ne weekend, I watch Freeview TV and read a broadsheet...
TV today actually targetted at connoisseurs of formats, ads and idents?
More radically, is it an exercise in contentless form; a way to keep
tele-forms alive, in their shimmering, ersatz state, until the arrival
of the saviour entities who will reinvest them with purpose?
in Britain, where TV "isn't as bad as in America", the conceptual
integrity of any TV programme is more and more limited to fitting in
with a given format. Viewers are faced with a palette of variations in
which producers push and pull, mildly, at the limits of whatever format
they've banked on to get some sort of project past gatekeeper
executives. I presume.
To the average programme maker, I
am a demographically awkward, unrewarding viewer: a fifty-something,
financially non-viable middle-class male, living in The North. I'm not
interested in buying, selling or altering my home; building a
dream-home; elaborate meals; or anything that requires middle-class
amounts of money. But because I have a smattering of middle-class
education I'm not interested in the top-feeder approach to ideas,
either. I'm a snob, with no spending power, and, to make matters worse,
To me, TV reflects a popular culture that has become even more
exclusionary than it already was, even more fiercely limited to
orthodoxies, especially around corporatised entertainment, and a self-serving media/celebrity
culture: the stock in trade of all the formats in which TV and entertainment
people talk among themselves. Released from the sofas, the same
actors and personalities fan out in squads across TV-land, emoting for
talent shows; scowling, weeping and wailing for overwrought soaps and
crime tales, huffing and puffing through nostalgic costume dramas: many
of these being formats with interchangeable narratives and
I might be interested in not seeing the
invisible reality programme 'I'm a Celebrity: Please Ignore Me from Now
On' (copyright © me, 2015). For this, a very large number of celebrities
are taken to a rudimentary camp
in, say, the Gobi Desert, under false pretences. They're left there
without any camera crews,
satellite or Internet connections, never to be seen or heard from again
(especially if they make it back home: this to be a clause in the
contract that the celebs cannot be allowed to see, in order to ensure
The Freeview experience is
maddening. On the one hand, programme makers seem terrified that the
viewer might not be able to follow a train of thought for more than two
minutes. On the other, the viewer's interest is constantly frustrated by
repetitious advertising and padding. Inside, I'm screaming: I can
remember what happened in this
oversimplified narrative, and what the consequences were,
because, you know, the programme itself explained those very things not ten minutes ago.
experience is made worse by the tendency of non-commercial programming
to imitate the breathless flow of commercial channels. The noisiness of
commercial broadcasting makes sense as a sensory fog intended to induce a
dream-like state in which viewers might spend more money. In the
non-commercial realm the viewer is constantly nudged and prodded for no
other reason than the channel declaring its own presence, its qualities,
etc., ever more explicitly, even though the viewer, by definition, has already elected to watch the channel.
course, it's possible to find thoughtful programmes about
politics and economics, arts and sciences (albeit with a strong
metropolitan bias), and even one or two films that don't involve Steven
Seagal. That is, as long as the BBC manages to maintain its autonomy as a
nest of lefty-liberals, or right-wing reactionaries, depending on your
analysis of the BBC.  And as long as Channel 4 isn't totally consumed
by brain-eating controversialitis.
As guest editor-curator of BBC's Artsnight,
Maxine Peake affects to arrive in Salford in a White Van, all
bleached-out like a white knight, or the saviour who will reinvest the
arts magazine format with new purpose. I enjoy the sections on women in
television and on Shelagh Delaney. And I think I know what Peake means
when, in another item, she says that the post-punk post-hip-hop duo
Sleaford Mods have come to 'save us' (from conventionalised pop music).
But I don't like the Mods that much, musically, and I don't know what
Peake means by 'the working class'. 
The White Van is no doubt returned to Media City, Salford; and Peake to London.
I do appreciate Adam Curtis's film Bitter Lake
(BBC iPlayer only). It's about Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism, and the
playing out of Saudi and British interests throughout the Middle East,
as far as Afghanistan. The film is much too complex to synopsise here,
which is a reflection of the fact that it does not oversimplify its
subject matter. There is some ambiguity about the "voice" behind the
film, and the purpose of certain sequences in it, but I prefer coping
with that to fighting the sense that I'm wasting my time, and being
patronised for it. 
I also like The Great European Disaster Movie,
by Annalisa Piras (apart from the acted bits featuring Angus Deayton as
a future "archaeologist" of old Europe, on board a repeatedly re-routed
airliner). I find a German woman talking about her forbears
particularly moving. Whenever I see German people engaging critically
with their past I despair of the idiocies of self-satisfied Britishness.
The film features few exemplars of that quality, too. 
find a programme about owls. I like to think that this and my enjoyment
of it are exemplary of an altogether different kind of Britishness. 
After a struggle with TV, I need to reconnect with my roots in free-thinking, radical contemporary art.
International Women's Day, and the editors of the Observer newspaper
have put contemporary art curator Hans Ulrich Obrist on the cover of
their arts section, under the heading 'Is this Britain's Most Original
Predictably, the bait question on the
cover is not addressed in the article. Coincidentally, though, Obrist is
shown in a position analogous to that of Deayton's character in the
Piras film. We're told in detail of his long-standing obsession with
travelling the world, engaging with artists (a back-story that will be
familiar to anyone who knows a little bit about Obrist, or looks him up
online). As far as the curator's thinking goes, it seems to be that of
the classic aggregator; here gleaning ideas piecemeal from the artists
he meets, formalising them, post hoc, into something which acquires
quasi-philosophical, academic or historical merit.
Obrist nor his interlocutor, Rachel Cooke, choose to discuss how much
this perceived merit has to do with the dedication, energy and original
thought of the curator, and how much to do with his acquired power in a
relatively exclusive art world. Nor do they connect non-artworld issues
with what art could or should be doing today. In terms of addressing the
vitality of contemporary art, these are significant omissions, made
more noticeable when Obrist's global reach is invoked as if it were a
professional qualification. Lacking much interrogative drive, the
article reinforces the familiar impression that important art and its
curators are defined primarily by their ineffable metropolitan-ness: a
quality of being, rather than a quality of thought.
...overall, the weekend is educative, informative, slightly entertaining, and a little depressing.
 "One of the most bizarre myths about the corporation, recycled
ceaselessly in the conservative press, is that the BBC has a left wing
bias [but] the opposite is the case. From the coverage of wars
to economics, it has a pro-government, elite and corporate anchor. The
BBC is full of Conservatives and former New Labour apparatchiks with
almost identical views about politics, business and the world.
Executives have stuffed their pockets with public money. And far from
programme outsourcing increasing independent creativity, it has simply
turned some former employees into wealthy “entrepreneurs”, while
enforcing a safety-first editorial regime."
Seamus Milne: 'Pinkoes and Traitors: The BBC and the Nation 1974-1987 by Jean Seaton review'
 Artsnight., BBC Two: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0551jtq
 Adam Curtis: Bitter Lake (2015)
 The Great European Disaster Movie (2015, Dir. Annalisa Piras)
 Natural Word: Super Powered Owls.
 Rachel Cooke, 'Hans Ulrich Obrist: "Everything I do is somehow connected to velocity"'