Posted by Laura
On Tuesday night Channel 4 showed Strictly Lady Sumo, a real-life documentary in which a group of overweight women who’d never set foot in a wrestling ring before vied to become sumo queens. It was, in the true spirit of TV irony, narrated by Dawn French. In the current media climate of “if it’s freaky, film it” reality overload, you truly couldn’t make it up. Not even a group of satirists trying to write a parody about the state of today’s television nation and its obsession with all things low-brow and gratuitous in nature could have made it up. But then perhaps we’ve got to the stage where the small screen has become one big parody of itself.
Add into the recent viewing mix the WAGs boutique, in which footballers’ wives compete with each other to run the most successful business, Celebrity Big Brother, Dancing on Ice, Shipwrecked, Soapstar Superstar, Wife Swap, 10 Years Younger, Love Island and Oh Brother Strictly Come and Get Me Out of Here Before My Mind Implodes, a contest where a bunch of wannabes have to watch another bunch of wannabes cooped up in a house all day, every day, until they can’t take it any longer (it’s only a matter of time before they make this, believe me) and there’s very little room for anything else on the box.
I, for one, am taking a stand. TV and I are finished. We’re done. O. V. E. R. End of. Well, I wouldn’t mind taking in a quick couple of pre-videoed episodes of Lost (I don’t have Sky) and the odd news bulletin (purely for professional reasons) but I guess these are the sacrifices I’ll have to make. The famous-for-15-minutes culture and its even more narcissistic cousin, the famous-already-but-seeking-even-more-exposure culture, has finally broken me and it’s time to say “thanks for the memories, big box in my living room” and replace it with some strategically-placed fish tank or cheeseplant.
Mary Whitehouse would be so proud, God rest her soul. But before I come across as too puritan, the caveat to my anti-TV diatribe is that I am not wholly against all reality programmes or celebrity shows, and I know there are some amazing other programmes out there. But that’s the trouble, TV used to be a multi-coloured canvas of different choices, now it’s just a mass of grey with the odd fleck of brilliance. I’d like to see more of these moments – the Life on Marses, the Planet Earths, and yes, the Losts – on my soon-to-be-redundant screen. But TV bods have got lazy. Why make great dramas, comedies, documentaries and investigative programmes, which take careful planning and execution, when the masses are lapping up the formulaic reality and celebrity shows? If we want to get more cultural enrichment on our screens, we’re going to have to make it harder for the producers by not accepting the same programmes respun year upon year.
And the over-saturation of these programmes is having an effect on the newspapers and magazines we read, which are perpetuating an artificial need in audiences to want more of this entertainment, hence more of them hitting our screens. It’s time to break the cycle. Imagine television with more groundbreaking, exciting programmes. Imagine a more varied media. In the words of the Why Don’t You Gang, the saviour of school summer holidays gone by, I’m calling for more people to liberate their free time from the shackles of what’s on the box and "switch off their TV sets and do something less boring instead". If enough rebel against banal programming, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll get the balance back.
What to do instead? Well, it’s going to be great. I shall read books in chunks longer than it takes to pass four Tube stops – without someone’s armpit in my face. I shall eat my dinner at a table over a nice spot of conversation, which will in no way be punctuated by snippets of “you know what that Jade’s done now”. I shall call people more on the telephone, unrestricted by my desired viewing schedule, preferably contacting them at the exact point the latest talent show hopeful or goldfish bowl-dweller is about to be booted off the telly. What the hey, I may even crank up the old wireless – I’ve missed that Archers theme tune. If you’re at a loss at what to do during the post-TV days, here are a few suggestions:
Take my word for it, the road to better television may be lonely, challenging and certainly seldom travelled, but it’s going to be bliss. No arguments over who has the remote control, a living room layout unconstrained by the position of a box in the corner, and no more “deee 1,583 in the Big Brutha house”. Sit back, switch off, and enjoy.