No I Don’t Live on a Remote Island!

May 2, 2017

    Bloomberg News provides only the latest example of a journalistic convention which I’ve disliked for many years:

 

   “SAIPAN  – Agents from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation visited an office belonging to the operator of a casino on the remote U.S. island of Saipan that has attracted attention for its huge revenues, according to a local legislator and residents.” [emphasis added].

 

    As a resident of Saipan for nearly a quarter of a century and other islands such as Guam for many others, I’ve noted the unwritten journalistic rule that encourages the use of the “remote” designation for places the institution/news service isn’t familiar with. This also provides a sexy element of mystery to the story as in, “What, they’re running more money through that teeny remote island than Macau takes in!?”

 

    It sure suggests that something sneaky is going on, without having to be more direct.

 

   I must admit that once upon a time, Macau would have seemed remote to me, but that was due to my own ignorance and lack of geographical knowledge.

   I am wondering how you can apply this designation to places that have been served by regularly scheduled airlines and cargo ship lines for many decades. And grumbling about the quality of present air service between Saipan and Guam doesn’t make either place remote.

 

    Is “remoteness” defined by communications? Guam and even Saipan have had some measure of local TV programming since the 1950s, though until fairly recently, much of this came from tapes recorded in the states. Satellites, digital underwater cables and ubiquitous internet connections have largely wiped out any quality or cost difference for island residents communicating with the rest of the world.

 

    If you had the money or institutional need, basic phone communication has been available for a very long time, anywhere. As a G.I. on Okinawa in the late 1960s, I never succeeded in placing a phone call home in nearly two years, a complex process then requiring help from ham radio operators to connect with mom and dad. On the other hand, senior NCOs were being court-martialed for selling access to military communication systems on Okinawa. As they liked to    brag—a great selling point—“This is the same gear that lets President Johnson make a phone call from the golf course.”

 

   I really do think it gets down to ignorance, starting with an educational system that is totally minimalist when it comes to teaching much of anything about the components and history of the United States of America.

 

   Should it be necessary to hold an MA in American history to know that we have ‘remote’ insular possessions?

 

   I recently spent some time digging through post-World War II, mostly small town American newspapers, looking for coverage of events in Guam following the war. I was a little surprised at the detail of the coverage at the time, but then, many of the media people and work-a-day folks had recently spent time in the Pacific and brought that knowledge home.

 

   On a broader international front, those who had gained this knowledge the hard way complained bitterly at the severely limited coverage granted to their part of the war. I guess the big-time editors in New York figured that the Pacific and Japan were too ‘remote,’ compared with Europe and Germany, just across the pond from them.

 

    Back to the present, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, by now famously known as dismissive of judges from Pacific Islands, clearly considers the State of Hawaii remote, at best.

 

   Want true “remote?” My old friend and colleague Tim Rock recalls a stay in Ontong Java, the northernmost atoll in the Solomon Islands where he was engaged in studying local tattoos. Thanks to a local politician who commandeered the scheduled ship, a two week visit turned into nine. He lived in a thatched-roof, sandy floored hut on an island the size of Guam’s Cocos, with only a family of five for neighbors. Need I say, no utility or cable TV service available?

 

    Nevertheless, Tim reports, the favorite local song was, “I Want My MTV.” That was in 1989 and, globalism and consumer demand being what it is, I’d be willing to bet even that “remote” place has its MTV by now.

 

Bruce Lloyd is a veteran journalist, who has been a longtime resident of Guam and Saipan. Send feedback to bruce.lloyd.media@gmail.com.

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