Holy crap! The most exciting piece of news since, like, a long time, has taken place in Belgium! That's right! The very same country this reporter wrote about some time ago is now in the throes of a heated debate on the sensitive subject of, get this, a hoax presented as genuine news. Viewers were made aware of this an astounding half-hour after the show began, and a half an hour is a very long time - especially when your attention span doesn't exceed that of the average goldfish or, in the worst cases, that of the average American.
Before getting to the hoax itself, here's a brief description of the situation in Belgium: it's a divided country, with two small halves that pretty much fight and bicker all the time. Think pre-civil-war America, only in your backyard. The parties involved are:
- The south, where people are known as Walloon and speak a language very similar to French, only more ridiculous. Yes, such a thing is possible, albeit unlikely. These people used to be rich thanks to coal mines (they didn't actually work in them, as it was too dangerous; they did, however, have Italian immigrants work and occasionally die down there, but that's another story), but now the days of coal are over and the south isn't nearly as rich as it used to be.
- The north, where people are known as Flemish and speak a language very similar to Dutch, only even uglier. Yes, such a thing is possible, albeit unlikely except in the case of Portugese. These people used to be ruled (or, as the more web-savvy among you might put it, "pwnt") by the walloon, but now they're thriving, prospering, and more generally being rich and deservingly arrogant.
Basically, as most non-American readers will have figured out by now, the northern half pretty much wants more independence or, for those with a more extreme point of view, a good old secession. And this is precisely what the hoax was about.
On Belgium's French-speaking TV channel, on December 13, 2006, the following was announced: "Ladies and gentlemen, we apologise for interrupting our usual programmes, but this is a most urgent news flash: the Flemish have unilaterally declared their independence. The King has fled to Kinshasa, and Belgium no longer exists [note to young readers and Americans: firstly, Kinshasa is the capital city of the Congo, a former Belgian colony, and secondly, yes, Belgium is ruled by a king and his name is Albert]".
Cut to stock film featuring riots in the streets, an assortment of famous people in a state of outrage, pictures of road blockades, and so on. For the the next half-hour, chaos, elation, hilarity, mayhem and boredom all ensued in no particular order. Relatives called their relatives, old people had heart-attacks, shops were vandalized, people were summarily executed by the army, and all in all everyone had a great time.
After this half-hour of fun, the fake news report went on, but with a warning on the bottom of the screen basically saying "Just kidding, folks! We did it for the lulz!". Needless to say, many people felt extremely silly, especially those who had just spent half an hour yelling about how the Flemish are all maternal-fornicating sons of female dogs.
The following day, the Belgian minister in charge of the media issued a statement to the effect that it was a very silly and irresponsible thing to do, as it needlessly put the Belgian population in a state of distress. Typically what a minister would say. Others argued that is was an unfair caricature of Flemish demands; still others contended that such a hoax being taken seriously meant that secession was a realistic and worrying possibility; yet another opinion is that people need to get a sense of humour and remove the broomstick they have up their, uh, sunshine-deprived anatomical regions. Finally, various people in America were quoted as saying stuff like "Belgium? Is that like, an Indian tribe in Wyoming? Oh hey, hi mom, look, I'm on TV!".
As this article is being written (two days after the event), all this is still making the headlines in Belgium, and two quite distinct factions can be distinguished among the population, namely a) those who care and refuse to talk about anything else, and b) those who don't care and are willing to acknowledge that the world is still, in fact, revolving. The first of these two groups is shrinking faster than a pile of free "Playboy" magazines in the middle of a monastery, and the second group is laughing at the rapidly dwindling members of the first.
Once the country has quieted down and recovered from this incredible bombshell, Belgians will once again be able to hear the usual news on the radio and television: the Belgian team won a bronze medal at the 6th international onion-peeling competition, geneticists are working on a beer-flavoured species of mussel (they're having problems with the issue of extracting beer DNA), Mr Van Der Straaten from Knokke-le-Zout found a potato with an unusual and/or humourous shape in his garden, a car nearly crashed on highway 2 and traffic is delayed for several minutes (Belgium has three highways, and one of them is nearly 40 miles long), new legislation has been passed to allow drinking beer in maternity wards, etc. And that's the end of that - and also the end of this.
By the way, King Albert sends his regards. Ta-ta for now!