Me and TV: the love affair is over

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.
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35 Responses to Me and TV: the love affair is over

  1. Homepage says:

    I think you are waging a one-woman jihad against television.

  2. Pamela says:

    i think you are very right in what you say. we pay a fortune for our t.v. license and are expected to watch cr*p. good for you. i hardly watch tv myself its not worth it.  – well done

  3. Unknown says:

    absolutly spot-on, i came to this conclusion six months ago – even if you do have sky/top-up tv/ntl/ whatever, the conclusion is much the same. the only things i watch now are documentry\’s blue planet, earth, coast etc – why watch muppets f**k their lives up on tv, when we have our own lives to live and experience.
    there, got that off my chest!!

  4. Lotty says:

    I couldn\’t agree with you more even though i have sky that doesn\’t stop there being crap on every channel anyway.

  5. Unknown says:

    I agree entirely with what you say. It is banal programming that is ruining this nation. If the tv-watching public just instead entered into more conversations and read more books instead of being scheduled by the television itself, then the UK would become a more interesting island.

  6. Unknown says:

    This contributor is using crushingly anodyne, banal and stupid generalisations to make a point which doesn\’t even stand up to close inspection. All TV is bad just because naughty old Big Brother is on the box? Get real, get some perspective and get a life.
    Whaddya know, there\’s something called the Off switch which you can use to get rid of the dross, then you can see the good stuff, and still go out, read a book and talk to people as well!
    Don\’t blink now!

  7. Unknown says:

    In return to what \’A Man\’ has just said; there should not be any need to press the off switch when were paying for a tv-licence and in return reality television and other dross is being broadcast continuously.

  8. Linda says:

    Glad someone else has joined the club – I ditched mine 4 years ago and haven\’t missed it all.  Who\’s Jade??  I don\’t read newspapers either – all doom and gloom, I\’d rather find the nicer things in life.

  9. Matt says:

    The ironic thing is, almost all of the programmes people complain about have nothing to do with the BBC. Big Brother, I\’m a Celebrity Please Kill Me, et al, are all hosted by commercial television stations which receive no TV licence funding. The BBC can hardly be expected to conduct quality control on those stations.

  10. Mark says:

    Yes, Mary Whitehouse would be proud as you\’ve successfully made the same arguments she paraded in the 1960s: "death of culture," "destruction of a nation" etc.
    The fact is, this dross can be ignored, excluded, SWITCHED OFF. You\’re not forced to watch it and I\’ve successfully avoided all those shows you mentioned, instead relishing the insightful BBC and Channel 4 documentaries (e.g. Dispatches), quality drama like Waking The Dead, Doctor Who, Shameless, etc.
    Tv is not in a dire state: there is simply more choice and, consequently, more dross. Don\’t watch it and choose stuff that matters. Television is still the window on the world and long may it continue.

  11. Richard says:

    At a certain point, the amount of TV that you watch does not justify the cost of the licence. That is when you should dump the tv. Simple and logical.
    I didn\’t give up the tv because it got worse, i gave it up because I found better, more enjoyable things to do with my life that actually made me think and move.
    It is only because we rely so much on tv to constantly entertain us that we so bitterly complain when it can\’t constantly meet our expectations.

  12. sophy says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you, My Tv hasnt been on for months now. There is no point, I was always told TV would rot my brain, nowadays i think that is true. All because these TV execs have realised its cheap to hire a film crew to follow random people around, than to hire a team of writers, actors etc. This whole country is going downhill, all because of high up peoples love of money. It Is ruining everything

  13. Unknown says:

    The standard response to anyone who dares to suggest that the average standard of TV is poor is "switch it off if you don\’t want to see it".   Very true, and a fair response if the complainant\’s only point is the effect of \’slack-jaw\’ TV upon themselves.   However, the problem is far from simply being one of effect upon the individual.   The correspondent can indeed \’switch off\’ her TV, but she cannot also \’switch off\’ the Neanderthal behaviour and attitudes peddled in the \’reality\’ shows and series such as \’Eastpigignorantenders\’ etc  which are rapidly reflected in the brutish behaviour of rather a lot of people in the schools and streets. 
    No doubt in the 1930s any German concerned about the rising tide of Nazism would have been scornfully urged by some of the respondents to simply not attend the rallies.
    An aside – some of the scornful respondents seem to enjoy suggesting that anyone who disagrees with them on this subject is a \’Mary Whitehouse\’.  Her standpoint was that if you allow the minor transgressions all the time, the base line shifts and things get worse and worse until very quickly any sort of depravity is routine – and then those who make their living from always stepping over the boundaries really have to go to grotesque lengths to achieve the shock.   She was actually right, this is what is happening and continuing to happen.  In the behaviour side, this is reflected in minor vandalism and oafish behaviour gradually escalating as the lines shift until the only solution to recover the situation is the successful \’zero tolerance\’ policy – or surrender what is left of civilization to the barbarians who are already within the gates.  
    ps.  If you do dispose of your TV you will face the next decade being harrassed by TV licensing goons who haven\’t the intelligence to understand that anyone could not have a TV and who will threaten the bailiffs and all sorts of actions unless you admit to having a TV hidden in some lead-shielded bunker! 

  14. jessica says:

    i havent watched tv for months and i dont miss it, havent a clue who won big brother this year or even who was in it!  there are far to many reality tv shows that people pay too much attention to.  tv schedules your life if you let it, its total rubbish, get a life.  these people arent real, they play no part in your life whatsoever! why do people sit and stare that them night after night? there is a whole world out there and its for living.  why sit in front of box of moving picture?? some people might say it is it madness.  where\’s the nearest institution?

  15. Claire says:

    I gave up my television 2 years ago and feel much healthier for it, Television has become like a drug, It turns us into addicts and allows us to exist without having to think too much or do too much for ourselves, I agree that when you come home from work you don\’t feel like doing much, but to switch yourself off and lay back infront of the television everyday after work seems very unhealthy to me.

    I believe television serves as a pacifier for the nation………It hardly ever inspires or makes one active does it!………it us all into clones of one another…………I bump into the same boring conversations about whats happening on television shows time and time again, I also find it very strange to hear people imitate what they see on television time and time again, especially stuff from comedy shows……It\’s just not funny after the 5th person in the office/school/university/wherever! has stated "yer but no but yer" or done the famous dance from \’the office\’……………

    Actually although I stated I gave up my television thats not strictly true, I still have a television, I just don\’t use it to pick up any signal (I don\’t have an aerial), I watch dvd\’s/videos that I want to watch with it when I want to watch them and don\’t stick to any timetable or programming…..I tend to choose things that make me think/promote some creativity……It\’s actually legal for me to do this (and not many people know that) because I wrote a letter to the Licensing people and I don\’t have to pay a thing. If I chose to I could also use the television for gaming, but I find that takes over your life too!
    I do understand the need to sit back and let yourself go, not having to participate actively and that is why I still have a television………. I just don\’t feel the need to watch all the rubbish that is broadcast.

  16. Munira says:

    that is so true TV doesnt have much goin on and the fact that young people bcome couch potatoes is due to them finiding this non sense interesting, i mean come on – a show called "date my mum" y dnt u jus date the gals n eliminate them instead of goin out with their mum…!!! these dayz i only watch cartoons like japanese anime, music channels wen they have the music on n not sum rubbish show or documentaries on the history channel, mind u im only 18…… other than that im outside having fun… TV is not sumthing to get hooked on, especially if there is nothing to watch!!!

  17. Anita says:

    Bravo!   I\’m there with you!   I don\’t watch any of the reality programmes – I prefer to watch The History Channel instead – or decent comedy programmes (I know they are re-runs but Rigsby and Del Boy still make me laugh) on UKTV Gold – or choose the movies I want to watch when I want to watch them.   Is all this bilge on terrestrial tv worth the licence fee? A big fat NO.   Now if Sir David Attenborough could just move over to the discovery channel I could tipp ex over the BBC1 etc. buttons and just use the sky remote!
    Talking of remote, did anyone see Harriet Harman MP Robot on Question Time last night?  Classic bilge!
    I rest my case!

  18. Mark says:

    Karl Marx wrote that religeon was the opiate of the masses. Today, we are dulled into unthinking acceptance of the status quo by TV and football. Has anyone noticed how the Eastenders dialect has become the default tongue in this country, even from those who have never lived anywhere near London? I have a TV, and yet the only bit of Eastenders which ever gets to it is the first bit of that electric drum fill (which is the time it takes for me to get to the remote!) As for Big Brother and it\’s sad contestants………As a society, I don\’t think we have come very far in 2000 years. I am sure those who gawk at this stuff would simply have loved the games in the Roman arena!

  19. Ian says:

    What a strange coincidence. I don`t know whether your post is truly serious or tongue in cheek, but just 2 days ago I got rid of my TV. I am sick of the rubbish that`s spouted out continuously and how everyone like lemmings just sucks it up. I`ve wathced one of my best firends of many years just slowly turn into a brainless cabage where nothing but TV (and having more Tv gimicks) are all important to him. Converstations are inane and just go on about unimportant rubbish.
    It all built up on me slowly, watching Tv dictate what people thought, what they considered important and slowly losing touch with IMPORTANT stuff like world affairs or home affairs. I soon became scared I would soon become the same.
    I got rid of the Tv before it happened to me or my daughter.
    There are far more worthwhile things to do in REAL LIFE!

  20. luke says:

    (I posted this in response to the ‘For TV’ side of the argument, see the other blog, and wondered if anyone agreed with me on this side)
    A bit of a flowery view on one of the wonders of modern life. I agree TV is great and has granted us easy access to more knowledge. But I dont think that simply saying switch over if you dont like it is an acceptable retort to those who have issue with the poor standards of tv.
    Firstly: To compare the ratios of good:bad tv now to what is was 30 years ago and say they are the same is a crazy concept. 75% of almost everything that has ever been on, is on constant repeat so to create a ratio would be really messed up 😉 !
    If you start to really think about the whole TV GOOD/TV BAD issue  you have to decide what makes it good/bad. Simplistically you could say it may come down to personal preference, however that is a bit of a facile interpretation of the issue. You have to look a bit deeper; acknowledge who is watching; kids/ adults, uneducated people/educated people, captive audiences such as prisons or malls. Then look at the suitability of the programs being broadcasted for those people and what the outcome of the show will be in terms of how it affects the viewer.
    I am sure people can turn over if they do not like a program, but what’s to say that an inappropriate show will be watched by an impressionable person who will not/can not turn over? e.g. think about the ongoing debate surrounding violent films being shown to kids: do violent shows lead to violent kids?
    Maybe programming that does nothing but satisfies the lowest requirement of mental stimulation to remain watchable will lead to a generation of low aspiration easily pleased potatoes? If you eat excess junk food you get physically unfit, if you don’t stimulate your mind then you don’t develop your thinking capabilities, although recalling the Jade BB debacle I guess it stimulates something. My personal bugbear is music videos, freely available all day and contains more sex/swearing (bleeped out…whatever, there’s only so many words that rhyme with duck, twitch and bigger) than ever before and rap especially promote excessive $ and spending of $ as being the prime goal in life and the only way to be happy. This egocentric, narcissistic, sexist, capitalist highly appealing trash is gobbled up by young kids all day everyday.
    Sometimes the show may be to promote a political opinion, look at the main news channels and see if you can guess which political parties they support. Bias and inaccurate information is blatant in many types of programme; just imagine if you were educated by American movies (just like millions of people are)!  I touched on the topic of sex earlier, how many shows portray woman as objects or less than men. How many shows push the idea that you have to comply to a set body type/look to be a certain kind of person? On top of the intellectual connotations of bad TV there are the social problems it causes, cue images of anorexic children trying to emulate their Pop Idols.
    This inexorably leads to the issue of ‘why should tv have responsibilities to the general public’, why should tv be obliged to provide anything other than tv?
    To further this discussion you have to look at the motives behind broadcasting. In most cases the person in control of the TV programming is doing it for MONEY! To make money people will do anything and this is clearly evident on TV. Most Broadcasters are controlled by the dollar; they are exactly the same as a company that makes cheese or oil. If they were not regulated by independent bodies then we would be in an even worse situation. Lobby groups operate for tv companies in the same way they do for tobacco companies. Businesses serve the lowest common denominator in terms of satisfaction and people will continue to accept this as long as there is a lack of easily accessible choice. The TV industry knows what catches the publics’ eye: that is bright shiny colours and links to our base desires. So basically they treat us like children (compare teletubbies and mtv, bright vibrant colours, simple concepts, repetition, although teletubbies camera seem to have learnt to hold a camera still). When you grow up should you not be given the option to have more complex shows available to you?
    The bottom line is that Human Beings (with all there attached foibles, money grabbing tendencies, prejudices and biases) are putting shows onto tv screens for other Human Beings.
    When you watch something you form an opinion on it and it may change your opinion on other issues in your life, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. I think that TV, more than any other media, is responsible for changing opinions and mind sets in the wider population through its ability to easily disseminate information. Some people are more impressionable than others and may take concepts presented to them on TV/Silver screen further than others, to disastrous consequences. It is for this reason that the quality should be more thoroughly audited. Why can’t the majority of programmes be well made, stimulating shows and the minority the trashy stuff? I would much rather channel hop because I was torn between amazing shows than because I couldn’t be bothered to commit to one naff one.
    This is a bit of a disjointed rant (im at work) but hopefully it will make you demand a bit more of your goggle box.

  21. Unknown says:

    I totally agree with this, nowadays people are to lazy to do anything, including coming up with something original. I see it everywhere I go and I\’m sick of it. I haven\’t watched TV for about a year and a half now, and I don\’t intend to do so anytime soon. TV license is a rip off, and apparently the money goes nowhere. And to Anon, the comment about one-woman jihad is bollocks, I am certain there are many people who feel the same way about this. I think I had better stop before I get angry. Bye.

  22. Lee says:

    I\’ve been TV-less for six months, and I\’ve not missed it.  I have my kids at the weekend and the effect on them has been startling too; whereas before they would come in, sit down and become vegetables, now they discuss what we will do – they ask if we an go out together, play games together, even just talk!
    Another strange reaction comes from other people when they find I don\’t have one – they really can\’t imagine an evening without sitting in front of the box, but when I ask what they watched last night, they are generally ashamed at what they chose to spend their evening looking at!
    And lastly on my turn on the soapbox – I\’ve found how incredibly rude it is going round someones house and having them keep on watching the tele whilst you are trying to talk to them – whoever says tele is addicted hit the nail on the head!

  23. Unknown says:

    We now live in France, I haven\’t watched TV for three years BLISSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Don\’t miss it and in fact have so much more time to do more meaningful things I feel like I\’ve won the lottery.

  24. Brenda says:

    What a wonderful piece of writing. I do SO agree. T.V. in my view, has a lot to answer for. The characters portrayed in all the soaps are looked upon as role models.The produces will have us believe that this is real life and that its what we want to see. Well I for one do not want to see endless fighting, arguing, rudeness,dispair and unhappiness and be lead to believe that it is entertainment!!! All the soaps follow the same pattern and try to out\’do one another to see who can produce the next sequence of hate and anger.As for the likes of Big Brother and other \’Reality\’ programs,if this is reality,stop the world I want to get off!!!! When are we going to see politeness, good manners and respect for others and for oneself back on our screens thus lifting our spirits and giving us a liitle hope??

  25. Unknown says:

    (no name)B said:
    "When are we going to see politeness, good manners and respect for others and for oneself back on our screens"
    … a Yorkshire programme called "Dales Diary"…..!
    Sadly, the list dries up around then!

  26. Eleanor says:

    I no longer have to pay a licenece fee ( one of the \’perks\’ we oldies have ) so it does\’nt seem as bad when I come across another load of dross which is passed off as entertainment.  The television can be a \’window on the world\’ however the young minds exposed to it are not usually able to distinguish between the good and the ghastly, the biased and unbiased, while some of the advertisers/networks should face prosecution for the way they present their products.  Unhappily children these days are not apparently, as we were, taught to use their minds, to debate, evaluate and develop the ability to think things through before making decisions. Looks like we shall suufer governments like the present one for many years to come! 

  27. Richard says:

    My biggest gripe with TV is that it\’s on in all the pubs. There are 8 TV\’s in my favourite pub and they are on ALL the time. It really dampens conversation because either it\’s continuously distracting, or it\’s so loud that you end up competing with it just to be heard.
    Is it really necessary to have 8 tv\’s on all the time in one building?

  28. Carole says:

    laura, you said it all and i for one agree with every word. keep up the good work!!

  29. Unknown says:

    Go one step further? – sell your tv!  About 12 months ago my partner, who was generally disgusted by the poor quality of tv anyway, was pushed over the limit by a tv licensing bill arriving at the wrong time-> the result: She gave away the TV… After a brief withdrawal period, it has been great without it. Since then I have more time.  I took up reading (and more internet use).  Oddly there have been few consequences, I am rarely left out of conversation; even without a tv it seems I still know pretty much what is going on in all of the shows anyway –most of what is in “news” papers covers the important bits of what is on tv!

  30. susan says:

    Excellent piece of writing! The dumbing down of TV is one symptom of the general dumbing down all around us -or is it the cause? I\’m no expert and will leave that to the psychologists – but the very fact that the likes of Jade Goody are considered "celebrities" says it all!!! What are these people FOR!!?? Chantelle?? What is that??

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