Fait Divers

Fait divers is a French term for a news item that is brief and sensational, sometimes ironic. It is not really translatable into English but you might say in English that this type of news item is a ‘news brief’. They are popular in publications like MX for example. The fait divers were made famous by a Frenchman, Felix Feneon with examples such as:

“Severely burned – her skirt caught on fire – Leonie Lefevre – 10, of Saint Maur, died in Trousseau.”

or

“Raoul G., of Ivry, an untactful husband, came home unexpectedly and stuck his blade in his wife, who was frolicking in the arms of a friend.”

The writer and photographer Teju Cole is reviving the trend on his twitter account http://twitter.com/#!/tejucole where he adapts the genre to news items of the Nigerian press. Cole calls his fait divers ‘small fates’, a nice play on the phonics of the word ‘fait’ and ‘fates’ as well as encompassing the unexpected outcomes of causes that would not normally be expected to manifest such results.

Some example of Cole’s small fates are:

“Betrayed by shit. Adeogun and Arinze, en route to Brazil and Japan, had swallowed a lot of cocaine and heroin, respectively.”

or,

“Jalingo police won’t say, but a neighbor volunteered the possibility that trader Ndulue, 30, found in a pool of his own blood, was murdered.”

I like the whole concept of a fait divers and of this style of reporting. It seems to mirror the media environment of our times; fast, compulsive, expendable, suppressed detail and the privileging of a punch line over the important aspects of the item.

I am going to try and make a few of my own fait divers from current news items. Here’s my first attempts:

” Authorities in the Northern Territory say that, in spite of it being legal to feed the crocodiles, fatalities only happen from time to time.”

“Queensland’s justice system removed Lady Justice’s scales for cleaning, leaving her holding just a sword. She has now been charged with ‘perceived bias’.”

It is actually a very difficult thing to do. If you have one, send it in!

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