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Vax Populi

Updated: Apr 23, 2021

Whether you know the term ‘Vox Pop’ or not you will certainly know what it is.

It is the very much well worn media tool of primarily radio or television reporters of stopping random members of the public on the street to ask them their opinion on a matter of apparent importance in that day’s news.

According to that most reliable of sources Wikipedia, it comes from the latin term Vox Populi, vox Dei, or The voice of the people is the voice of God.

Essentially meaning that what the public as one believe must be attributed to a divine intervention that should not be challenged by mortal leaders.

An early reference to the term though is not as benevolent, where in the year 798 the Court of Charlemange was told:

‘And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.’

For whatever reason though the Vox-Pop has become so ubiquitous that even Covid-19 couldn’t stop it’s seeming necessity to every broadcast. Albeit they are now carried out with the participants on either side of a window, or wearing masks or standing at least 2 meters apart with a massive boom microphone bridging the gap between the interviewer and the interviewee.

When I was younger the prospect of being accosted when going about my insignificant daily business and having a media personality ask me what I thought of some major event whilst having the camera or tape rolling would have terrified me.

I had an American friend who had a radio show when he was in university and I was stunned into paralysis when he unexpectedly asked me to say hello when I was sitting in the studio with him on a visit to stay with him one January before my own semester in Belfast had restarted.

It was with his sister, who also became a friend, a few years later on a rainy autumn day in Seattle, Washington that I did however have my first experience of giving an impromptu television interview.

We were walking out of a city centre shopping mall when a stereotype reporter for a local news channel with perfect clothes, hair and teeth jumped out on us with the camera operator in tow.

‘What do you think of the new liquor store opening in the mall today?’

I was caught totally off guard as I suspect was the point. It took me a couple of seconds to process the question and think about it. I had noticed a few balloons and signs outside a beautiful retail premises on the top floor of the premises, but hadn’t gone in. It was impressive though. All dark wooden panels and great lighting and really impressive selections of bottles of alcohol of all types.

Maybe it’s the extended family heritage which includes not only several fully paid-up members of AA but also commercial interests in the wholesale wines and spirits industry but my reaction was entirely natural I thought:

‘Umm..yes looks very impressive..am sure it’ll do very well.’

The reporter’s expression changed dramatically and as it transpired I had got involved in answering a question on a subject that I didn’t know was controversial.

‘Aren’t you worried that the City planning department’s decision to allow the sale of alcohol in shopping malls is going to increase the reckless consumption and lead to ever greater numbers of alcoholics and anti-social behaviour?’

‘No - why would I think that?’

‘Because you’re a family with a young baby, aren’t you concerned about your child?’

I looked over at my friend, and then down at her young daughter in a little pushchair and the penny dropped with me that this whole incident was predicated on a total mess of misinformation and misunderstandings on both sides.

I had no clue that there was anything contentious with an off-sales opening where it had and the reporter had no clue that she wasn’t talking to a well informed local married couple with an irrational fear of their offspring becoming a drug addict.

In the moment I felt that there was no point in trying to explain, the pressure of having to unravel it all with every stammering word or phrase having the risk of being played back forever and my increasing heart beat likely ensuring it would be an incoherent mumble I just held the line.

‘Well we just think that our child will be brought up right to make their own choices in life and we think that new commercial offerings can only help the city.’

It wasn’t what the reporter wanted to hear I presume as the interview abruptly stopped and they and the camera disappeared into a nearby van parked on the street.

And so it is with the vexed vaccination issue that befalls us as our exit from the pandemic.

I can’t accept that people who are cautious about getting it are wrong to have a concern. I personally don’t trust those who say there is absolutely nothing to worry about, but not to such an extent that I won’t be vaccinated. I guess I’m positively ambivalent. I’ll get it but I’m not excitedly counting down the days.

Very few issues in life do not benefit from proper considerations being given to think things through.

There is a danger that the extremes on both sides of the discussion fall into the realms of madness and the opportunity for better consensus is missed.

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