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January 21, 2007

Opinion 2

Moron TV: Big Brother; Commercialism; The Public Service Broadcasting Ethos

Introduction

As noted in my Film Opinion One there is no mercy on this blog for crass commercial media products aimed at exploiting populist sentiment which belongs to the lowest common denominator. As Adorno and Horkheimer note in their article on the culture industry:

something is provided for all that none may escape; the distinctions are emphasized and extended. The public is catered for with a hierarchical range of mass-produced products of varying quality thus advancing the rule of complete quantification. (Adorno and Horkheimer, p 123).

Thankfully the denominator when it comes to so-called ‘Celebrity’ Big Brother can’t be described as ‘common’ in the sense of achieving approval from people in Britain. The large numbers of people taking the trouble to make formal complaints about this despicable programme can give all visitors some faith in the notion of the global Public Sphere – of which Web 2.0 is a part-, the question still remains whether this fissure which has opened in the sheer rock face of the culture industry can lead to something constructive. Can popular resistance really break through in a long term meaningful way? Can we get the media we would actually like?

Normally I avoid links to commercial organisations unless they pay or unless the product is technologically of interest and of good quality. When dealing with media products the policy is that if the content is deemed to be of sufficient quality and relevance as to be justifiable then it can be included.

As some visitors may have noticed there are links and products from Channel Four News programmes in the section which doubles as a news portal and offers media students the chance to get direct feeds to the better quality news programmes. The extremely dubious nature of Channel Four’s attitude to the whole of the Big Brother furore leads me to consider whether to include C4 links on this site or should it be voted off (by me)?

The Growth of Celebrity

At times it seems as though the growth of the discourse of ‘celebrity’ has grown alongside the increasing interest and use of the internet. As interest in user generated content grows so the weakest elements of the mainstream media resort to increasingly desparate survival tactics. (The continous profits squeeze upon the Music company EMI as it announced disappointing results last week is another example of change in the wind).

The culture of ‘celebrity’ received critical treatment at least as far back as Adorno and Horkheimer:

As naturally as the ruled always took the morality imposed upon them more seriously than did the rulers themselves, the deceived masses are today captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are. The misplaced love of the common people for the wrong which is done them is a greater force than the cunning of the authorities. It is even stronger than the rigorism of the Hays Office… (Adorno & Horkheimer, p 134).

Thankfully the totality of the culture industry has turned out not to be quite as homogenous as these Frankfurt School worthies were afraid of, nevertheless, the tendencies they identified all seem to be present in the ‘Celebrity’ Big Brother story.

The Irony of ‘Reality TV’ finally breaks through into the Real World

What could be better for the media company concerned than so called ‘reality TV’ than this mockery of the world actually impinging in a serious way upon the real social world.

Concerns were voiced that the BBC was covering the issue too much, but when a representative came before Newswatch to defend News 24’s coverage it was hard to disagree that a sordid little moron TV show had managed to become in danger of causing a major diplomatic incident and was the cause of concern in Parliamentary questions and debate.

I must say Ken Livingstone the Mayor of London came close to my thoughts when he argued that the Channel 4 producers had deliberately set up this confrontation to create the maximum degree of attention and controversy. A tactic of last resort as its failing formula and increasing desparation to find people who could be described as celebrity even in its most elastic construction.

There is little doubt that this programme should sink without trace in a few weeks time. As C4 increasingly turns itself into the worst possible version of what might be described as ‘Tabloid TV’ with psuedo-documentaries and continuous soft-porn style content, it serves to firmly underpin the notion of the importance of Public Service Broadcast TV.

The formula of Big Brother itself seems to have been invented by an increasingly wealthy ex Public School and Oxbridge character interviewed a few months ago in the Financial Times. That reminds me of Lindsay Anderson’s Oh Dreamland which has a little clip near the beginning of a Rolls Royce Parked behind a 1950s amusement complex. The camera then cuts to large numbers of working class people piling off coaches from London. The film charts their initial joy at having a flight from reality gradually become undermined by the dire quality of the content of the park.

These Big Brother antics attract the sort of audiences who would like to watch cock-fights, bare-knuckle fighting, bear and badger-baiting. This is the 21st century equivalent.

The joy of being able to vote somebody out of Big Brother is a mockery of democracy and an insult to the notion of real citizenship. Citizenship becomes spectacle as you pay 50 pence for the privilege of a telephone vote in any case although C4 will doubtless be trumpeting this a a modern form of ‘viewer democracy’ and ‘participative media product’.

I heard the interview with a senior exectutive from Channel Four at about 6.15 a.m. as he happily criticised the BBC for getting too much license fee and then point-blank refused to make any comment whatsoever about the controversy.

Well his senior executive pay packet was on the line and hopefully still is. Channel 4’s policy and behaviour this week has been seriously unethical and based purely on commercial greed. The 1990 Broadcasting Act has liberated the airwaves to junk TV. The stonewalling of this Channel 4 executive is the strongest possible argument for raising the license fee for the BBC to try and get this trash off air.

Bye Bye Channel 4 News – Sorry

I’m always being surprised that many of the links this site contains go to BBC sites, the trouble is they are so much better than the opposition most of the time. I have no doubts that Channel 4 News is an exception. Right from the first day of Channel 4 I have enjoyed C4 News on a regular basis, and it has always been interesting to compare the content and handling of stories with the BBC who at the end of the day still need to keep a weather eye on the government when it comes to increases in licence fees.

This raises further issues of media policy about whether the government of the day should have such a direct influence on an institution which we all pay for. Perhaps a more independent body of licence reviewers needs to be established.

After this I’m contemplating the notion that a separate licensed 24 hour news programme with a level of financial independence perhaps mixed funded partially by advertising and partially by a separate license fee controlled by a fully independent institution from government might be a sensible path. Perhaps the Channel 4 news organisation could be the anchor of this. In the meantime I’m afraid the link is going. I don’t suppose that will make the organisation quake but I hope that visitors to this site will make their views very clear to Channel 4.

I rather hope that this outburst will prove to be the demise of C4. Those media and cultural theorists who continuously decry the Frankfurt School as being ‘pessimistic’ and ‘elitist’ and underestimating the intelligence of the audience would at least have a practical case study upon which to evidence their claims. I’m am optimistic that Adorno and Horkheimer will be proved right.

For a moment there is a fissure appearing in the face of the cultural industry: can the popular masses led of course by the willing hordes of media theorists in the political vanguard escape the flight from the wretched reality described by Adorno and Horkheimer and actually develop some real resistance against the cultural industry. If like me you enjoy a regular supply of oxygen you are strongly advised not to hold your breath :-). The latest BBC story on this case reports the Association of Schools and College Leaders representative John Dunford as saying in response to demands from Alan Johnson demanding deeper cultural values in their approach:

Schools can hardly be blamed for one person’s bigotry when the 82% who voted to eject Jade Goody are testament to the work already being done by schools to develop respect, understanding and tolerance.

alan Johnson Minister of Education

This seems to indicate that nearly 20% or to put it another way nearly one in 5 of people who paid 50 pence for the priviledge of voting are effectively racist! No I don’t blame schools I blame the crass greed of people like Channel 4 executives who seek to profit from this sort of ‘controversy’. The production company behind Big Brother are called Endemol. Will they benefit out of this? asks this BBC story

Endemol seem to be one of these nebulous production companies which have sprung up in the wake of the 1990 Broadcasting Act. Interestingly they also provide the BBC with content such as Ready Steady Cook.
If you want to know what programmes to boycott or complain about then here is Endemol’s web site.
Its portfolio seems to fit Adorno’s astute comment of something is provided for all that none may escape remarkably well. Who is a pessimist and who is a realist! Get out there and prove me wrong please.


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