Teleidiocy: A Blight on the Nation’s Viewing Habits

Hello Gang,

I know I said I wouldn’t bother you in November and I meant it at the time but I’ve had to take a break from writing the masterwork to share my feelings on a blight that I now believe to be endemic across the land. I refer to the cult of Teleidiocy, the trend that’s taking Ray Bradbury’s warning to the next level by having people retard the experience of enjoying their retarding entertainment.

Before we get into it, I’m going to take you back in time to my childhood. We’ll just jump in, like Mary Poppins did when she fell into that toon world in the pavement.

I grew up in a household in which traditional assumptions about familial interaction were recast as cruel taunts. My Mother had no appetite for forced dinner conversation, so the classic meal around the dining table scenario remained a curio from the land of fiction. Other families did it, I was told, but they lived with different people so their experience (and values) could be safely discounted.

It’s a truism that it’s healthy for families to sit and talk to each other but often, when you hear what they want to talk about, you realise that this, like most received wisdom, is a lottery disguised as a sure thing. Most of the conversation available to me as a sapling was senseless, pointless and, if you weren’t careful, endless. In fairness to my gestatory sponsor she recognised that there was often little ebb and flow to the chat and so didn’t force the issue during precious evenings when relaxation was at a premium. As a conversation could mutate into an argument at a moment’s notice, it was often far less stressful to allow each member of the household the freedom to retreat to their room and stay there.

The consequence of this was that television was my best and most valued childhood friend. It was a source of fascination, escapism, entertainment, information and relaxation; it was my window on the world. It was so superior to the real people that populated the day that it made you feel sorry for the poor beasts. They didn’t make a tenth of the impact.

Perhaps it killed my concentration span, filled my head full of clichés, impoverished my chances of understanding how real people worked and stunted my ability to communicate with them but fuck it, it was better than life.

My Mother quickly woke up to the pacifying potential of the droolbox on a boisterous, opinionated and sometimes hyperactive son and caved into pressure to have a television installed in my bedroom. From a very early age it was in there, the door firmly closed. Meals were eaten in front of it and it felt like the most natural thing in the world. You were dining with friends.

I grew up watching television alone. That, my friends, is how I like it. There were side effects. I became used to having full mastery of the night’s programmes, there was no need or desire to debate what would be viewed with another person. I watched what I wanted and would have considered any suggestion of an alternative as a gross intrusion into my carefully planned entertainment, not to mention a waste of time. Back in those days you couldn’t just “Sky plus it” as you Murdochphiles would say; if you missed it you missed it. If I looked forward to a programme I expected to see it. Mid-way through a series it would be imperative that no episode was missed. You can see how another person could botch that with a ruinous bout of casual viewing.

Watching alone also guaranteed silence and unspoilt eyegasms. There was no one to talk, ask stupid questions, shuffle around, play with their zips, tap their fingers on glasses or any one of a million other possible traps that could befall the barely concentrating couch spud. Watching television was a blissfully simple thing but it was also a solitary activity. People could and would ruin it. I knew this from an early age and the lesson was never forgotten.

This brings us to the blight I mentioned at the top of the post. Having grown up imagining TV to be a simple and glorious experience, only ruined by the content itself, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that for others, it was a very complicated business indeed.

Teleidiocy takes many forms but principally it is the inability to participate in the experience of watching television without ruining it. Consider that all that’s required to enjoy it successfully is to sit still and watch the screen in silence.

So, how do you ruin it? There are many ways, some overlapping. Let’s consider the big four.

1)  You don’t concentrate: You half watch, imagining that the function of the show is not, as one might suppose, to entertain or inform you but is instead background noise, just a series of prompts to start a senseless and often desperately irritating conversation which drowns out the parts of the programme that might have yielded the answers to your pointless questions. For someone trying to enjoy the programme, the chatter, which is of course the real white noise, is the worst sound in creation, more horrific than listening to the crimes of Brady and Hindley on a loop. It’s also a staggering insult to the poor bastards who toiled to write the thing (assuming it was written). Their modest expectations, that the audience would hear the words and from them, extrapolate meaning and in turn revel in the intricacies of the show’s humour, plot, characterisation or perhaps all three, prove to be ludicrously optimistic. As a teenager, I’d visit my relative’s homes and sit aghast, as the television was actually turned DOWN to allow the senseless chatter that was drowning it out to be better heard – “we can’t hear ourselves misspeak!” Such backward thinking should disqualify you from owning a set.

2)  You ask stupid questions: The largest pitfall for the casual viewer is a lack of engagement with the material on offer. Some will attempt to compensate for this laziness by using those that are concentrating as a tool for filling in the blanks. This should be illegal of course and those who suffer from it regularly could justifiably apply for a licence fee rebate. So there you are, watching your show and enjoying it and all of a sudden the spell is broken when you’re required to answer questions like “what did they just say?”, “I’m not following this, what happened there?”, “which one is Jack Davenport?”, “is that Jack Davenport?” and endless variations on the same. In the worst cases the saboteur may show an astonishing ignorance of media conventions, entitling the agog tele-devotee to wonder if they’ve ever actually watched television before. “Is this on now?” (meaning is this the actual broadcast or a clip or trailer for the same) is one of the worst. It’s a question that answers itself if you have any sense of the schedules or indeed, watch for longer than eight seconds. “Is this an old one?” – not an unreasonable question given the volume of repeats we now enjoy but again, irritating, as it a) presumes that the show is a repeat when surely the converse is the obvious first assumption and b) is in any case irrelevant, because if you haven’t seen it before then it’s new regardless of when it was originally transmitted.

3)  Senseless commentary: If someone does feel compelled to talk during your favourite half hour then your hope must be that they’ll have something insightful to add to the evening’s entertainment. More often than not however, the talk that’s eating into your night’s viewing redefines banal and is offensively pointless. It may range from a discussion of meaninglessly details, such as the colour of Rob Brydon’s jacket to using something on screen as a springboard for a set of tenuously connected views. An example might be a cooking show in which you’re watching Gordon Ramsay swear at his useless inferiors. Before you know it you’re listening to someone in your front room telling you they don’t like swearing or they think Ramsay’s a bully. Maybe he is, but all the time this unwanted conversation is taking place, the programme continues regardless and the substance of it is lost. Category A senseless commentary takes the form of an obsession with the physical characteristics of those on screen. “His nose is a funny shape”, “I don’t like her chin”, “his fingers are ridiculous.” These imbecilic observations must sound like profundities when they leave the mouth of their parent but to the dedicated TV viewer it’s the diametric opposite of useful viewer engagement.

4)  Tutt tutting: Nothing quite kills your enjoyment of a programme more than someone sitting in judgement on your viewing habits as you’re trying to enjoy them. Everyone in the world is guilty of this to a degree, it’s the most common form of tele-hypocrisy but hypocrisy it is, and it sticks in the gut, particularly when you know that their idea of a good night in would curdle the contents of your testicles. It’s bad enough to be asked, “how can you watch this crap/shit/toss/nonsense/trash/rot/rubbish/bollocks/dross”, etc, but must they wear their faux superiority like a badge while you patiently try and get on with it? “What about that time I caught you watching that middling lifestyle guff?” you’re tempted to say but you don’t because you know that what they actually mean is “you bastard, I wanted to watch something else. If I rubbish this, perhaps you’ll lose the will to watch it and we can switch over.” Dream on sadsacks, dream on. The sub-set of this raging tele-intolerance is a total inability to understand the viewing choices of anyone bar themselves. They don’t find Miranda remotely funny, the stupid, gesticulating, forth wall breaking, slapstick sillyarse, so why would anyone who can walk upright feel differently? They don’t watch drama, preferring programmes about people that paint their food or cook their house, so must vital hours of primetime be wasted in this way? TV is thoroughly democratic you see, we’ve all got access to it, and with every democratic medium they’ll always be a psychological need within some to elevate themselves above the fray and join an imaginary elite. Enjoying what you like on the box is one of its pleasures, simply because you can, and such posturing and hateful clucking turns it into a test of endurance. Not cool. Not even cold.

So there it is, Teleidiocy. Together we can’t stop it. We stop it by watching alone. Soon I’ll be disappearing into an anteroom to watch EastEnders, my quarter dose of weekly mockney misery. The door behind me will close. Take the hint.

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Published in: on November 11, 2010 at 17:02  Leave a Comment  

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