Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The difficult second blog post. A widening gap in television?

So it has been a week since my last blog post, and it seems the world of tabloid fuelled celebrity  has been turned on its head.

I am not going to try and write anything regarding the scandal, other than the allegations are deplorable, but unsurprising.

But it did make me think. Much has been made of the rise of 'celebrity' culture, but that has been around a long time. Nelson, Rhodes, Wellington were all superstars of their day. Even the celebrity 'villain' goes a long way back (Admiral Bing for a start). But these celebrities were at least 'famous' for doing something major. There seems to be an almost weekly addition to the plethora of 'reality docudramas' celebrating vacuous, talentless and, frankly, depressing, groups of people.

This rise has, however, been concurrent with a rise of 'academic' television. The popularisation of science, led by Brian Cox, the lauding of David Attenborough, and the plethora of historical documentaries showing on television all attests this. However 'popular' these are, many are excellent, and are doing a fantastic job of closing the gap between academics and 'ordinary' people.

These observations bring me to my final question. What does the rise of these programs at either end of the spectrum tell us? At first glance, it would appear that there is a widening gap between two groups of television  watchers. While that might be true to an extent, it is plausible that many of the audiences for the 'reality docudramas' watch them as they are intended, with tongue firmly in cheek. It is difficult, however, not to link the events of the last week with the rise of  (z list) celebrity culture. Although the News of the World did some disgraceful (and illegal) things, the only reason they did was to fuel a public appetite for titbits of celebrity gossip and a 'need' to dish the dirt on anyone they fancied.

N.b. Dont worry, I go back to talking about history next time.


  1. Some good observations here, Steve. I think the rise in popularity of science/politics/history-based programs is very refreshing and much praise can be given to the BBC of late for putting many of these factual-based programs on prime-time BBC1. What also helps, though, is having a 'popular' front man (woman) to present these shows. Brian Cox, for instance, is a hit because people see him as a 'good-looking' scientist. Had there been an old, bearded gentleman in oversized spectacles as the presenter, the show might not have been as popular. To make history/politics/science seem 'cool' to the 'ordinary' people you usually have to have a fresh-faced 'celebrity-figure' at the helm (I thought you might like that analogy).

    With regards to the rise of more docudramas, I also think – as an educated professional (if I can call myself that) – that these shows are equally refreshing. Sometimes, after a long day at work, you just don’t want to listen to Paxman tear into another politician. All you want is to do is watch Joey Essex prance around in a pair of Ugg boots on The Only Way Is Essex, or see two uber-rich socialites in Chelsea attempt to row a boat on Made In Chelsea.

    Long may both of these trends continue.

  2. Agreed, I think perhaps the rise of the Cox generation of presenters is a good thing, as it brings people into 'intellectual' debates. I do have my reservations about this also, though, as some programmes are simply vehicles for the presenter (not Cox) which are often skewed, and sometimes incorrect.

    As for the docudramas, I agree, and that's what i meant by seeing them in the light in which (one hopes) they were created. It is when people start to see these people as something to live up to that the problems start.

  3. These factual based programs only bridge the gap ever so slightly. They merely portray one book, one persons view in history for instance. What people do in academia is make up there own mind from many books.
    So I say to you, tv is only bridging the gap between people and a story.

    Secondly, aren't we all z list celebrities with our blogging and facebook ever finding ways to enter into peoples existence through every email, text ando web page. there is little need for glossy magazines to make us all z list celebrities.

    P.s keep up the good work

  4. I dont think you need to understand things to the same level as an academic (who have more time, not a better intellect) to be enlightened by these programmes. Although there are some questionable presenters, most seem to provide reasonably mainstream views I find, and I think as with anything, viewers are intelligent enough to discern what is opinion, and find out more if they wish.

    As for z list celebrities, I am not sure i would class myself as one, and I think the difference is, while most people will try to use the internet etc to promote or share something they believe to be of value to others, tabloids peddle vacuous rubbish.