Saturday, August 28, 2004

Visual opiate

In the Guardian today, John Humphrys turns on a TV after 5 years and finds out how shit it is. In his commentary, he touches upon many points, most of which I heartily agree with. For instance, he raises the question (in my mind) of whether free markets can maintain social values, or if there's a race-to-the-bottom effect that emerges from doing things only for financial reasons.

He also makes the point... "Reality implies authenticity and honesty. And whatever some of this stuff may be, it is not authentic and it is not honest." Precisely. "Reality" TV these days is no more "real" than the performers on street corners ad-libbing bizarrities for the whims of the passing public.

Television has become more than either information or entertainment. It has reached the point where it has become the thoughts of a nation. It provides us with sensory stimulation in the first place, followed by conversational material merely by its popularity and ability to shock us, Without it we feel uneasy, like there's a void that needs filling but that we have forgotten how to fill. People have realised the problem of sitting babies in front of televisions, as though they're some sort of surrogate nanny, but they have yet to truly wake up to the problem of an entire population being nursed into vapid amusement by some constant feed of fake emotion. Childhood itself is simply an attitude, an approach to learning about the world, and just because we have reached an arbitrary age doesn't make a constant feed of brainless "excitement" any less of a destructive power.

One thing I've noticedis the decline in Channel 4's programming quality. Once the culty, driving, very non-mainstream flip-side of television, now consigned to showing hour-after-hour domesticated shows concerning gardens, DIY and hoovering. Visible maturation. Why is there this strange trend in capital-driven systems to conglomerate and converge on "popular" formats, and then lose any ambition and risk-taking that "competition" is supposed to lead to? Look towards the mainstream film, music and computer game industries for irrefutable, ongoing evidence of such "internal attraction" in progress.

Some people decry the obligatory public license fee for the BBC, claiming that people shouldn't be forced to pay, and that the BBC should run privately. I'd be inclined to agree, if only it weren't for the sheer amount of pap and advertising that is generated by the private companies. Is this a clearcut highlighting of what I've been trying to figure out recently - namely, just what does get lost in the transition from public organisations to private capitalism? How exactly o we price up the things we value most?

I'll sign off with another quote from the piece, which sums up the fact that someone, somewhere, will probably always be trying to control the masses for some reason.

"In the bad old days we had paternalists trying to capture the masses for what they believed in their patrician way to be good. Now we have businessmen calculating how much they can get away with to titillate or to outrage the masses and deliver the profits. Which is worse?"

3 comments:

phil jones said...

"Once the culty, driving, very non-mainstream flip-side of television, now consigned to showing hour-after-hour domesticated shows concerning gardens, DIY and hoovering. Visible maturation. Why is there this strange trend in capital-driven systems to conglomerate and converge on "popular" formats, and then lose any ambition and risk-taking that "competition" is supposed to lead to?"

Undoubtedly the convergence is on "shows which sell advertising" And gardening / DIY / hoovering make people think of domestic stuff like doing the garden and painting the house. That's really easy to sell to makers of gardening and DIY stuff.

So then the station hits a local minima. It's found a formula which brings in a reliable income. Varying the formula looses advertisers. In fact, if they switched to shows about rock-climbing they *might* sell more advertising to mountaineering manufacturers. But there's switching cost ... building up the relationships with those advertisers. So it's safer to stick with what you know sells. Until some new format comes along which is demonstrably (or plausibly) more succesful.

phil jones said...

Interesting link to the John Lloyd book. See also : http://www.nooranch.com/synaesmedia/wiki/wiki.cgi?NetoCracy/MediaAgainstTheState

Scribe said...

I'd like to look into what makes people tick when it comes to familiarity, as it's certainly the case that if you have things *too* repetitive, people will hate it. There has to be some fundamental quanta of change that gives people familiarity, but lets in some non-risky element of "New and Exciting!". Kind of like variations in a musical piece.

In films, for instance, you can take an extremely predictable plot, but so long as the graphics and effects (which are an equal part of the experience these days) do something different, it can be popular.