Powerful television genres No. 6 – The teen mini-series

Skins - visions of hell that surpasses even
Hieronymus Bosch


When it comes to hellish TV one would need to look very hard to find a worse example than Skins (but it is possible). Even the title is a base pun. Skins not only refers to the naked body or papers used in rolling marijuana joints (drug cigarettes) but also to condoms. Young actors play disturbed dysfunctional youth whose minds have been scrambled by television’s pornographic images and attitudes from a very young age. One would hope that at the very worst this is only drama, a fantastical and surreal fiction, the imaginings of a diseased mind. But no: this actually does reflect the antics of much of today’s modern youth, however condensed and sensationalized it is. For youth culture has in turn has been influenced by the television that has corrupted it. It’s a vicious circle.
                The TV makes the bizarre commonplace, and pushes it into people’s faces, where it is mimicked especially by the young. We see the results of this in our town centres every weekend where drunken youths expose themselves in more ways than one.  
                Skins exemplifies the Bacchanalian excesses of today’s TV; it does not attempt to moralise in any way, it almost exults in its depravity. The endless swearing, drinking, sex and drugs actually makes real life seem quite boring which leads in turn to the weekend excesses of today’s youth, who desperately seek sensation and ... fun?
                Is Skins actually telly-visual child abuse? For it is cynically aimed at teenagers some of whom who are too young for sex and alcohol. Many wonder why Britain has the highest number of unmarried teenage and underage pregnancies in the world, why we have the most abortions, why we have the highest rate of sexually transmitted diseases in the developed world, why teenage drunkenness is at an all time high, why school teachers have to come out on strike because of their pupils’ appalling behaviour? Is it is because we have a particularly decadent television industry? Skins is pornography in every sense of the word, and what makes it worse is that some of its actors are underage themselves while they play debauched school children.  
By Edward Bottrell

 

Powerful television genres No. 5 – The TV satire show

‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition’


Samuel Johnson defined satire as a poem ‘in which wickedness and folly is censured’. Satire can also be seen as the use of irony and wit as a comedic weapon and as a warning or simply as an effective foil against individualistic or institutional pride. In Animal Farm Georg Orwell used comedic satire effectively as a warning against communism and totalitarianism in all of its forms, to which CUT would add the media and TV. His Nineteen-eighty-four described the situation where the total control of the population was implemented and monitored by “Big Brother”. It has in fact already happened, with the broadcasters controlling what people think and do via the mind-controlling TV.
                Satire and the use of comedy as a cultural weapon was adapted very easily for the television, at the very start of the 60s sexual revolution by That Was The Week That Was or TW3. This ushered in a climate of disrespect and virtually killed deference in modern society. TW3 lasted only two years but cleared the way for a whole raft of satire programmes from Monty Python to Spitting Image, each more rude, disrespectful and subversive than the last. After TW3 wave after wave of subversive decadent media forms dominated the cultural climate. Pop music with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and many others, sung songs that were little more than hymns cultural change. Magazines and newspapers became more explicit and at the very top of Satan’s media tree of subversion was the TV with its various programme genres all promoting change and decadence.
                By the late sixties young men would meet their friends and spend hours reciting sketches from programmes by the BBC’s Monty Python’s Flying Circus. ‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition’ was one of the many comedic catch phrases used. This would conjure up in the minds of those who heard it the scene in which Biggles and Cardinal Richelieu would ‘torture’ a little old lady by making her sit in a comfy chair, prod her gently with a cushion, and demand that she tell them the plans. To which she would reply ‘I don’t know any plans but I wouldn’t mind a cup of tea’. So they would get her a cup. This type of irony and lampoon was very effective in undermining various institutions. Nothing was spared, from the monarchy to the police, and from the judiciary to the Church. TW3 would directly tackle the political and moral issues with comedic satire that was quite advanced and unsettling for its time. It was also well suited to the television medium. It was very unusual if TW3 sided with the status quo. More often or not they sided with radical demands for changes in laws. Mistakes made by celebrities and politicians were amplified to the extent that it was the institution and moral philosophy that was seen to be at fault, as well as the individual. To produce laughter in an audience with satire and sarcasm is a very powerful weapon especially when levelled at authority.  We now have a new form of totalitarianism: it’s called secularism, which is all that’s left after wave after wave of mediated ‘liberalism’ brought into the home with Satan’s televised sarcastic laugh.

Powerful television genres No. 4 – The Classic Serial

Addicted to Love?


Of all the television genres the one that carries most respect and many would believe is untouchable by critics of the TV such as CUT is the Classic Serial. No other television company has had the more acclaim for producing this genre than the BBC. However, if the Television is fundamentally flawed (as we believe it is at CUT) then even here there are problems. And you do not need to look too closely to see them.
                Firstly what is the Classic Serial? Usually it is an adaption of a famous book by authors such as Dickens, Austin etc. Of course we do encourage people to read books rather than watch television, and classic literature should be a safe bet. So why do we believe there is a problem with this genre? There are several points we would like to make. One is that ‘good’ television lulls people into accepting all television, and the vast majority of television - when it is not wasting people’s precious time - can be very bad and soul destroying – in the literal sense. Fr Frank Poncelet writes in his seminal book on the television Air Waves From Hell “If, then, priorities in use of time are essential for salvation, they are even more important when we realize the length of finite time spent on earth is an unknown factor”(Fr Poncelet, Air Waves From Hell, 1991, p13).
                Therefore, the Classic Serial not only acts as bait for bad television it wastes our precious finite time, time that could be used preparing for eternity. At this point apologists for TV will always say ‘you can reach for the on/off switch’. However, most people do not. Another problem with the classic serial is that some are quite lurid, such as Tom Jones and Fanny Hill. Even the BBC’s adaption of Little Dorrit had incidents of same sex attraction and a violent stabbing. We would not recommend Little Dorrit to parents who have given up the TV and just play DVDs.
                There are also modern serials that masquerade as Classic Serials such as the BBC’s Rome. These often reflect the values of today rather than of the time. This series portrayed sex and violence in an exploitative way. Ancient Rome could be violent, yes, but not in the way portrayed by the BBC; and lesbianism was very rare and looked down on by the Romans.
               Even in the Classic Serial, Satan is at play, giving people unrealistic versions of a happy-ever-after romantic love. Yes, true love can last forever in a really Christian marriage. But the Mr D'Arcys of this world are few and not really very Christian at all.

Powerful television genres No. 3 – The Science Fiction Series

Allegory in the Science Fiction series as a social and cultural device

It is perhaps easy to see the single play as interventionist regarding the socio-political issues of the sixties and seventies. And even though the producers may not have stood up in parliament and argued for the legalisation of abortion and homosexual, the TV dramas they produced influenced not only the MP’s but many of their constituents. Who in turn wrote to their MP to change the law so that pressure was exerted from many angles. Likewise the Soap Operas may not have been so interventionist regarding legislation it did however engage in social engineering and through sympatric and innovative storylines made acceptable a whole range of contentious issues – juxtaposing abortion, homosexuality, feminism, against male chauvinism, domestic violence, ‘homophobia’ etc but how did the science fiction series as a social relevance of the day work? How could far-fetched tales of outer space involving Daleks and Klingons be part of the cultural (or sexual) revolution?
 Star Trek – Enterprise destroys the Berlin Wall
                Recent work by social scientists have argued that although Star Trek storylines dealt with the futuristic and the fantastic they were in fact firmly rooted in the ideological concerns of the day.  Star Trek was more than just fantastic storylines in outer space it was really an outlet for contemporary issues and social comment. It was an innovative vehicle for exploring race and gender, nationhood and the international politics of the day. It was in fact closer to the single play or the soup opera than one might at first consider. There were perhaps some benign aspects to this form of mild social engineering it featured the first interracial kiss shown of American television – between Kirk and Uhura and the series has been much-vaunted for its multiculturalism lead of course by a white WASP, Captain Kirk. However, this type of social engineering in drama can also be taken further as per the homosexual kiss in today’s soap operas.  
                In Star Trek, like most innovative dramas there are many metaphors running parallel for example the Enterprise represents America, the enemy aliens her foes i.e. the Klingons represent the Russians, the unreadable oriental-looking Romulans the Chinese/Viet Kong. Some representations were multi-layered the Klingons were also dark skinned for Americans still did not know how to integrate the Afro-Americans into the American dream. It took many years to solve that problem. However, by the time Star Trek – The Next Generation when into hyperspace, the Klingons had joined the Federation which at the same time anticipated the end of the Cold War. By this time the script writers were getting all liberal and invented a new enemy, the Borg, a race of cyborgs who are virtually unstoppable and assimilating all other races into their collective – Globalisation and the assimilation of other cultures into the American dream.
                There are other spin-off series that have further explored gender and racial politics Deep Space Nine which had a black captain and Star Trek – Voyager a woman captain. Deep Space Nine with its mission to keep warring regional power blocks apart and at peace can also be seen as a metaphor for the peace-keeping missions of the United States and UN.
            Star Trek like most TV has many subliminal storylines is an allegorical cultural device. Assimilating TV, to go where no culture has gone before, into a liberal politically correct dream. I shall resist the temptation to discuss the Borg Broadcasting Corporation.
Dr Who – Intergalactic camp V’s the Nazis
Britain in the early nineteen-sixties was experiencing great cultural uncertainty. Her empire had all but crumbled. She had abandoned all attempts to stay in the space race and her days of superpower glory had long faded. Only the Americans and Russians got to send their pets into space. However, we could go one better, by the use of television we could lead the world. Our space craft was a 1926 police box (no need for special effects) which could travel through time as well as space. At crucial moments in the 1960s Cultural Revolution we could revisit the past and show how Britain saved the world. For example when the debates raged about the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality Dr Who in The Massacre (1966) visited Paris. Here we find that the Doctor was a survivor of St Bartholomew’s Eve Massacre. Of this Nicholas Cull writes ‘Historically, British-ness was always constructed in opposition to Roman Catholicism.’1 There would be no possibility of the Doctor being part of the Western Rising or the Pilgrimage of Grace which saw Britain’s Catholic populations rise up against Henry VIII only to be brutally massacred. When the scriptwriters redefined the Doctor as a dissident Time Lord we see the other Time Lords as a declining ancient race wearing skull caps and flowing robes like cosmic Cardinals.
The Doctor was always portrayed as an eccentric English gentleman, individualistic, self-reliant the opposite of the Catholic notion of obedience to authority and community. There are a number of key elements that run throughout the various series which would make any empathy with Catholicism impossible. It would draw on many facets of the British historical experience, like repelling invasions and spreading the Protestant Reformation, we find out that the Doctor had attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria. The arch enemy of the Doctor, the Master, was also a Time Lord who looked like an amalgamation of a Jesuit and Spanish villain, with his dark eyes and pointed dark beard and was played initially by Roger Delgado who was indeed part Spanish. Dr Who’s greatest enemy was of course the Daleks, at first they represented Cold War fears of post nuclear war mutants. Soon they acquired the resonance of the Nazis and the second Daleks series The Dalek Invasion of Earth which saw them in London. Again British history is being played out with the Doctor as an intergalactic Churchill figure. The Daleks chant of ‘Exterminate’ the vocabulary of the holocaust reminded everyone of Britain’s finest hour and defeating the Nazis.
The camp facet is most surprising in Dr Who. Camp, from the French verb se camper means to posture or flaunt. Signs of deviance and the hidden meaning behind the mask are quite prevalent in Dr Who. Cull writes, ‘The shifting tone of Dr Who also tell a story as the programme drifted away from its part in the BBC mission to educate and became a mischievously subversive expression of camp in British popular culture.’2
At the start of the sixties Britain was about to embark on her own mission to lead the world through the final cultural frontier. Using the television to lead public opinion and in turn legislation British culture would be transformed. Dr Who, Britain’s own innovative science fiction series would not only reflect these changes it would indorse them. The problem is Dr Who like much of British television of the last forty years or more muddied the waters for Catholics. On one side we had the Doctor as Churchill, eccentric English gentleman, camp scientist, even a Christ like figure with his self-sacrifice and resurrection as a new Doctor; on the other side we have the Nazis, a whole host of weird monsters, a Spanish Jesuit and Catholicism in general.
Referances: 1 and 2, Cull, N. ‘Bigger on the inside’ The Historian, Television and Television history. Luton University. 2001.

Powerful television genres No. 2 – the Soap Opera

Soap Operas and social engineering


As a boy in the sixties I first became aware of the soap opera. When on parade as a sea cadet a fellow cadet who had ‘fallen-in’ late couldn’t wait to tell his friend, and anyone who would listen, that Mrs Richardson was dead. Concerned about my fellow cadet’s agitation I offered him my condolences and asked who Mrs Richardson was. Becoming slightly incredulous he said that she was the owner of the Crossroads motel on television. What struck me was that this boy was talking about characters in a soap opera as if they were real; that this was like a surrogate family or life he led in front of the television whose narrative he was carrying into his everyday life. The viewers of soaps become so emotionally evolved with the characters that they become an important part of their lives, people whom they really care about. What the producers do with the characters and the storylines they introduce around them and the empathy generated towards the characters have the power to radically change the audience’s views and beliefs. This fact became apparent to the broadcasters from very early on in the soap opera in Britain.
        What is surprising is the sheer longevity of the soaps. The longest running is The Archers, (1951 to present), on BBC Radio. At first its narrative agenda was directed at farmers and reflected government recommendations, ideas and regulations regarding farming policies. Today its narrative agenda along with that of other soaps has radically changed. Coronation Street (1960 to present), was the first soap to focus on the urban working class which was much in vogue at the time of its launch along with kitchen sink dramas in British film. However, it soon toned down its ‘anger’ and became a great success. It wasn’t until the advent of EastEnders and Brookside in the eighties that it started to use the more challenging social themes.
        It was however, Emmerdale, a rural drama, which first featured a lesbian as a long-term permanent fixture and to make to make this person more acceptable, she was the vet. Using the acquired capital of past vet dramas like All Creatures Great and Small (a popular vet TV mini-series of the 70s) the producers were able to manipulate the collective memory of viewers. It always strikes me as odd how people who have never seen a homosexual kiss in real life are prepared to accept it in a televised drama at peak family viewing time right in their front room sitting with the rest of their family.
            The television is a very powerful tool for subversion. We sit in awe of its technical ability, its famous celebrities who do not need to answer to us but simply dictate a narrative. The soap opera with long running story lines and characters that have gained our support, empathy and trust over many weeks, months, even years, can persuade their audiences that whatever they get up to they are not really so bad. The creator of Brookside (and also the school soap Grange Hill) was Phil Redmond, who said ‘I wanted to ... explore social issues, and hopefully contribute to any continuing social debate’ (quoted McCready, Phil Redmond’s Brookside: The Official Companion, 1987).  EastEnders and Brookside have been particularly adept at social engineering, challenging the nation’s attitudes to socio-political issues such as abortion, unemployment, homosexuality, infant mortality, and AIDS (as long as it didn’t involve a homosexual). I once watched EastEnders for several months as a study and I was bewildered by the sheer aggressive rudeness of many of the characters, the humourless, depressing storylines, the extraordinary cliff-hangers every episode to keep people watching.
       But what happened to Mrs Richardson you may ask? Actually she wasn’t dead after all but went on running the motel for many years to come despite its wobbly walls.

 

 

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