I find myself shouting at the TV more and more these days. I know part of that is because I am increasingly crotchety, but part is due to a conviction I am being dumbed down to a lot of the time.
Amid a welter of moving wallpaper, this irritating condescension has infected the last place one expects, the BBC 1 news.
There appear to be a number of assumptions made about me, as a member of the viewing public, which makes me feel treated as a ‘consumer’. Someone who has to be ‘sold’ the news.
The first assumption is that I am incapable of holding key information in my head for more than a few minutes. To overcome my disability I have to be told the main headlines at the start, at half time and at the end. The start is exactly like a movie trailer to tempt me to sign up for the main feature, which seems to be based on the unlikely belief that we choose whether to continue watching if we like the look of it. If so, this has some worrying implications about the selection of news items.
The next assumption is that I might lose interest part way through or have been texting. This demands that I am fed little droppings of news under the heading of ‘still to come in this programme’ to tempt me to stay tuned in, and in the expectation that I might get a bit bored, the newsreader has to forsake his/her desk and stand in an artificially relaxed way in front of a huge screen to display state of the art graphics.
Assumption number three is the most pernicious – that the subject matter of many items is too broad to grasp without grounding it by describing how it affects a selected individual/family whose example and down to earth explanation of its effects will transform my understanding. Top prize if we can enter the home to discover the impact that something particularly unpleasant, preferably medical in nature, has had on the poor unfortunate victim.
What are we to make of this? Is this typical of a general response? Are we unable to handle big concepts without a ‘human interest’ angle? Or might we lose interest if we can’t have our fill of someone else’s misfortunes.
Running close on the heels of this assumption is that I will be unable to make up my mind until I have heard the erudite and finely expressed thoughts of ‘the man in the street’. Forgive me for a small digression. In law there is the concept of ‘the man on the Clapham Omnibus’. This is a Victorian notion of a nondescript but reasonably intelligent and educated person against whom the behaviour of the defendant could be measured. Note that in those times it was only a man who could meet this specification, although the legal concept still thrives today. If only such a charater were around today.
The citizens we are treated to today are probably chosen on the basis of those who didn’t cross the street when they saw someone thrusting a microphone in the faces of hapless passers-by, much as they would if they had spotted a vagrant, or someone selling religion or charity. By not trying to avoid the thrusting microphone it is entirely probable that they are daft, high or foreign. Either that or lonely and happy chatting to anyone, especially if it gets them on the Tele. So hapless pedestrians are asked for their considered views on the topic. Two or three ‘thoughtful’ responses to these questions are broadcast and we can put a tick against “Common man/woman’s view”. I could almost understand this if they found people whose views were somehow illuminating, but alas such people do not, apparently, exist.
The Regional news is even worse. The format seems to be: lead with a genuine piece of news but one that relates preferably to a previous story so that we can tag on all those images we’ve seen before. Our local news is the BBC’s South East’s programme, so firm favourites have been migrants doing something illegal or unpleasant; one of our failing hospitals, preferably where a patient was left in a corridor for two weeks; the ambulance service and the despicable way they suggest to patients with a little splinter that a ride to A&E is not a good idea, and so on.
The smallest development in any of these items is reheated at the first opportunity, which has you reaching for the fast forward button.
Ideally the next item is some unfortunate person, preferably a child, who has a dreadful complaint and how the parents are campaigning for some change in its treatment or identification. Next comes your man/woman in the street story and their immensely valuable views about, for example, staying, or not, in Europe. At the helm of this juggernaut is a pair of news readers who try to instil a fireside chat atmosphere, that too often comes across as a sort of cosy smugness. Perhaps that is why I am mildly irritated when they end with “see you tomorrow”, as if they could.
So, am I being ‘dumbed down to’? It certainly feels like it, and having appealed to the lowest common denominator, it won’t be easy should they decide, one day, that their audience have brains.