Some thoughts on television

March 29, 2009

We have come a long way since John Logie Baird gave the first public demonstration of the television more than 80 years ago. We now have plasma screens, hundreds of channels and maybe soon TV- on-demand. TV has created a lot of antagonism too as it’s supposed to be undermining our society. Also with the rise of the Internet TV is facing a lot of new challenges.

Television gets blamed for a lot of things- making us stupid, obesity, violence and degrading language. Recently we have had the CSI effect. Apparently because of the aforementioned show and its spin-offs juries are reluctant to convict unless presented with gee-whiz physical evidence even if there is strong evidence against the defendant.  And according to recent research on 30000 people, during the period between 1975 and 2006, conducted by John Robinson and Steven Martin from the State University of Maryland, people who are not satisfied with their lives, spend 30% more time watching TV than satisfied people do.

The big trend of the last decade has been the explosion of reality TV, which features ordinary people in unscripted dramatic or humorous situations. In fact this genre has existed in some form or another since the early years of television, Candid Camera was one such example, the term has really entered public consciousness since 2000. Of course, they are not quite so spontaneous; they often have storyboards and shooting scripts, important tools for shaping the direction of the show. They look to create conflicts between the contestants. Wikipedia has the following typology of these programmes:


Elimination/Game shows



Social experiment

Dating shows

Talk shows

Hidden cameras


There are at least two television channels dedicated exclusively to reality television – Fox Reality in the United States and Zone Reality in the UK. Personally I don’t see the attraction of watching reality shows – I find them artificial and cringe inducing. 

            Of course there is a lot of dross on the box. That doesn’t really bother me. There are some people who feel nostalgia for the days when there were one or two channels and television was supposed to be some kind of common experience. I think that this is. We can be our own programme schedulers.

The role of public television should be vital. It is clear that if I were a shareholder of Antenna 3 here in Spain, I would not be happy if they were showing documentaries about Babylonian astronomy. Their obligation is to make money for their shareholders. That is why I do believe in a public role the question is the size of that involvement. I don’t see the point in doing programmes featuring celebrities dancing. The private sector is perfectly capable of providing such output. I love the BBC, but I do sometimes feel that it is gargantuan. Perhaps we would be well off with something a bit more modest. The public should concentrate on doing what the private sector won’t do.

I feel alienated by Hollywood’s current output. Television in the United States has undergone a revolution. Now the best scriptwriters are working for TV after years of being badly treated in the movie world. Shows such as The Wire,  Mad Men, and The Sopranos  make far more interesting viewing than many films for spectator with a mental age of seven. What I have always liked about TV, as opposed to the movies, is that you establish a relationship with the characters.  I much prefer to watch a TV adaptation of a book. In a film you don’t have enough time to capture the story with television you can do 11 or 12 hours. TV is not really good or bad – it depends what you watch. It’s up to us to demand better programmes.



Some quotes on television

March 29, 2009

All life’s answers are on TV. Homer Simpson.


How can you put on a meaningful drama when, every fifteen minutes, proceedings are interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits with toilet paper?  Rod Serling


I find television to be very educating.  Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book.  Groucho Marx


If you came and you found a strange man… teaching your kids to punch each other, or trying to sell them all kinds of products, you’d kick him right out of the house, but here you are; you come in and the TV is on, and you don’t think twice about it.  Jerome Singer


Today, watching television often means fighting, violence and foul language – and that’s just deciding who gets to hold the remote control.  Donna Gephart


They say that ninety percent of TV is junk.  But, ninety percent of everything is junk.  Gene Roddenberry


Time has convinced me of one thing.  Television is for appearing on, not looking at.  Noel Coward


Television is the first truly democratic culture – the first culture available to everybody and entirely governed by what the people want. The most terrifying thing is what people do want.  Clive Barnes


The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little. Ray Bradbury


The idea that the media is there to educate us, or to inform us, is ridiculous because that’s about tenth or eleventh on their list. The first purpose of the media is to sell us shit. Abbie Hoffman


Television: chewing gum for the eyes.  Frank Lloyd Wright


Television has done much for psychiatry by spreading information about it, as well as contributing to the need for it.  Alfred Hitchcock


Ninety-eight percent of American homes have TV sets, which means the people in the other 2% have to generate their own sex and violence.  Gene Baylos


The smallest bookstore still contains more ideas of worth than have been presented in the entire history of television.  Andrew Ross


Theatre is life.  Cinema is art.  Television is furniture.  Author Unknown


Television enables you to be entertained in your home by people you wouldn’t have in your home. David Frost


So I bought a .44 magnum, it was solid steel cast

And in the blessed name of Elvis well I just let it blast

‘Til my TV lay in pieces there at my feet

And they busted me for disturbin’ the almighty peace

Judge said “What you got in your defense son?”

“Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”

Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on Bruce Springsteen

TV trivia

March 29, 2009

Here is some stuff I found on the Internet:


Lost is the most expensive television show ever filmed.


Peter Falk, who played “Columbo” has a glass eye.


Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk’s middle name is Tiberius.


The world’s longest running TV drama is Procter & Gamble Productions’ Guiding Light (CBS, USA), which was first aired on 30 June 1952, and is currently broadcast each weekday. Guiding Light was originally broadcast as a 15 min radio serial on WLW Radio in Cincinnati, beginning on 25 January 1937.


Since 1955, television characters have been murdered at a rate 1,000 times higher than real world people. 


The TV sitcom Seinfeld was originally named “The Seinfeld Chronicles”. The pilot, which was broadcast in 1989, also featured a kooky neighbour named Kessler. This character later became known as Kramer.


The average child sees 30,000 television commercials every year.


There wasn’t just one television Lassie, and none of the Lassies was female. The part was played by a series of male dogs.


By the time a child finishes elementary school she will have witnessed 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on television.


The first couple to be shown in bed together on prime time television were Fred and Wilma Flintstone.


The Simpsons is the longest running TV cartoon in the world. It has also had over 300 celebrities featured.


Daytime dramas are called Soap Operas because they were originally used to advertise soap powder. In America in the early days of television, advertisers would write stories around the use of their soap powder.


The first interracial kiss on TV took place November 22, 1968 between Captain James T. Kirk, played by William Shatner and Lt. Uhura, played by Michelle Nichol on an episode of Star Trek.


MTV first aired at 12:01 AM on August 1, 1981. The first video was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles.






My media week 29/03/09

March 29, 2009

Nassim Taleb talks about the financial crisis, how we misunderstand rare events, the fragility of the banking system, the moral hazard of government bailouts, the unprecedented nature of really, really bad events, the contribution of human psychology to misinterpreting probability and the dangers of hubris. The conversation closes with a discussion of religion and probability. Taleb is the author of the books Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan.


The Onion has this video: Prague’s Franz Kafka International Named World’s Most Alienating Airport.


The world has changed for ever. There is no such thing as a job for life and the certainties of a generation ago are simply a dream to the people at work in today’s ‘runaway world’. At least that is the story we have been told repeatedly but after a close analysis of labour markets in the UK and the US Kevin Doogan tells Laurie that is all a myth. Also, Anthony Giddens talks about how to overcome the dilemmas of climate change politics. This week’s Thinking Allowed podcast.


Frank Furedi has written this piece: After Jade, whose death will we watch next? The salacious reports of Jade Goody’s physical demise confirm that death is the new sex: a form of voyeuristic entertainment.


Libertarian John Stossel attacks The War on Drugs in this article:  The War on Drugs Is Idiotic.

Memories are made of this.

March 21, 2009

Memory is the mother of all wisdom. Aeschylus

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.  From the television show The Wonder Years

The memory should be specially taxed in youth, since it is then that it is strongest and most tenacious. But in choosing the things that should be committed to memory the utmost care and forethought must be exercised; as lessons well learnt in youth are never forgotten.  Arthur Schopenhauer

The palest ink is better than the best memory. Chinese Proverb


Many of you have probably seen the 2001 film Memento. It tells the story of a former insurance investigator, Leonard Shelby, who was attacked by a man, who killed his wife and left him with a brain injury that has made him unable to form new memories. It is a powerful, if somewhat confusing film. What you may not know is that there was a tragic case of a man who suffered from just such a condition. His name was Henry Gustav Molaison, although he was better known as HM. In his childhood after being hit by a bicycle rider, HM had suffered from epileptic seizures and William Beecher Scoville, his surgeon, decided to remove the part of his medial-temporal lobes where the storms originated. In this sense the operation was a success but the collateral damage was terrible. HM woke every day with no memory of what had taken  place the day before. You would speak to him and he would forget everything immediately. He had enormous difficulties with the process of consolidation, i.e. converting short-term memories into permanent storage. He, maintained his older memories, those dating back to before the operation.

Sadly he died in 2008, at the age of 82, but HM made a major contribution to medical science. Scientists now know that there are two kinds of systems in the brain for creating new memories. Declarative memory creates records names, faces, and new experiences. It is situated in the hippocampus. Motor learning is subconscious and depends on different brain systems. The example of riding a bike gives a fascinating insight into how memory works. It is explained very succinctly on the Website How Stuff Works

If you’re riding a bike, the memory of how to operate the bike comes from one set of brain cells; the memory of how to get from here to the end of the block comes from another; the memory of biking safety rules from another; and that nervous feeling you get when a car veers dangerously close, from still another. Yet you’re never aware of these separate mental experiences, nor that they’re coming from all different parts of your brain, because they all work together so well. In fact, experts tell us there is no firm distinction between how you remember and how you think.

            The fallibility of human memory has been amply demonstrated by psychologist Elizabeth Loftus. Memory does not work like a videotape recorder. You don’t just record the event and play it back later the way a videotape player would work. We are probably aware of the obvious difficulties of not having a clear view of the situation and the stress. There can be, however, more subtle factors at work such as the way the eyewitness is questioned after the incident; new memories can be implanted and old ones unconsciously altered. Here is an example of how the wording of a question can lead the witness:

How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?’

How fast were the cars going when they collided into each other?’

How fast were the cars going when they bumped into each other?’

How fast were the cars going when they hit each other?

How fast were the cars going when they contacted each other?’

The questions provided very different estimates from the witnesses of the speeds of the drivers:

Smashed 40.8 (mph)

Collided 39.3

Bumped 38.1

Hit 34.0

Contacted 31.8

            But there are also prodigious feats of memory too. We have Dave Farrow who is in The Guinness Book of World Records for memorising the order of 52 decks of cards shuffled together randomly – that is, 2,704 cards! I can’t even remember my mobile phone number! What interests me are the techniques people with this kind of memory use. That marvellous illusionist Derren Brown was able to train Glen Brighton, 40-year-old aviation insurance consultant, to beat the most prestigious teams in the Night of Champions quiz night at a pub in Fulham – on his own. Brighton was able to absorb the contents of hundreds of encyclopaedias and reference books. He used a technique called photoreading  that allows you to mentally photograph a page in a few seconds. Then he created powerful visual images in his head, which enabled him to recall the words with great ease. Dave Farrow gave this example of how to remember that an anti-neutrino is a subatomic particle; he pictures an ant with a newt on its back driving an atomic submarine.

I have Brown’s book Tricks of the Mind and I am taking part in an IH trivia quiz this Friday; I reckon in a week I should be able to get it sussed. In fact, I really won’t be needing a team. It should be a piece of cake. If I could just remember where I left the book…


Ignorance, narcissism, stupidity, hypocrisy and bad grammar

March 21, 2009

In last week’s Observer David Mitchell cited this blog It features a hilarious collection of ignorance, narcissism, stupidity, hypocrisy and bad grammar taken from the Have Your Say section of the BBC website. Here is a selection:


A military muslim interpretor, or translator makes the same money in one year that a contract security guard does in ten years. I think you see the incentive the military muslim interpretors, and translators have in keeping any lucrative muslim/ Christian conflict going-


The way the BBC go on about Obama you’d think he was standing as a candiate for PM of Britain, not President of the US. Where’s all your coverage of John McCain? Oh, he doesn’t fit the PC agenda does he. White man for US President doesn’t have the same multiculti ring as Half Black-Half Muslim for US President does it?


the best way to deal with knife crime in the UK is to invent a time machine and go back to the 1950’s and prevent them from allowing mass immigration. Sorry if people find that offensive but look at the statistics for who carry out most of these crimes, it’s not the indigenous white population is it?


Many here claim that gays are born that way! Let’s for a moment accept that. In a few years or many years later the following say that they’re born that way and are God’s children too:

Murderers, serial killers, mass murderers

Rapists, serial rapists, gang rapists



People indulging in bestiality

WHERE DOES humanity draw a line? Or is it just a case of ‘enough’ people of a particular type getting together and demanding acceptance from the majority? Tell me!


(Writing about “Doctor Who.) The doctor dies and returns as a black, gay, transexual, vertically challanged, doctor who has recently converted to Islam. Well I’m sure that’s how the pc BBC would really like it.


Iran and Syria are laughing at the world and so impressed with the liberal media and Hamas fighting their battle for them. Liberals and the liberal media are happy to insure the obliteration of Israel and the rise of Hamas and terror in the world. Wait till Hamas comes to your neighborhood, but don’t cry for hep.


There isn’t a shred of credible scientific evidence to support the idea that species evolve into other species. There is no plausible theory as to how life/matter/energy came to be out of nothing. Evolution is as scientifically unproven as creationism or any other “ism”. It is interesting to consider all the theories but it is time to stop the presenting evolution as “scientific fact”.


(On Michael Crichton’s death.) Its a strange world where a man who created so much pleasure for others writing medical fiction is struck down by cancer at a ridiculously early age. Makes no sense.


Marriage is, and always has been, a religious belief. Their marriage doesn’t effect my marriage. It does, however, take the societies moral scale and lower it another notch. Eventually the liberal left will be fully in support rampant free sex anywhere with anyone.


the only way that knife crime will be stopped is by hanging those who kill. There is no other way to control this. If these killers are standing over the trapdoor on the scaffold they would then know fear. At the moment there are no deterents and there are no judges that are prepared to put these thugs away for life and mean it. Young people need boundaries and need to have consequences there are none in our society now, l


I think most of the info in online maps is not accurate and correct. If I am wrong, than why dont they track Osama and other Alqada hide outs.


I haven’t heard any really good jokes lately – Political Correctness has killed them all.


It high time the UK people woke up and got rid of this Labour Goverment. There policy is spend spend , as they did in 1970. I really feel sorry for you UK people , because there will be no day light from this mess for ever. The UK will end up a third world country and will now have main problems to face from letting so main people arrive . I left the UK 3 years ago, what i once called my home and moved to Spain. I now have Spanish passport and given my Uk passport . I wish you all the best


Even though I am law abiding I find that my attitude to the Police has changed over the last decade or so. I now actually avoid and fear the police in case any interaction leads them to decide that they need to sample my DNA and add it to their database. When they have your DNA it’s creepy – almost like they can read your sole.


The lack of moral fibre at the BBC is a symptom of todays sick and vile society. Whatever happened to good, honest broadcasting? I for one do not want to see genetalia on my radio!


when I were a lad and we had weather WORSE than this, we were made to stand in front of our desks and jump up and down to get warm – the bottles of free school milk would be frozen


I find it frightening that a character was seen injecting alcohol into an orange. I feel that this could give ideas to terrorists about how to poison fruit.


Steve Wright said the temperature was 23 degrees Celsius. He should have said 78 degrees Fahrenheit, which I consider English.


this experiment is a complete waste of time. we cannot destroy the whole earth, only God can.


Why was this ‘built’ underground? Simple, it does not exist. It’s a big con. It’s the same reason India/Pakistan allegedly conducted nuclear explosions underground simply because they never happened in the first place. Why? Because nuclear bombs don’t exist and they never have existed. FACT! Hollywood and the people behind Hollywood (the rich elite race) came up with the propoganda to fool the ‘Sheople’. They’ll keep taking your money though to fund their lavish lifestyles.


Murder is murder and should be punishable by life in a proper jail, not the 5 star hotels they are kept in now. Anyone committing murder is scum and has no right to enjoyable life, the person they killed doesn’t get a second chance at life so neither should these people. No rehab, no time off for good behaviour, no privileges, just sit in a conrete cell until death because that’s what is deserved.


My husband has been trying to get into teacherrs training for 3 years now, there seems to be a brick wall at every turn, to be quite honest i think it is because they are looking for more enthnic minorities in our area rather than the educated working class white.


My media week 22/03/09

March 21, 2009


This ABC Rear Vision podcast looks more closely at the social and cultural history of coffee, tracking the changes in the way we consume it and how we think about it.


Atheist Julian Baggini writes this critique of New Atheism in The New Atheist Movement is destructive.


This ABC podcast from The Philosopher’s Zone delves into whether business ethics enable us to draw lines between culpability, incompetence and culpable incompetence? And are the ethics of the media totally compromised by spin and image manipulation? It’s called Understanding and blame while the money runs out.


This fascinating article from looks at how perceptions of space exploration are coloured by ideology.


The Independent has an interview with James Lovelock famous for his Gaia hypothesis, a theory that the living organisms of the biosphere form a single, complex interacting system that creates and maintains a habitable Earth; named after Gaia, the Greek Earth mother goddess.


These two pieces come from The Onion: Tree Featured In ‘The Deer Hunter’ Dies and U.S. Troops In Iraq Excited To Finally Return To Afghanistan