On Thursday, just before 4am in London, my phone started ringing with news notifications. I looked at the screen: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had begun. I stood there in the dark, the unease spreading with each update. In Los Angeles, Christopher Lord, our Americas editor, was using jet lag to our advantage to line up Ukrainian specialists and locals for Monocle 24’s morning radio show broadcast from London, The globalist. Just after 06:00, I phoned Bill Whitehouse from our digital team and told him to unsend The Monocle Minute newsletter: the world had changed since it had been dropped a few hours earlier; it had to be done again.
And then the day went by: images scrolled by on the television screens in the office; news falling on my phone. At noon, I went down to the studios to listen to Andrew Mueller host The briefing. I sat in the darkness of the control room and listened to one guest after another lay out the potential scenarios – all dark.
Throughout the day, as the TV news broadcast live Jens Stoltenberg, Boris Johnson or Joe Biden, the volume increased and people gathered to hear what these men thought they could do. It looked like a few Russians would have to cancel the summer vacation in London and maybe ordering yachts would have to wait a bit – but it was hard to imagine Vladimir Putin sweating over such chatter.
Soaking in too much news continuously can often make you feel like you’re losing your footing. But the response engendered by a tyrant’s invasion of Ukraine – Russia’s attempt to trample the prized democracy of an independent nation, the waste of life, the West’s failure to respond – is more just a simple media concern. It won’t be a painful regional reset, like the abandonment of Afghanistan this year, or a brutal war like Syria’s, the repercussions of which can be experienced because their effects are unlikely to change your day. No, it’s an event that, as we quickly realize, resets the world order; it sets up existential threats for all of us. It is a time when it is normal to be afraid; even feel despair.
Again. In the evening, our editor Nolan Giles and I took our new fashion editor, Natalie Theodosi, out for a drink (she started on Monday and I had barely said “hello” all week). We went to a nearby hotel and it was packed – not even a space to stand at the bar. We were about to leave when I spotted someone I know who works there and he kindly found us a perch. At the nearby tables were people from all over the world enjoying themselves: smartly dressed Emirati boys on one side of us, a group of French revelers on the other. Was I out of proportion? Was the world as it was a week or a month ago? Or had my neighbors been so anxious for the past two years that the invasion of Ukraine wasn’t going to spoil their mood now? Do we just have different techniques for dealing with this age of anxiety?
Do you think it would be possible for TV shows to carry trigger warnings that they carry, well, trigger warnings? There are a lot of things that worry me, films where there is no Timothée Chalamet, for example. But we did this smart thing: we bought a TV with an off button. Honestly, it’s amazing – you just press it and the TV stops working. The problem with the current trigger warning rash is that there is nothing that will bother anyone. I read the other day about someone being triggered by hearing about English women (sorry, Judi Dench, that’s the end of your career). So where do you stop? Can’t we allow people to be a little offended from time to time? Move on if they don’t like what they see? When you have kids cowering in Kiev for fear of being blown up, fear of men with real triggers, isn’t it kind of sick trying to filter out every grain of difficulty pollen from the world around us? Shouldn’t we accept that the world can be upsetting?
And if you like your art world to be free of triggering connections and potentially suspicious patrons, then don’t go to the wonderful Museu Fundación Juan March in Palma de Mallorca. I was in Palma last weekend and came across the magnificent building – free entry too – and its art (a Miró here, a Dalí there). I wondered who March was so I watched it after my visit. It turns out he was the son of a pig farmer who ended up becoming the richest man in Spain and the sixth richest in the world. He was sent to prison for his questionable business, supported Franco and smuggled weapons. But today his wealthy descendants oversee his incredible foundation and one of Spain’s greatest art collections. They seem more comfortable with the odd personality bump in Spain; even a bit of what Anglo-folk might call “art-washing”. Hell, they loved March so much they even named a lizard after him – it’s a marchi algyroides about to nibble on your toe.