Thursday, June 20, 2013

A tale of two Brians

...and a bit of analysis.

If there is anyone in the UK with a posher accent than Brian Sewell then I have never heard them speak. He makes the Queen sound like a cockney. It is a splendid voice to be rude and irritating in, which he usually is. However, I found myself agreeing with him in this conversation about the formulaic and content-light nature of documentaries on the BBC, something I have commented on before. And he went up a notch in my estimation when he said this:
I taught history of art in Brixton jail for 10 years and one lesson I learnt very quickly is never talk down to people. If you treat them as equals, you've got them, they're with you. But talk down, they smell it a mile off and hate it. That's what the BBC does all the time.
He is dead right. There is a difference between avoiding incomprehensible jargon and omitting any meaningful content.

His complaint about the "patronising rubbish" of the travelogue formula that focuses more on the presenter than the content would have had a little more purchase if he hadn't made a few bob from Channel 5 of all people making exactly the same type of series. Nevertheless, the point about not trusting the intelligence of the audience is sound.

Funnily, it reminded me of a famous interview in a different time and a radically different context. This was the moment when the then manager of Nottingham Forest, Brian Clough, demolished the commentator, John Motson, with some withering put-downs. His complaint was the same. Stop patronising football fans. It is a masterpiece.

I was going to leave it there, but then this neat piece of analysis was posted by Martin Robbins about the absence of scientists, or anyone who actually knows something about the topics being discussed, on the BBC debate programme, Question Time. It has become dismal and I rarely watch it. Politicians use it to rehearse set scripts and it has become utterly predictable. To liven it up, they bring on guests from outside the main parties, but who are they?
Since the last general election 13 comedians have appeared on Question Time, and Russell Brand will make it 14 next week. The ubiquitous Nigel Farage, leader of a protest party with zero MPs and a manifesto comprised entirely of bits of old Jeremy Clarkson jokes, has been on 8 times. The 'dragons' of Dragon's Den have appeared 4 times between them. Scientists have appeared just twice. Katie Hopkins from The Apprentice has been on as many times as all scientists or science writers put together.
He continues:
Literary performance artist James Delingpole is more likely to appear than any meteorologist. Peter Hitchens is far more likely to appear than any expert on drugs or addiction ... 
Question Time is, in short, a pretty miserable failure when it comes to informed debate. The bulk of panellists are drawn from the same upper-middle-class, upper-middle-aged pot of journalists, lawyers and politicians, and are often profoundly ignorant on topics outside of that narrow culture. Science, sex, the internet... attempts to tackle anything outside their world result in bewildering exchanges that confuse more often than they inform.
An art historian, a football manager and a scientist all saying the same thing; the people that run broadcasting do not respect their audience. They underestimate the intelligence of people and, as a result of their desperate attempts to entertain, produce some extremely dull television.

Thanks to Paulie for the Clough interview


Strategist said...

I enjoyed that but I thought what shone through was Motty's great integrity.

Clough was a showman, and loved to say something controversial - his public expected it of him - but to say that he demolished or destroyed Motty there is a travesty of what is on the tape.

What I saw was a pretty good discussion, with Motty letting Clough be Clough, both sides agreeing with the other's better points and the implication that Bob Wilson is/was really boring left hanging there beautifully.

David Oliver said...

Being an American and always mindful of my internet usage (so I didn't do the video), I can't really speak intelligently to your blog. I will say that our "news" is a travesty. I'm sure it didn't begin with smoking but that's when I noticed it. News story after story on channel after channel explained the price of cigarettes was being raised to treat sick smokers. That was many years ago and to date, as far as I know not one penny has ever been spent on a sick smoker. To the news organizations credit they did eventually drop that story. Actually, maybe it is not to their credit, they came up with flashier headlines such as "Second Hand Smoke More Deadly Than Smoking?"

The smoking thing though is only an example. The news is manipulated depending on what the political thinking of the news organization is and what agenda they currently want to forward. I heard recently (not on the news) that drug overdose is now the number 1 killer in the U.S. Most of these deaths are the result of prescription drugs. Whenever I go to the doctor which is rarely, they look at me like I'm lying when I say I don't take any prescription meds. I never see a news story about this. Nor do I ever see a news story about what appears to be a huge increase in the number of functioning alcoholics.

Actually that is just fine with me. I don't want to see any stories or any about how many fat people there are or any of the other things that is not considered a healthy lifestyle. It is nobody's business!

Really, hasn't this idea of creating a society of only perfect human specimens been tried before? If I recall correctly, it has and with devastating results.

Thank you for what you are doing!

Anonymous said...

I really don't know what you're talking about and, with respect, neither do you.

You say that BBC documentaries are "content light". Do you have any evidence for that assertion or are you just making it up?

Of the dozens of hours of documentaries transmitted by the BBC during (say) the last seven days, perhaps you could list those you consider "content-light" and which ones you consider "content-heavy"?

As for your remark about the guests on Question Time not knowing anything about the topics being discussed, the programme primarily addresses political questions - that's why the guests are primarily politicians. And in general they do know something about the topics being discussed because they're politicians, you know?

Complaining that the panel doesn't often include scientists is rather like complaining that rock bands weren't regular guests on The Sky At Night.

sackcloth and ashes said...

'As for your remark about the guests on Question Time not knowing anything about the topics being discussed, the programme primarily addresses political questions - that's why the guests are primarily politicians. And in general they do know something about the topics being discussed because they're politicians, you know?'

Do you honestly, really, think that there is some discipline called 'politics' that is separate from any other aspect of life? Or are you saying that by virtue of their position any MP or MEP is somehow able to pontificate about any subject at the drop of a hat?

You ask why we need scientists of QT. What happens when subjects such as climate change, or fracking, get discussed on the programme? Do you get the impression that the talking heads concerned have the faintest grounding in the subjects they discuss as they spout off? Or are you going to get a combination of pseudo-science plus received wisdom? Do you not think that it might, perhaps, possibly, be useful to have someone with a professional grounding in a scientific field to comment authoritatively in such matters?

Furthermore, if QT is for 'politicians' addressing 'political issues', explain the repeated presence of comedians, journalists, media celebrities and all-round rentagobs such as Owen Jones.