Duty is an old-fashioned word. Who hears the call of duty these days? And who, if she hears it, listens? And who, if she listens, acts? Reader, I do.
Every few days I receive an illiterate email describing itself as a media release. I don't know why. Nor do I any longer care how the whores of Babylon got hold of my email address. In the age of the internet, privacy is a duck so dead it's dripping yellow fluids.
Release implies that something yearns for freedom. Open the prison door and it will dash for the light, will spread its wings and soar in the empyrean where it so gloriously belongs, itself at last, at liberty at last, with the strings of Mantovani sawing away on the soundtrack and the audience dabbing at their eyes with handkerchiefs of scented lawn.
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Well ha. Open the door on one of these so-called media releases and it would cower back into the corner of the cell, cringing in the darkness, whimpering and begging not to be sent out into the light to be exposed for what it is, a barely literate puff piece, a grim mendacity, an attempt to con. Were it not for those well-dressed felons of our times, the public relations people, no media release would ever leave its cell, and the world would be a better place if it did not.
By now, as I say, I am used to them. They pop into my in-box, I glance at them, I delete them and then I go for a little walk around the garden to let the nausea subside.
But yesterday I received one and I glanced at it and then I glanced again and then, well, as per paragraph one above, I heard the call of duty. On the instant I was motivated by… but let's not worry what I was motivated by. Let's just look at what I did.
It was the work of minutes to find the office of the public relations firm responsible. Pausing only to don a little shining armour I strode through the doors and past the gawping, stammering secretary who no doubt revelled in some fancy title but who cowered when she beheld my duty-driven shining-armoured manliness.
Into the inner sanctum I strode. And there they were, the public relationists, the media-release releasers, every one of them a former journalist, a former seeker after truth. They looked up at me as one, their faces frozen with the shock. I said nothing. I just looked each in the eye for the few seconds, then moved on to the next. Only when all had wilted did I speak.
"Which of you is responsible for this?" I said and I raised above my head the media release that I had received not half an hour before. "Come on, now. Don't be shy. It concerns, god save us all, the home-delivery of hamburgers."
Up, oh so reluctantly, went a hand. What did I feel? Pity, more than anything else. Here was a soul in ruins. Her lower lip was already quivering. "Don't…" she said.
I waved the paper. "It announces that the New Zealand branch of an American burger chain had entered into an agreement with a logistics company to deliver hamburgers to people's houses. You described this agreement as, and I quote, 'flipping the issues surrounding food delivery in New Zealand on its head.' Can you begin to tell me what that means?"
Her chin sank into her chest. She refused to look up.
"You further wrote that this arrangement enabled the chain 'to offer its customers a customised delivery experience'. And as if that were not a sufficient crime against the English language you went on to describe it as a 'seamless and personable delivery experience." Do you have any idea what personable means? Or, perhaps more significantly, what language evolved to do? No?
"And having put this offensive illiterate dross together, a full page and half of it, in language so vile that I am unwilling to quote any more of it in a family newspaper, you then considered it okay to broadcast it at random to every email address the whores of Babylon had furnished you with, including, may the Lord have mercy on your soul, mine. What have you got to say for yourself?"
She had nothing to say for herself. She was blubbing, her shoulders heaving.
"Enough," I said, "I have said my piece. I have told you nothing you did not already know. I have done my duty. The rest is between you and your conscience." And so saying I walked quietly away.