About the Author
Paul Simpson is editor of The Rough Guide to Online Shopping and author of the Rough Guides to Cult Movies and Elvis. He launched the adult football magazine FourFourTwo and has written for publications as diverse as the Financial Times and Q magazine.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
PEANUTS, PARANOIA AND PANICS
A few misguided souls still mock the very idea that television,
a medium famously described as chewing gum for the eyes, could create anything as powerful as a cult. Orson Welles, who knew a thing or two about the power of the media (and, for that matter, Californian wines and Domecq sherry), got closer to the truth with his peanuts analogy.
Often, the very people who insist on televisions terrifying triviality, proclaim it is a deeply subversive force. Moral panics about television date back to 1948 when the New York Times sighed: the wife scarcely knows where the kitchen is, let alone her place in it, Junior scorns the afternoon sunlight for the glamour of a darkened living room and fathers briefcase lies unopened in the foyer. The reason: television.
The bad publicity never stops: various studies have blamed/credited TV for making viewers paranoid, soothing stressed battery hens and causing a rise in accidents in the home through endless DIY series.
The most significant study was conducted in Germany and the UK in the early 1990s, in which 80 families were paid £40 a week not to watch telly. The pay-per-non-view experiment soon ended as the families gave the money back because without TV they had nothing to talk about. Too bloody right. Where would the art of conversation be if we couldnt speculate about when Mulder was going to kiss Scully, how long Vanessa would last in Celebrity Big Brother, and whether Jerry Springer really wanted to do a show called I Married A Horse? (Answer: No, but he did make a programme called Seven Months Pregnant And Still Stripping.)
THE BOREDOM-KILLING BUSINESS
The final word goes to Howard Beale, the newsreader who threatens to commit suicide on air in the 1976 movie Network. In one of his shorter speeches, he observes: Television is not the truth. Television is a god-damned amusement park. Television is a circus, a carnival, a travelling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, sideshow freaks, lion tamers and football players. Were in the boredom-killing business. There are times when TV seems to be in the boredom-generating business (dogs saying sausages on Thats Life, Ray Stubbs, every TV series starring Cannon and Ball) but at its best, the box kills boredom almost as effectively as Domestos is said to kill all known germs.