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Perhaps even TV likes to hate on TV at times…

July 30, 2011

Yesterday we were treated to a guest lecture by Adrian Danks, which I found quite engaging on a number of points.  He touched a lot on points from the Rudolph Arnheim essay which was our assigned reading for this week, and about the history of TV as a medium. One of the things that most interested me however, was the point that television is often portrayed, in literature and the cinema most especially, as a medium that ‘wracked with guilt’, ‘not taken seriously’ or ‘chastised’. Examples from such films as Fahrenheit 451 (Francois Truffaut; 1966) and Hannah and Her Sisters (Woody Allen; 1986)  portray television as either a non-art from or a mind-numbing device that turns people into an unquestioning, controlled masses who follow their leaders blindly! Okay, so maybe the second example is a definite over-exaggeration of what television actually is (Fahrenheit 451 looks like a good science fiction film either way), but phrases such as ‘the idiot box’ and ‘couch potato’ are terms that I have heard quite often in my life. TV does seem to get quite a bad rap at times, and not just from the cinema. Even certain TV shows come to mind. The Simpsons takes a very tongue-in-cheek look at how people will believe anything they see on TV. Homer is accused of sexual assault by a girl (he was really grabbing a piece of candy stuck to her jeans – Homer Badman, Season 6, Episode 9), and the story is put to air on a cheap and dirty current affairs style show. The whole town is against him and TV shows are persecuting him, until Groundskeeper Willy comes to the rescue with a video he took of the incident. The show apologises, then the episode ends with the same TV show airing a story about Willy being a creepy voyeur. Homer declares how disgusting Willy is, and Marge can only look at him in shock, asking if he learned anything. He says he hasn’t.

One of the quotes from the episode reads:

Lisa: Sorry Dad, we do believe in you, we really do.

Bart: It’s just hard not to listen to TV: its spent so much more time raising us than you have.

Bart and Lisa also hug the TV as soon as Homer leaves the room.

The Simpsons is obviously poking fun at this perception of television, and it does it very well. But how close to the truth is this episode? Do the public really take on what they are shown on TV to such a full extent?

It’s not just the medium of television itself that is attracting criticism though. Specific genres are under attack, reality TV more than any other. Comedians such as Adam Hills (take a look at the first minute or so of this clip from his show Characterful and Joymonger)

Other TV genres like to take a stab at reality TV. In an episode of Doctor Who (Bad Wolf, Series 1, 2005) The Doctor and his companions wake up on a space station in the future, each of them trapped in a reality game show – with a twist. On Big Brother, to be eliminated is to be disintegrated. The same thing happens on the Weakest Link, and What Not To Wear takes makeovers to the extreme with major cosmetic surgery. People are forced to participate against their will. Like Fahrenheit this is set in a futuristic world, but it is a rather pessimistic view of reality TV, a genre which seems to unfortunately carry the stigma of lowbrow, cheap entertainment. Personally I don’t choose to watch much reality TV, but can well understand how it draws people in (My Kitchen Rules and Masterchef are two that I will make exceptions for occasionally). It seems to be drama vs. reality however. First seen as a kind of fad if I recall correctly, reality television does not seem to be going away. Certain shows come and go (Big Brother), but new shows with different concepts emerge to take their place.

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