Television rules the nation

Television. Gil Scott-Heron told us that the revolution will not appear on it, while Daft Punk told us that it rules the nation, and indeed it appears increasingly that the latter assertion is certainly true. As far as the revolution part of that goes though, I’ve seen a video of Muammar Gaddafi being dragged out of a drainage pipe, so I’m slightly less inclined to believe the venerable Scott-Heron on matters of television.

I have to say that it was rather nice in first year not really having access to a television in halls. I found myself whiling away my hours reading Marx and Descartes, thumbing from volume to volume whilst idly swatting away the flies on the lawn of University Hall. Well, not really. But I did somewhat enjoy having one less distraction in my life, and while I wasn’t necessarily a hive of activity, owing mostly to the demon drink, I found that I was somewhat more mobile than I find myself being now.

Today you will find me watching Countdown regularly, basking in the glory of Susie Dent’s interesting musings on etymology as I consume hula hoops off the end of my fingers. I am not completely addicted to television – I might add, however, that I do find myself spending an inordinate amount of time in front of the devil’s box. Take today for example – I was supposed to write this article, and as I had some small idea on what I would speak about, I was confident it ‘wouldn’t take long’. Yet I slipped on my own hubris and decided to get on Netflix for a bit. And the problem is that 20 seconds between episodes of House of Cards simply isn’t enough time to make up your mind as to whether you should stop watching or start work.

Netflix is one thing though, and thankfully it is devoid of adverts, however the other channels which insist on interspersing every ten minutes with five minutes of vacuous car adverts and lightly pornographic perfume commercials have begun to grate. I recognise that the BBC is funded in a unique way; however, some of the adverts to which we are subjected are truly horrendous. Be it Apple or Microsoft, the formula is always the same: a husky American voice telling us how wonderful humans are whilst inspirational electronic music plays over clips of people paragliding off mountains and creating the latest hip-hop tune on the laptop in question. But the pure fact is that anybody who buys that laptop will utilise it by playing endless episodes of Community or Breaking Bad while not wearing any clothes in their own bed.

The people who are being advertised to are always being sold the person that they want to be. Fit, brave, agile and able to respond to pressure, whereas the rock climbing community amongst us is incredibly small. Almost none of us will achieve the heights which are expected by the advertising folk; however, that is not ultimately something to be worried about. Most of those people are actors, and even those people who appear in the adverts while also being genuine athletes in their sport are a complete minority.

The majority of us will die the wheezing, lardy bastards which we were born to be. It only takes one or two videos of people doing amazing back flips off piste while skiing to make us feel inadequate; however, it must be remembered that only a handful of people can actually do the various back flips which they perform. Even if you are good at, for example, skiing, chances are you will never be as good as Candide Thorvex, but you shouldn’t be discouraged by that fact. If anything you should revel in it. It is a goal which you should aim to attain.

Television tells us a lot about ourselves, because the only reason a show gets further than a pilot is in the belief that the programme will be popular. Almost always it showcases talent beyond our own abilities (with the exception of I’m A Celebrity, which showcases people able to make an argument out of nothing), or acting talents beyond our own and that is why we like it. Between an audience and the performer there is always an element of dramatic irony, though we are constantly aware that this is ‘only a TV show’; however, we still become involved in it. The characters and storylines truly affect us, but this is one of the wonderful things about the medium.

Whilst so many things might annoy us about modern television, especially the guilt felt by the constant reminder by parents that the spent their hours when young were spent ‘reading books and playing outside’, I do not think that it has become a drain upon society. If anything it is simply a medium which has been streamlined. Whilst so many things about watching television are truly awful (especially adverts), many things about it are both informative and entertaining. It may not be the oldest, or ‘purest’ way of conveying information, but there is a reason why it is so popular. And that reason is simply because it is so easily manipulated. Ultimately, despite all of the negative things said about it, television is the media medium which is here to stay. It is no great disgrace to enjoy some mindless entertainment whilst you recover from your hangover, nor is it some great boon to your personality to enjoy Qi. It is simply another way of passing the time; and for that purpose television is the greatest invention that we have.


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