The “Parsifal Proxy”
“I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.”
It was way back when on Friday 18th April 1930, that the BBC completely surprised its audiences one evening by deciding to skip its usual 20:45 wireless bulletin.
Well, the announcer simply said, "There is no news" today.
And then, as a nation leaned in curiously towards their radios, the transmission was rerouted for the remainder of the programme’s scheduled 15-minute segment to a live piano performance of Wagner’s Parsifal at the Queen's Hall in London.
Now, think about that for a moment. How bad must things have been in the 1930s if they were using Wagner to cheer you up?
That’s like asking Leonard Cohen to sing a song to cheer up Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds!
But even if you weren’t all that keen on operas about Arthurian knights and their quest for the Holy Grail, that momentary escape from the day’s reporting doldrums must have been a welcome respite for the frayed nerves and brittle backs of all those Great Depression era listeners.
That, and the idea that most neuroses (and some psychoses) can be traced to our somewhat unnecessary and unhealthy habit of daily wallowing in the troubles and sins of billions of strangers.**
So, instead of hearing once again about the trials and tribulations of the day – like the Chittagong armoury raid uprising in the Bengal province of British India, the Costești wooden church fire in Romania that happened during a Good Friday service, or the typhoon sweeping through the Philippines - folks got a tickle of the ivories, some vibrato vocals, and a moment to breath.
Can you imagine that type of respite from gloom happening today?
No chance. It’s about as likely as a Covid strategy that protects the most vulnerable instead of closing down the world (never mind the precedent that’s been set for how we respond to the next “serious flu”).
Funny too how no broadcaster has ever followed suit since with their own “Parsifal Proxy” moment by substituting the daily Les Misérables of Brexit blethering, pandemic postulations, and allegedly erroneous election results for a glimmer of joy and light every now and again.
Jings! How about saying something mid-Pandemic on the record breaking US stock market indices, or how the US stock market has had its best November in 65 years (that’s all the way back to 1955 for women who can count to 20 and men to 21), or the FTSE 100 just recording its best month since 1989***, or the dramatic rise in UK corporate profits from Q2 to Q3 2020, or how Scotland now appears to have a competitive football team…?
Sadly, rather like Parsifal’s search for the Holy Grail, these artifacts are quite elusive in the main; inspirational only for those who actively seek them out, otherwise lost for eternity amongst the dim rationality of consensus thinking.
Want an example?
How about the fact that between 2014 and 2018, deaths attributed to the flu in England have varied between 11,875 and 28,330 per winter season. But according to the Office for National Statistics, there were less than 400 deaths from flu in England and Wales this year (2020), compared to more than 48,000 from coronavirus.
That’s some impressive Lemsip Max, eh?!”
And if you liked what you’ve read and your interested in having a chat about it please give us a call.
Alan Steel, Chairman, Alan Steel Asset Management
* Trading Economics / Office for National Statistics
** Author Robert Heinlein
*** The Guardian, 30 November 2020