Monday, January 05, 2009

"Because they are hard"

My brief return to the UK has made me notice a few significant changes. Though possibly the dose of the flu has made me feel bad enough to listen to Quentin Letts and other right-wing blowhards.

The traditional British Christmas over the last forty years has tended to be focused around the television- the nights are dark, and many channels put out special programmes "for the festive season".

This year, I notice what I feel is a certain coarsening of Christmas. The novelty songs of my youth: Slade's "Merry Christmas Everyone", Wizard's "I wish it could be Christmas Everyday", Jona Lewie's "Stop the Cavalry", John Lennon's "Happy Christmas, War is over" were not taken to be serious songs when i was a kid in the 1970s, yet now they seem to be regarded as somehow "classics". Indeed the Slade song is played absolutely everywhere- to the point of massive overkill. Meanwhile the real Christmas songs- the carols- of my childhood seem forgotten. Though the festival of nine lessons and carols broadcast from King's College Cambridge- which I listened to while driving up to visit my family- contained several old favourites, I was struck by the determination of the choirmaster to produce much that was innovative, rather than traditional. While TV or shops bawl out Slade's money spinner, the medieval purity of the Coventry Carol or the Victorian jauntiness of "God rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" are now a closed book to an ever larger number of our people.

As for the TV programmes themselves- I am very surprised how quickly a programme is repeated on British television- even the interminable soap opera omnibus editions seem to be repeated even on the same evening- and frankly the miserable doings of "EastEnders" and "Emmerdale" bore me blue anyway. Apart from the Soaps, which do not exactly portray role models- I am astonished at the witless vulgarity on every channel. The intellectual aspiration which British television once showcased: "The Ascent of Man", "Civilisation" or "Connections" is replaced by "[insert celebrity name here]'s extreme [insert noun here]". I was astonished to find what in the 1970s would have been a mildly interesting middle brow Horizon documentary on the history of the British National Grid- presented by James May(!)- was actually an Open University broadcast.

Truly this is dumbing down indeed.

It is also very, very boring.

The poverty of aspiration makes for boring and very limited lives: much like those portrayed on EastEnders. The sloppy populism of British television which my TV friends openly admit (or should that be decry) as "a tabloid medium" could hardly be more crass. "Strictly Come Dancing"- or "Strictly" as most seem to refer to it, is a deliberate showcase, not of excellence, but of mediocrity- and perhaps the furore over John Sargeant shows that the British people get the joke. The fact that something so vacuous could be taken so seriously is frankly ridiculous.

Then we get to the News. The blatant manipulation of the current affairs programmes is obvious and dangerous. The independent reporter was once a by-word for integrity- not any more. The practically scripted "interview" by Andrew Marr of his Prime Minister was an insult to the genre. We have grown used to television shows with no understanding of the subtleties of argument, and still less the historical roots of our times. An interview of such banality is an abdication of the responsibilities of the fourth estate.
Television has become a lazy medium- the lowest denominator and the facile and crass are the guiding forms. The excuse of "the ratings" does not even apply- the fragmented nature of today's media market prevents larger ratings, it is true, but what shocks is the extraordinary lack of diversity and choice: "57 Channels and nothings on".
I am already sick of it after a few days.

If we judge from British TV, there is little aspiration in the UK today.

When President Kennedy put forward his great vision of sending man to the moon and returning safely to Earth, he justified it by saying: "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not only because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

If our newspapers are dumbed down, and our television likewise, how can an individual even know where human knowledge stands now, still less about how and where that knowledge can be extended. No wonder so many young people find life pointless: they know so little about it.

The patronising vulgarity of TV has infected much of our society- and I for one will not be buying a digital TV as the analogue systems are shut down over the next five years- I will simply cancel my TV license.

Enough drivel, boredom and poverty of the mind already.

Back to Estonia, where seriousness is not considered a character flaw and knowledgeable is not another word for pretentious


Prodicus said...


Bookhound said...

the prime minister thinks that logical argument is saying that we are doing this because it is right AND it is the right thing to do. In fact most ministers are guilty of this stupid phrase.

Anonymous said...

Did you catch "John Adams" on Channel 4? High-minded, brilliant acting, beautiful staging.

Made in America - home of trash telly. Thank goodness we have the BBC to maintain standards in the UK! ;-)

(By the way, when Brown and the EU have finished destroying the country, Estonia is on my shortlist of places to decamp to. The climate may weigh against it though).

Newmania said...

Ha ha , good grumble CS but you leave strictly alone.There must always be time for dancing and the show is superbly conscieved to educate the viewer into an appreciation of dance

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.