Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

I have seen so much television in my life that my cultural identity would have been completely different without it. From a childhood nourished by magical BBC programmes through years of outstanding telly I am steeped in influences from the medium…and yet I increasingly come into contact with people for whom TV is irrelevant, or downright sinister.

I tend to mix with bohemians, creatives and people from a left-of-centre perspective. To many of them, television is the enemy – a stultifying, pacifying, propaganda machine.
I wouldn’t disagree that BBC1 and particularly ITV are usually full of pointless, vacuous shit; seemingly designed to limit peoples’ philosophical and intellectual horizons, but as with any cultural medium, you have to look out for the good stuff.

You wouldn’t see an advert for the latest collection of Jeremy Clarkson’s brain-farts and say “books are shit”, then walk past a McDonalds outlet and proclaim “food is shit”. There are actually ways to find the good programmes that aren’t thrown in your face all the time. They are called TV guides – duuuurhhh. Is that not obvious?
I could think of endless examples of intellectually stimulating TV over the years, but to simply demonstrate that TV IS NOT ALL SHIT, I thought I would take one week and see what I happened to stumble upon (ok, some with the aid of online catch-up services!)

8th Feb – Bigfoot Files – Channel 4, 7pm
Reporter Mark Evans travels to the Caucusus to meet bigfoot hunters and investigate a cluster of legends about ape-like beasts in the region, including that of ‘Zana’, a woman captured in the Russian forest in the 19th century, who was believed to be a surviving Neanderthal.

9th Feb – Scandimania – Channel 4, 8pm
Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall, hanging up his foodie hat for now, visits Denmark to look at various aspects of Danish life and society, investigating what makes it such a seemingly happy, well-adjusted place.

When this programme came on I messaged my friend because it covered some issues that he is very interested in. He jokingly replied “come on, you know it’s against my religion to watch TV”.
There is something wierd going on here. Possibly because we have a state-owned broadcaster which is funded by a compulsory TV licence, that gets peoples’ backs up straight away.
Also “state broadcaster” equates in some peoples’ minds with “state propaganda”, which may be the case in certain countries but not in ones strictly bound by rules about political balance – but hey, the debate about whether UK TV has political bias is a whole other blog…

10th Feb – Benefits britain: The bedroom tax – Channel 4, 8pm
Seyi Rhodes (a young black journalist who I Iast saw reporting from Congo for Channel Four’s Unreported World series) interviews people affected by the Bedroom Tax, including councillors in Scotland who are doing their best to limit it’s damage. 
I wanted to flag up this programme as a lot of people are only paying attention to the heavily promoted and discusssed docu-drama Benefit Street, and not noticing important testimony like this.

11th Feb – Britain’s Great War – BBC1, 9pm

Continuing to be the careful journalist and engaging presenter he can be when not playing up to his own stereotype, Jeremy Paxman looks at the darkest days on the home front, in part three of his ww1 series. With Germany blockading the UK, the country starts to panic.

12th Feb – The Golden Age of Liners – BBC4, 11pm

A programme about the history and design of ocean liners. Not exactly riveting viewing (ha!) but it was ok to have on in the background while I tidied my flat.

12th Feb – Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams – BBC4, 23.55pm

A beautifully made programme about an almost-forgotten aspect of art and engineering, of which I knew absolutely nothing. An automaton is a clockwork-powered model of a human or animal. These incredibly sophisticated devices, with their spooky movements, caused a sensation in eighteenth century Europe and actually played a part in fermenting the French revolution.

13th Feb – Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloodymindedness – BBC4

A history of architectural brutalism. Jonathan Meades is a mini-hero of mine; a maker of witty and distinctive arts and travel programmes who appears like a camp living sculpture in every frame, delivering iconoclastic monologues that make you envy his intellect. With this two part series he unapologetically makes the case for big ugly concrete buildings.”>

14th Feb – Luckily I had something better to do on this night!
But…over these few days I think I have proved that TV (at least UK TV) is not all shit (or evil). I know that people like to access their brain-food in different ways these days, but a lot of this deeply absorbing stuff would be lost if we all gravitated to the atomised, low attention-span world of clip-sharing, Netflix and TED .
Maybe I care about TV so much because it saved my mind. At the age of 18 I suffered a breakdown so major that I tend to refer to it as a ‘meltdown’. For a very long time I could do little other than watch telly, write songs and masturbate (not all at the same time).

In my debilitated state I had the time to watch not just music, comedy and films, but intellectually stimulating stuff (like the programmes listed above) put out by the BBC and Channel 4. I caught a hell of a lot of it, including at that time, Open University programmes. Yes, I educated myself through TV.

Although we are probably past that essential era when brave and rich programming could unite society, television is still so much a part of UK culture. The things that are wrong with it are not the fault of the medium. It’s up to thinking people to switch on selectively and help good telly to survive.


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