19 October 2007

On this week’s episode of Screenwipe, the excellent and often hilarious televisual spin-off to Charlie Brooker’s Screenburn Guardian column, the rectangular-headed one looked at the phenomenon of youth television. I’m not spelling it ‘yoof’ on account of it’s not 1987 any more. The very act of writing about Screenwipe is to tread the tightrope of meta-discussion, as its whole point is to evaluate television programmes. But then, as it is a programme in its own right, surely there must be someone to take a look at that; at how well it is working. In that sense, to paraphrase Homer, I am policing the police. I am the coastguard.

The point during the programme that most piqued my curiosity (or at least the segment about which I felt semi compelled to write) was the ‘ordinary people’ bit. In it, Brooker showed television shows to a focus group of young people; they watched each until they felt the need to hold up a sign bearing the legend ‘BORING’. Brooker’s theory, on account of ‘young people are idiots’ went along the lines of thinking they’d enjoy the frothy glitz shows and yawn themselves back to the foetal stage the second a documentary would come on.

To Brooker’s pleased surprise, they denounced My Super Sweet Sixteen, declared Skins naught but a ‘well written guilty pleasure’, and were positively thrilled to bits by the documentary. Seeing as the documentary was The Power of Nightmares, by the excellent Adam Curtis (whose The Trap - What Happened to our Dream of Freedom edified and terrified me in equal measure, and whose quick-cut archive-raiding style of documentary-making seems entirely aimed at the kind of people whose alleged short attention spans would have them changing the channel if any image is on their screens for more than three and a half seconds), this conclusion was not a massive surprise; certainly not so when one considers how middle class his youth panel was. I’m not going to lie: I am most definitely middle class. I am not, however, anywhere near as posh as this lot (example: one of them was called Flossie), whose ecological validity seemed to be entirely based on the fact that there was one black person and one Asian person on the panel.

I wonder, if Brooker was really interested in what the young people of today thought of today’s television aimed at young people, whether a more class-mixed panel would have resulted in different results than those we saw here; perhaps – not to generalise but to theorise – shows like Whatever might have met with more positive response. Maybe they wouldn’t, which is why I’d like to have seen something more representative. That’s not even to mention boring academic concerns like whether a group of young people assembled before one of the country’s foremost television critics and appearing on a BBC4 programme might perhaps display demand characteristics. ‘This is “good telly” so I should praise it’ / ‘How can I admit to liking this “bad” programme?’

The study, and I am aware it was just a segment on an entertainment show ergo I’m not getting bent out of shape about it (even if I may appear to be), just seemed to be some self-fulfilling skit, an episode of a feel-good kids’ show, wherein everybody realises that – hey! – we’re not so different after all and the world isn’t, as Billy Corgan once mentioned, actually a vampire. Who’d have thought that posh kids on a BBC 4 programme would like a fast-paced BBC documentary? Nobody, right?

That said, this series has been excellent thus far (this specific episode home to the touching tribute to Ronnie Hazlehurst that inspired my post). It’s funny and good, even if he doesn’t like America’s Next Top Model. He’s just jealous.

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