Reality TV

Reality TV

In the UK, we've had a spate of mind-numbing, lowest common denominator TV - which tends to fill the so-called newspapers with trivia. We have 'Big Brother', 'Love Island' and all sorts of other trash TV. (Fortunately, though I've avoid these - it's become easier to do so as the saturation coverage has become less pervasive) In India, they've aspirational 'reality TV': 'Scholar Hunt' is a show where people show their academic credentials to compete for a University place in the UK. A world apart.

This speaks volumes. In the UK, the 'popular culture' values 'celebrity' whilst disregarding the importance of Physics, Chemistry, Maths etc. Indeed, these subjects are often seen as something which isn't aspirational - In India, it's reversed. Over the long term, India has the right set of priorities.

Where are the scientific role models for children? Where is the modern Johnny Ball on TV? I used to love shows like 'Think of a Number' and 'Think Again'. Johnny Ball was one of the figures who helped to inspire an interest in science for me (along with 'the Charlie Brown book of Questions and Answers'!)

Come back to TV, Johnny!

Scholar Hunt, if done well, could transfer to the UK, perhaps with UK students competing for am expenses paid place at Harvard, Yale or MIT - in parallel with Indian students competing for a place at Warwick, Oxford, Cambridge or Birmingham (my old University, great place). The trick, of course, would be to ensure that the candidates were not seen as 'nerdy' - which would be the big temptation in the UK market - and that's exactly what should be avoided. It's a format which could work - annually, the students could be followed to show how they'd been getting on, and so each year you could look at the new candidates, and have a programme showing 'whatever happened to...'.

The main thing would be to keep it aspirational - to show that knowing things is enjoyable, useful, and is something which doesn't (necessarily) make you uncool. Every time (especially on American shows) I see some knowledgeable teenager, invariably they're presented as a social pariah, a nerd. Not good.

(The Charlie Brown Thing: I got this when I was about five, it must have been around 1978 - every year, a new book came out - I think there were about five of them. By the time I hit ten, these books were falling apart, I loved 'em!)

Update: The BBC has an article on the show, along with an interview with the winner, Arvind Aradhya. Meanwhile, back in the UK, it looks like Science exams are to be made easier again so that more people can get a warm fluffy glow by fooling themselves that they've got a deep understanding. If an examination doesn't adequately test those sitting it, the qualification achieved is devalued. Slashdot has noted the science examination story.

Big Donor?

The company that makes Big Brother (spit!) are making a show in the Netherlands where a dying woman chooses who is to get her kidney. Viewers will be able to send their advice via text

Dutch TV execs are trying to claim it's all altruistic:

"The chance for a kidney for the contestants is 33%," said the station's current chairman, Laurens Drillich. "This is much higher than that for people on a waiting list."

"We think that is disastrous, so we are acting in a shocking way to bring attention to this problem."

The 37-year-old donor, identified only as Lisa, will make her choice based on the contestants' history, profile and conversation with their family and friends.

Hmm, nice.

Big Brother starts again this week, please don't tune in.

Big Brother

No, not politics. The inane TV show makes a return. It was advertised last night with the slogan 'say goodbye to your summer'. No thanks.

This is brain-dead TV which appeals to the lowest common denominator in our society. It's manufactured 'celebrity' is hard (though not impossible) to avoid.

I like Channel 4, E4 and More 4. They bring me 'ER' and 'The Daily Show', they brought me 'The West Wing'. They bring documentary, news. They bring Tony Soprano - however, in the summer they undermine all that goodwill with non-stop drivel of the first degree (there is drivel throughout the rest of the year, with things like 'Sex in Court', but this is easy to ignore).

For people who know that Big Brother is trash but get sucked in anyway, please, for the love of whatever world-view you hold dear, give it a wide berth. Avoid newspapers that replace news with endless 'Popsy was mean to Tiddles' stories (they often have odd names), avoid the TV channels showing it. If you pick up that a company sponsors it, avoid them.... please!

Big Brother next week? Thank goodness I can use my remote and avoid direct exposure - however, it's very tricky to avoid the incidental exposure in all the other thousands of media outlets.

To anyone who isn't channel 4 - do remember that Big Brother is your competitor, it shouldn't appear on the BBC for instance!

Big Brother

So, Big Brother, that abomination of 'popular' culture is over for another year. By and large it's passed me by, Channel 4 and related channels become so devoted to the programme that it has virtually nothing else worth watching, so I forget all about the channels until the autumn. The West Wing - Complete Season 1The West Wing - Complete Season 7With the exception of 'The West Wing' (which is now over, and I'm now eagerly awaiting both Studio 60 and my West Wing season 7 DVD).

In addition, as I don't read the tabloids, the whole phenomenon has largely passed me by. Bliss. Occasionally there has been a headline spotted in a newsagent, or on the BBC News website (why?) but for the most part, blissful ignorance.

I can't think of a single worse piece of television than watching a bunch of housebound nobodies getting bored at each other...

Despite knowing basically nothing about it this year, I was aware that it was going on through these peripheral glimpses - and the whole phenomenon seemed to go on for longer this year. Did they have double the people, or simply was the coverage that I caught in my peripheral vision simply that much more tiresome?

No, on second thoughts, please don't give me details.

Why am I mentioning it at all, in that case?

Well, I was browsing the BBC news website and came across this gem in a talkback on the programme of brain-death:

"For every fan there must be ten people who think it's like watching paint dry."

Jim - I've spent the last 2 months in a research lab and haven't watched a single episode of Big Brother. I am, however, studying the evaporation of dyed liquids. I can honestly say that the drying of paint is a much more fascinating and beautiful process than Big Brother ever will be.

It would probably also get more viewers.