It’s the season of cold nights and warm afternoons down here: keep warm doing stuff in the mornings, plonk down in a lean-back garden chair in the afternoon, chuck a few peasants on the fire of an evening, open a robust red, and then continue the marathon search through Freesat listings for something to watch that isn’t from the Pleistocene era and/or formulaic ‘lifestyle’ telly. I suppose the ultimate starting point for Indie producers these days would be a ‘concept’ along the lines of Every Garden Dining Makeover in the Country under the sun. A ‘new’ variant might fuse fame, fantasy and ego – thus delivering us unto Britain’s got the Grand Kitchen Designer Voice Talent Academy. But mooching around the schedules in the early evening, one is left with the inevitability of Come fly with me on Canal Train journeys for Antique Pets.
Content by numbers is just another depressing aspect of the Bums on Seats world we inhabit. You may think I’m over-egging the pudding a little here, but let me disabuse you of this opinion by simply looking at tonight – a Saturday – on this the 6th February 2016. None of what follows is made up.
On UK Channels 4 & 5, you can go walking through time on great canal journeys towards America’s hidden pyramid city. On BBC’s 4 & 1, I invite you to enjoy the voice of Britain’s sunken national lottery history. Or on ITV’s 3 & 4, there’s the chance to watch Columbo’s Midsomer murders for five hours non-stop, and then join Sherlock Holmes in another bout of storage wars. It is, literally, crime repeat meets travel saga removals.
When I first acquired multi-channel satellite telly fifteen years ago, I asked the engineer how many channels were available.
“Wull,” he began, “yer got eight news, twelve terrestrial, seven repeats, ten sports, ‘undred and fifty porn, four ‘undred shoppin’, an’ thirty God”. Today, that has exploded to over a thousand channels, but there’s an inverse correlation in play: the more channels come onstream, the less I want to watch any of them.
The French dish I have offers me a staggering 256 German channels. A weekly oom-pah-pah competition on Bayernische is about as good as it gets. The German shopping channels should be beamed into every UK home by the Vote Leave Brexit campaign: not only would there be a 92% majority to quit the EU tomorrow, there’d be 60% in favour of dispensing with the formality of a referendum. And as for Italian porn, forcing people to watch it would be the most reliable contraceptive in history: you’d have to limit viewing of it for fear that global celibacy might result in very short order.
I feel the same about the TV channels explosion as I do about the proliferation of media: I simply don’t have time to engage with it. It is the dramatic triumph of quantity over quality, of braindead breaking news over socio-economic analysis, of copycat visions of what is over original ideas about what could be.
Ultimately, the media and programming we have today have all the appeal for me of blue-dotted week-old stale bread. Such cultural and artistic stagnation is the direct and entirely natural outcome of a neoliberal mindset that values ROI over exploration, and obsessive navel-gazing over dangerously stimulating examination.
Unless we rid our civilisation of it soon, it will destroy that civilisation forever.