As forces within the government began the preliminary stages of the Post-Spill Clean-Up and the nation prepared itself for embarkation into a new epoch in its ongoing history, there echoed a definite silence from the Literary Scene’s practitioners of Non-Fiction.
Non-Fiction’s Journalism apparatus, in particular, struggled to address those facts relevant to telling the story of the Spill. Efforts to objectively observe events as they happened then pass on or tell about or report on those events in a factual, cogent and professional manner were met with the particularly violent variety of scorn and derision that often issues from the mouths and minds of angry readers: headlines like SPILL IS TRAGEDY OF NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN PROPORTIONS or SPILL VILLAINS ABSENT FROM SCENE prompted uncommonly harsh responses from various spheres of influence, including the President himself, who minced fewer onions than usual in his repudiation of Journalism’s “insensitive” and “rash” reporting; but the President had, since the Spill, shared an antagonistic relationship with the print media establishment, and so his repudiations were interpreted as actions of “political opportunism”.
In response to that hullabaloo, Journalism’s regional self-regulatory boards—those Arthurian roundtables of like-minded editors-in-chief poised to lovingly preserve the journalistic tradition—convened under circumstances of unprecedented crisis. The resulting Mays’ Code, named for a friendless editor-in-chief, dictated a set of rules which permitted Journalism’s regional self-regulatory boards to unilaterally mandate the exact language through which the Spill could be reported: words like “tragedy,” “disaster,” “horror” and the Big C’s—“cataclysm,” “catastrophe” and “calamity”—as well as “awful,” “terrible,” “appalling,” “outrageous” and all their cousins, and of course words like “plastic” and “toy,” were quickly struck from language databases, and henceforth omitted from printed news reportage.
Despite these efforts the nation’s readers could not be appeased, and the aggregate sales of newspapers and magazines fell to such extremes that one formerly nationally-distributed newspaper—a big one—was rumored to have had, at one low point during the Clean-Up, fewer subscribers than employees. Eventually a consensus was formed within the large community of Journalism, from the regional self-regulatory boards at the top to dingy corner offices in once-swanky metropolitan palaces at the bottom: in writing about the Spill and its interrelated happenings, those once-adequate-and-standard presuppositions of integrity and seriousness were plainly impossible to maintain. The paradigm, it seemed, had become a host of frightening synonyms for “impotent”—and though it had survived decades of mirthful condemnation and claims of obsolescent decline and ultimate irrelevance, when faced with the Spill and the Clean-Up the mechanism called Journalism finally failed.
The question behavioral scientists and cultural critics longed to ask and to answer in the fallout of the Death of Journalism was why it was, exactly, that Fiction and Poetry continued their patterns of commercial success in the Post-Spill, Mid-Clean-Up nation, whereas Journalism had not. One linguist determined that, having been so repeatedly forced to confront the truth, the nation’s people had developed an intrinsic aversion to any direct language-based representation of the Spill, leading other linguists to wonder if the interpretive space which language demands facilitated, in the minds of Post-Spill individuals, the irrational inflammation of the signified “Spill” beyond its more modest word(s)-based signifier, “the Spill”—the equivalent of reading the word “tree” and seeing in one’s panicked mind an old redwood filled with the dangling corpses of post-execution rapists or teeming with colonies of outsized-insects pincers a-clicking—or, assuming the word “tree” was stigmatized to the point of synonymy with “the worst thing imaginable,” the word “tree” would signify “the worst thing imaginable,” the signified “worst thing imaginable” being, on some level, unique for every individual and therefore an untreatable evocation; given the Spill’s nigh-omniscient presence in the lives of Post-Spill individuals, the likelihood of that achieved synonymy with “the worst thing imaginable” was very likely.
Further non-theoretical, event-based evidence of the aversion’s existence occurred on a highway in New Hampshire, where a group of like-minded citizens stuck in heavy traffic collectively left their vehicles, trudged up a grassy highway-adjacent knoll and set to violently destroying with rocks and dirt a large-scale corporate-sponsored digital sign that indicated, with bright green digits, the exact number of days, hours and minutes since the Spill, forcing the alleged vandals and their fellow gridlocked highway travelers to contemplate the Spill’s minute-by-minute protraction, thereby increasing the terrible ease with which they could gauge the trajectory of their lives by the number of days, hours and minutes ticking silently upward—a reminder that so many days, hours and minutes had passed since they’d been drinking coffee in their kitchen or taking their children to school or reading a book they’d loved but never finished or recovering from the death of a family member or the loss of a job or the rejection of a lover and heard the first bits of news about some as-yet unnamed thing in some distant place that was both close to and far from them, and suddenly all tragedies were amplified, all successes undermined—and after hours of interrogation by authorities it was determined the entire group of like-minded citizens had acted out of a rare form of collective hysterical sadness, and so were not legally accountable, as it were, for their destructive actions. The story of this destruction—though it wasn’t called “destruction”—was reviewed by Journalism’s still-functioning regional self-regulatory boards and declared “too emotionally toxic” for print publication.
Not long thereafter certain Elder personages on the outskirts Literary Scene—many of whom have since died—began to whisper amongst themselves in quiet protest against what in their wisdom had become a shallow, callow and rude Literary Scene corrupted by factions of trans-genre writers: the most notorious of these meetings took place in the storm shelter of a rural home in a storied region of the country, by candlelight, over homemade biscuits, with a radio-broadcast classical orchestra in the corner playing out a static symphony. It was here that the Theory was first expressed. The underlying premise was derived from the Elders’ observation of a strange correlation between the two major Spill-related events and the twice-subsequent silence of a language-based voice: the Spill had struck dumb Gilda Sopht, the nation’s poet laureate, and the Clean-Up all-but-directly coincided with the Death of Journalism. The Theory, then, told that in an “uncommonly awful time” cultural voices were not ensured their survival.
In the interest of public health and safety, the Theory was never published, but the apoca-prophetic musings of these Elder literary minds nevertheless inexplicably permeated the Literary Scene. A panic spread among poets and fictionists frightened by the prospect of sudden-onset abject wordlessness.
Around this same time, classified governmental documents discussing something called the “End of Fun” were leaked by upper-level diplomats. Their belief in the nation’s Post-Spill prospects had depreciated: many later committed suicide.