Monday, November 16, 2009

Night Horrors

Are we witnessing the decline and fall of our civilization? Sometimes, when I look at TV, I think so.
Slowly, subtly – and not so subtly – the box has become a very scary place to spend time with. Oddly, most of the truly awful stuff comes from England. It’s an strange state of affairs considering that for years we idolised the UK’s quality dramas. They’re still there. I hear, for instance, that the recently screened Bleak House was great.
But most British fare is now pretty yucky. I couldn’t believe my eyes a week or two ago when I stumbled over something on Prime called Three Fat Brides and One Thin Dress. The idea of this ‘reality’ show is for three chubby women to diet furiously in the hope of squeezing themselves into a strapless, bejewelled slip of a gown fit for a princess. This show is really just another version of Cinderella, only there’s no need now for Cinders to be sweet or brave or long-suffering, but merely to be skinny.
We’ve seen lots of dieting on the telly, but this was the first time I’d seen the judge demand that participants bring along a fecal sample for discussion. The judge is, naturally, blonde and skinny and issues her orders like a trainer calling sheep dogs to heel.
‘Whose poo is this?’ she shrieked, picking up a plastic lidded box with a dark turd inside. A chart on the wall behind her indicated the look and shape of the perfect poo. Smooth and snake-like is how they’re supposed to be, apparently.
One of the brides-to-be confessed shamefacedly that in fact the lumpy offering had been produced by her fiancé, Gareth. Judge Lady thought as much. With an expression of disgust she lifted the lid and snapped it shut again. ‘It stinks!’ she shrilled, outraged that the bride-to-be had been too shy to produce a sample which might somehow have been more fragrant.
I could barely believe that this was going on in my living room. But still, I shouldn’t have been surprised as evening TV is now largely a swamp of nightly murder, mayhem and gooey forensics as floods of crime shows swallow up prime time.
Some nights I switch instead to the History Channel (uh-oh, soldiers being machine-gunned); Animal Planet (crikey dick, another animal-cruelty show); E! (how many Botoxed starlets can there be in the world?); the Documentary Channel (oops, it’s Fat Doctor with surgeons up to their elbows inside the torsos of the super-obese); and Fox News, where all the gals look like ex-Miss Americas and most of the men seem to hate Democrats.
And yet, every now and again, something wonderful shimmers on the screen. Just today I caught a brief documentary on Al Jazeera about South Africa’s Miagi Youth Orchestra, a classical-music ensemble of young and hugely talented players from right across the race and income spectrum. I watched a slender black boy lost in the magic of wringing music from his viola, his whole body trembling with the sound and passion of it, his face glowing with the pleasure and power of creating beauty. Aah, sometimes, even now, it’s really worth sitting down in front of the telly.

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