels with a wand.)

This is a smilometer, also known as an expressometer, invented by myself, a device with which I select the relevant smile for each occasion. With this device I can set on my face the expression that corresponds to the first two or three news items of the day, or even to the entire news bulletin.

Level zero is almost an audible laugh; I use it especially on festive occasions, for New Year and Christmas, or when our country wins the football World Cup or when it attracts global attention for some amazing success. It is essential that no catastrophe or murder attempt should disrupt that particular day.

(He "models" the expression corresponding to level zero.)

Level one is a massive smile. It is an accomplice, perhaps even witty.

(He resets the expression to make it correspond to level one.)

Level two is a calm and soothing smile, through which words almost glide into the listeners’ ears.

(The same procedure. He sets the relevant expression for level two.)

Level three is a formal, flat, and straightforward smile, which doesn’t give much away about the mood of the forthcoming half an hour. In other words, viewers should be prepared for anything.

(He sets the face in smilometer four to the relevant expression.)

Level four is a censored and repressed smile, as if it alerted viewers: "I’m sorry, I’m a warm and open personality but what I have to tell you forces me to adopt a sombre tone."

(He fine-tunes the face to reflect minor details.)

Level five is just a shadow of a smile, a passing glimpse at old friends, meaning: "oh, how I’d like to spend some quality time with you, but these topical news stories won’t allow me."

(The face in smilometer six might repeat: "oh, how I’d like to spend some quality time with you, but these topical news stories won’t let me.")

Level six is reserved for professional sobriety. The expression I adopt at the start of the news is human without being too considerate, as if I’m warning viewers: "sorry, what you are about to hear is not pleasant but you must learn about it regardless."

(He resets the expression with his wand.)

Level seven is an expression of controlled concern. It is the expression I might adopt for announcing a plane crash, an earthquake, or a terror attack taking place on a train. Level seven conveys the message "let’s keep our calm and assess events together, responsibly and with dignity." 

(Resetting the next expression. Wand in hand, he remodels the face and adjusts the expression at the corner of the mouth.)

Level eight is almost a frown, an expression of obvious refusal regarding the enormity of the forthcoming announcement. With this, I warn those who have tuned in just to see me that I will talk about things I consider abhorrent, and about events that repulse and sadden me. In addition to the information I am about to broadcast, I also invite my audience to join me in condemning these events . . . How is it possible that on an island in the Mediterranean, where thousands of people spend their dream holidays, the sea should wash ashore the bodies of three hundred and sixty-two African immigrants, drowned while attempting to make it to Europe?

(He keeps on adjusting the face in expressometer nine until the dead bodies of illegal immigrants can be glimpsed in its gaze.)

Level nine is the expression that corresponds to national mourning, it heralds a piece of disastrous news for everyone, it’s almost a warning that after watching my broadcast nobody will be able to carry on with their usual family activities, have dinner or watch an adventure film, or go to bed in peace. It’s the expression I adopt whenever there is a nuclear explosion somewhere in the world, and the radioactive clouds are heading towards us as I speak. I made use of this expression when the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant exploded in April 1986.

(He sets the expression of the face in expressometer ten on his own face.)

See? And that’s that.

translated from the Romanian by Jozefina Komporaly