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ISMISM New concepts for the Nineties; No.14: anniversaryism

Anniversary n: a date in the calendar that enables a newspaper to fill space; gives a television news programme the opportunity to use archive footage, which is so much cheaper than going out and shooting new material; provides the tabloids with a battlefield in the circulation war ("The Mirror: the official newspaper for VE day" vs "The Sun: the paper which supports a campaign for two minutes' silence on VE Day"); helps a Conservative government to shift the bank holiday away from 1 May; or allows an American president to deliver a timely snub to the British by refusing to find time to stand on a windswept Normandy beach with their Prime Minister.

Also, a date generally forgotten by husbands.

Anniversaries, recent: Yesterday, 30 April, was the 20th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the 50th of Hitler's suicide, the 50th of the Russians entering Berlin, and the 1,684th of the issuing of an edict by Galerius Valerius Maximianus legally recognising Christians within the Roman empire: enough to fill several minutes of the evening news.

Anniversaries, Ulster: Northern Ireland has its own calendar, dominated by anniversaries (of the Battle of the Boyne, the first date of internment, the date Gerry Adams last found use for a razor). These days provide the chance to dress in obscure militarist uniforms and march around banging drums before settling down for an evening lighting bonfires and throwing stones at your neighbours.

Anniversaries, arbitrary: An event or historical moment is suddenly reckoned to have achieved a relevance because it happened a certain number of years ago. Is it not perverse that the 60th anniversary of the last time a British man won Wimbledon is deemed a more damning indictment of the state of British tennis than the 61st?

Anniversaries, freak: 19 April. An all-American date of nightmare significance. George Washington started things against the Brits this day, then there was Waco, and now Oklahoma.

Anniversary, where were you? Newspaper feature or television documentary predicated on the assumption that everyone can remember exactly what they were doing on the day Kennedy was shot or Mrs Thatcher resigned.

Hence anniversaryism n. The manner in which the media hopes to foment newsworthy conflict by reminding participants of long-forgotten rivalries or pain. Fertile areas for anniversaryism include the Middle East, Northern Ireland, and any football ground Eric Cantona plays football on next season.

Incidentally, this is the first Monday since we last ran this article.