Sunday, 24 May 2015

Welcome to the mushroom farm

Mediaworks management has determined that viewers are bored with the earnest, campaigning style of John Campbell and his team.  Campbell Live hasn't attracted enough viewers to keep it financially viable.  It needed to move with the times, get with the programme, lighten up, be entertaining i.e. avoid boring people with tedious stuff like the aftermaths of earthquakes and mining disasters. 

Most importantly, it broke the cardinal rule of modern Kiwi television, if it doesn't involve Auckland or the Wellington 'beltway' it's not really news, or at least not for very long. Current events - in the lexicon of today's shallow, fast moving media world - means what is happening today, not what happened in the South Island 4 years ago. 

Obviously the ennui sufferers are not among the loyal core of Campbell Live viewers or the many tens of thousands who increased viewer numbers as a gesture of solidarity with the show and its presenter, and who signed petitions to keep the programme.  No, it seems that those afflicted with the dreaded viewer tedium are the potential audience, the people Mediaworks wants to attract to its 7pm slot. 

These people are members of that growing demographic - the Frivolati - those viewers who will happily consume cheap, tawdry, schlock television and clamour for more.  

It's obvious to anyone with a claim to intelligence and impartiality, that the decision to axe Campbell Live was not about advertising revenue. There is no doubt that it was ideologically driven.  It gets rid of a campaigning programme which sought to hold the powerful to account and, its replacement with something more 'popular', will make TV3 a more attractive proposition to corporations that may buy it - and in the process, earn monster bonuses for the current management team.  

Mediaworks could have aimed at increasing its share of the 6pm news slot and at keeping those viewers for the 7pm current events slot.  

It could have invested in promoting its news and current events programmes as heavily as, for example, it marketed that exercise in kitsch vacuity, The Bachelor.  

Instead, it has chosen to dump a successful and popular format and presenter and to dumb down the 7pm slot, going for twin talking heads (what are the odds the pairing will be a dark haired man and a blonde haired woman) - to mouth the 'bland insincerities' that increasingly pass for social commentary in the corporatised media.

The problem is that John Campbell and his team had become adept at producing a mix of facts and passion which could get people to engage with social issues that this government and its corporate mates want to keep hidden or well under their control.

And how better to hide those issues than under a layer of frothy nonsense which seems, on the surface, to be harmless, just good fun - a pleasant divertissement that people need because their lives are so stressful and demanding. 

But, like its equivalent in the food industry, this frothy nonsense is not just empty of intellectual and ethical 'nutrition', too much of it is also highly toxic to the body politic and to the common good.

It promotes selfish, short-termist attitudes and practices that help to separate, divide and alienate people.

It often wallows in hollow sentiment while sneering at and belittling honest feelings.  

It valorises and extolls personal acquisitiveness, and disparages and misrepresents collective action.  

It defines what people need to 'possess' in order both to judge themselves and to be judged by others as 'successful'.

It creates exaggerated, idealised images of how people should look and behave and, in a crude process that, at its most extreme enters the realm of the 'freak show', it creates caricatures of how people must not look or behave.  

It tells some people that they got where they are and have what they have because they are more industrious, cleverer, better looking, more deserving, and tells others that they have failed because they are lazy, feckless, stupid, ugly and undeserving.

It's socially corrosive. 

Do the people who willingly consume repetitive, predictable dross think for one moment that the slick cynics who produce it watch it themselves? 

Do they think that the plutocrats and their minions believe they've made great television, or great radio, or written great copy? 

Do they think that they, the consumers, are held in high esteem by the people who make and market this formulaic, pedestrian rubbish? 

Seriously - how much can you be said to value yourself if you value people who, even with their glossy patina of celebrity and wealth, are so obviously facile lightweights?

John Campbell isn't the best journalist or the best TV broadcaster or the best human being in the world but he's one of the very best in all those categories in NZ.  

In part, he's one of the best in NZ because he is a very good journalist, a very good broadcaster and a very, very good person - and in part, it's because he has so little competition.

And isn't it strange that, when it comes to competition - without which we are told the market and the world as we know it would collapse - the plutocrats are silent on its value in the critically important area of keeping the public informed about all those things which affect them, their families, their communities and the world at large?

Competition for viewers these days certainly doesn't include such measures as quality, creativity, insight or scope; it doesn't even depend on novelty any more as evidenced by how boringly formulaic and unimaginative so much corporate TV is.  

No, competition for the Frivolati's short attention span is by the promotion of such intellectually and socially stimulating phenomena as a 'contestant' farting on camera, or another having a koala shit on her. 

In light of the mushroom analogy, how very apt.

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