January 10th, 2012

Arty Evil Icon

chewing gum for the eyes

Clive James used to front a TV programme in the eighties that was all about how peculiar and inferior foreign TV was at the time. Those crazy Japs, allowing themselves to be tortured with scorpions and publically humiliated to win a tiny prize! Those racy Scandiwegians, getting their knobs out in adverts for margarine!

I pretty much stopped watching TV in 2000. Coming back to it last year, three quarters of the channels were like watching that Clive James prog on a loop; he worst of the rest were the Prick or Chick or Sociopath channels, where you can watch Top Gear, Friends or Hitler 24 hours a day. If you are in the tiny minority of viewers that is over forty, vaguely literate, and prefers thinkywanks to porn, telly these days seems to be beamed from another planet, not just another country.

And if you spend a decade listening to Radio 4, when you return to TV, everyone on the mainstream channels seems to be twenty and pretty with wonderful teeth, terrible diction and a mediocre vocabulary. Whenever I see someone ordinary-looking and articulate presenting a TV programme now, I just assume they must be one of the ones who got there through nepotism, rather than the casting couch.

This bland, glossy-toothed uniformity extends to politicians. If the party leaders were mugggers, and you happened to be mugged by one of them in one of the six remaining remaining square feet of the UK that's not covered by CCTV, and they mocked up a photo fit from your desription, how on earth would you tell which one it was? This is why radio is better, it's eay to tell them apart when you are forced to listen to their voices and delivery: Braying and no brains? Cameron. Whining and no backbone? Clegg. No points and no balls? Milliband. At least in the eighties, you could tell the political satire from the news, because the political satire was the one with puppets in. These days, after only a moderate quantity of gin, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between Newsnight and In the Thick of It.

Children's TV is a bit better but meant it when I said recently that The Gruffalo was much more sophisticated than Dr Who In fact it was infinitely better on all counts. Why should I care? I am not a Who fan, and both are only children's programmes, after all. But, arguably they are important precisely because they were made for children; because they were about the only two original, made for TV, drama specials for children/whole family viewing, because they were made by the BBC which we pay for and which doesn't have to woo the advertisers and can afford, literally, to be a bit good. The Gruffalo wasn't just charming; it was inventive, thoughtful, clever. The mouse is a much better hero than Dr Who, because he relies on his wits. He also to face the genuine threat of being eaten, others creatures do get snaffled by predators, so unlike Who, all the bad stuff isn't simply diffused with a sonic screwdriver and a dose of nauseating sentiment, usually related to the importance of families and love. I pity those thousands of unfortunate children watching it in search of an imaginative escape from their own unpleasant families.