I was reading Aric Sigman’s Remotely Controlled: How Television is Damaging Our Lives between Edinburgh and Glasgow. I was engrossed by the disabled loo when a woman opposite stated , “how television is ruining our lives eh?”
I said it was quite interesting though often stated what one might hope was common sense. I pointed out that some medical and scientific friends of mine had questioned the some of the facts within and possible selectivity in quotes. Fortunately I did not go on and say, “my friend Dr Ben Goldacre said it was a bit rubbish”.
The reason I am glad I did not mention Dr Ben will become clear imminently.
“are you going to Glasgow for the Parkinson’s conference?”
“No. So that’s where you’re going. What’s your interest?”
“I am an acupuncturist”
“Nothing I just said phew in brackets. Jolly good, here we are then.”
Here is Dr Ben on some acupuncture research – http://bit.ly/dr8Ai1
The Daily Mail quote on the front cover of Remotely Controlled is “how TV is quite literally killing us”, so get ready for the ride.
I am not a huge TV fan, though I was when I spent more time actively doing nothing as opposed to accidentally doing nothing which occasionally happens. I have the memories of spending a whole night in front of the TV and then waking up the next day with no memories of what I’d seen. Those days when the act of waking up or returning home were quickly followed by turning on TV. The days when my friend Ed and I would watch neighbours twice a day, once with beans on toast (Ed’s recipe secret was to add a little bit of butter into the bean pan to make them more delicious) and once as a prelude to going to the off licence. Now I may see a little bit of Peppa Pig and late at night will choose a film or documentary from my DVD pile and not even bother looking at a TV page in a periodical. I sometimes see the television as the worst invention of the 20th century (barring some weapons), because it encourages lethargy, complacency and is a handy propaganda device helping set people’s opinions as the food dries on their chin. So I should be exactly the person who nods throughout and then pens a letter to the Radio Times before posting a box of dog excrement to some Murdochs.
There is something in his style that annoys me and makes me want to watch more television. In the preface he writes like a flustered colonel about seeing someone in a provincial Thai village bodypopping. “there was this fellow who seemed to be having some sort of fit but it turned out it’s a kind of dancing. I’d have shot the bugger if I’d had my 12 bore” is an only slightly unjust précis.
Here is a snippet of the original –
“finally he jumped to his feet, and for no particular reason shouted ‘yo’. I realized that this wasn’t a public seizure but an impromptu bout of breakdancing”
There can be reasons to bemoan the loss of culture due to the global village, after all
“visual voodoo had taken control of this man’s body”. It then turns out that his two and a half year old daughter started to laugh like Sid James. This horrific meme appears to have been contracted from her putting on a video of “Carry on Again Doctor” while her parents slept.
Perhaps the book is deliberately written as if by Mary Whitehouse as Sigman imagines it is those sorts of people who will be his core audience.
As Chapter one progresses we discover –
- people are forgetting to have sex and thus babies because of TV.
- You are spending years of your life in front of the TV which is bad. Though is wasting years in front of the TV more wasteful and pointless than collecting stamps or watching trains? “that boy of yours, all he seems to do is stare at Penny Blacks all day”.
- Tv watching and ADHD are linked
- Autism may be triggered by TV watching
- Children who watch more TV have lower grades, read fewer books and exercise less. This seems reminiscent of people who declare there is a direct link between breastfeeding and children being smart. I don’t think it’s so much the breast milk as the fact that mothers who intend to breastfeed are more likely to pay attention to their children and stimulate. It’s not just the magic in the milk Equally, children who are just allowed to slump in front of the TV may well have parents who are not bothering with them so much.
Damn, I’ve run out of time and have to go to my gig. Part 2 which may include more of Sigman, Dan Hind’s Threat of Reason and a little about Jim Van Bebber’s film The Manson Family to come.
Here is another Goldacre piece about Aric Sigman – http://bit.ly/ckkApw
But I’m not saying make your mind up on these few things. Here are some bits of interest. Now if you want you can go off and work out what you think. Sometimes I put up things from other people on twitter and people write “oh, you think THAT do you?” and I attempt to explain I put up things that interest me, it does not mean I 100% agree with them or even understand them sometimes.
TV would be a whole lot better if there was genuine quality across the board. That said, I am a big fan of Neighbours, Come Dine With Me and Coach Trip, and feel that even soaps like Emmerdale, Eastenders and Coronation Street have their place in the schedule, partially because they still reflect some sort of reality and partially because it fills up the evenings of menopausal women.
What’d be nice if the Public Service programmes – like The Five Show, which is truly horrendous, and like watching barely coherent 6 year olds trying to delineate the contents of Heat magazine in a frenzied hour of chaos, as well as perhaps The One Show and talent contests were replaced with programming that might actually be culturally and educationally stimulating. However, that’s a bit of an elitist attitude to take and maybe the best thing to do is just ignore television altogether and thank each other there’s still the refuge of the Internet, which isn’t quite as evil.
“The days when my friend Ed and I would watch neighbours twice a day, once with beans on toast (Ed’s recipe secret was to add a little bit of butter into the bean pan to make them more delicious) and once as a prelude to going to the off licence.”
This sentence made me nostalgic for my wasted youth.
Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman is worth a read (“A scintillating analysis of television’s effect on culture” as a quote from New Society says on the cover). The main thrust of his critique seems to be that TV de-emphasises information and rational argument in favour of entertainment value (assuming these are mutually exclusive / contradictory qualities), invoking Huxley’s Brave New World, and the idea that man has “almost infinite appetite for distractions”. Has great cover art too, a grainy TV picture close-up of Ronald Reagan’s face wearing a bright red clown nose.
For an accompanying DVD, how about Nigel (Quatermass) Kneale’s “Year of the Sex Olympics” about the passivity of TV audiences and the medium’s use as a controller of the populace. Not sure if the BFI’s version is still in print though (same problem with Peter Watkins’ “The War Game” I think you mentioned recently). That reminds me, still haven’t watched Nigel Kneale’s Beasts yet. Enjoying the blog, hope you manage to keep it going as a project.
I love Neil Postman’s work and think Amusing Ourselves to Death is tremendous (oh and bloody Year of Sex Olympics is jolly expensive)
Yikes, you’re right about YotSO, just seen price on amazon. Luckily I’ve had my copy, along with Stone Tape and War Game, for sometime. May have to consider selling them though, if they really fetch those kind of prices (imagine all the books and DVDs I could purchase in return). I won’t part with them until I’ve watched all again though (by which time someone will have released a deluxe collectors addition on 3D blu-ray and my DVDs will become worthless).
Re Postman, only read AOtD so far, any suggestions on a follow-up work?