I’m in a situation at the minute that enables me to watch a lot of daytime telly. Or put another way, I have no option but to watch it. Of all the disappointing elements of deregulation, by far the most empty is ‘choice’. Choice in health is meaningless for those who have little or no money. Choice in banking means a range of crooks are available. Choice within televisual media has come to mean 500 types of repetitive mediocrity.
That observation isn’t remotely original either, but what one realises as time goes on is that there is no ambition anywhere in government to improve on the telly-pap we receive. More exactly, the political class desires to use the medium (via the media owner) or change it (as in the BBC) to remain apolitical, uncontroversial, and above all soporific. Nor is there any sign of contrition at Westminster that the 21st century criteria for television have produced precisely what the doomsayers predicted thirty years ago: the sovereignty of the lowest common denominator viewer, thanks to the mindless demands of the advertiser for ratings delivery.
Although hobgoblins like Jeremy Hunt burble on mendaciously about plurality, what he and his kind really want is the singularity of one TV model, under which everything will be driven by one thing: the application of a commercial perspective that caters for (but never challenges) those who desire little beyond soap to watch and bling to buy. A genuinely pluralistic market would be funded in a number of commercial, charitable, national, local, pay-TV, educational, licence-fee and information/news ways.
Only this kind of real choice for programme makers might stimulate creativity and risk – without which no medium can remain fresh, but instead all artistic and infotainment media will stagnate. The net result of the Hunt/Murdoch/neocon model is more or less what we’ve got now: no imagination applied to the stimulation of a populace with little mental aspiration in the first place. Neocon television inevitably produces those with low motives in pursuit of those with low expectations. Like neocon business, it prefers reliable, monopoly ROI to genuine capitalist risk.
The majority of television viewers are, literally, consumers of content in the same undiscerning way that lager is drunk and pizzas eaten: they swallow and chomp from a mixture of habit, basic need and immediate sensory satisfaction. The idea of trying a new television menu occurs to neither waiter nor diner.
A steady and uninterrupted lava flow of uncritical breaking news, soaps, sport, celebrity game shows and ‘lifestyle’ programming is the staple diet of our nation….in the sense that it staples their synapses firmly in place, and ensures they don’t go anywhere new or – even worse – unpredictable. In Cruel Britannia, contemporary pizza and soaps make the perfect parallel for Roman bread and circuses.
Afternoon television consists almost entirely of the lifestyle variant. The programming Bright Young Things have only three dimensions upon which they play: genre range, theme variations, and range/theme fusion. Reflecting the obsessions of our culture, the range mainly comprises food, collecting, buying, selling, property, gardens, and the fantasy of escaping from that culture. Within food, there is cooking and eating, kitchens and restaurants. Within escape there is holidays, second property and countryside. Extracted from both is A Place in the Country Sun with a smashing kitchen and three goodish restaurants in the village. Pair the multivariate elements together in turn, and it is a mathematical certainty that you could be manufacturing derivative bollocks from now until the next millennium.
Of course, far more than one-dimensional money-love has brought us to this ugly reality. Education run by bourgeois Lefties (aiming for political rigour rather than open minds) inadvertently produced the perfect audience for warm and cosy mass enjoyment. Those taught by the politically correct to seek safe comfort and inoffensive conversation ironically became uncritical morons: persuaded by New Labour that they were in fact the intelligentsia, their brains have been fattened up nicely by tabloid papers, Newscorp telly, and a confused BBC whose only idea of competing is to copy the Barbarians.
I don’t see this as the inevitable road to robotic citizens. As usual, I remain convinced there will be a reaction. The main point (if any) of this evening ramble is to once more ram home something obvious when you stop and think: that the economic model under which we toil promises much but delivers little.
The (probably insouciant) goal of worshipping all things material is that we never stop. It is a vicious circle: but the sharp knife of material suffering will snip it in the end.