Saturday, 9 January 2010

Ross, and our times

Leaving the BBC - might be gratifying to those who believe the BBC can and should do better. But then again, it may be a harbinger of serious cuts to come.

A Year Zero which results in a better media is not going to come. What might is a BBC hamstrung by restrictions placed by a Cameron government, a BBC forced to become *just* a niche broadcaster for a privileged few, any idealist notions of its role 'to educate and entertain' all people in Britain banished in the marketisation drive. A drive that is absurd; unutterably grotesque in this era wherein fundamentalist belief in the market has been shown to be morally and fiscally bankrupt.

The left - and indeed thinking British citizens - need to fight on the defensive to support the NHS and the BBC and the vestiges of enlightenment that we still retain, however *imperfect* and reduced compared with what they were. They still offer a vastly preferable future to that offered by the appalling likes of Gove, Hannan and sundry EasyCouncil Tories.

But then the Conservatives' media policy is effectively decided by the Murdochs - compare recent Tory announcements on regulation, Ofcom etc. with those of James Murdoch.

Ross? I don't like the man. I can see he had genuine interest in film, but was content to sit on the fence and offer bland platitudes instead of proper film criticism on his BBC1 show; the man, and, likely, the Corporation, afraid to rock the boat. Adhering as ever to Capitalist Realist thinking: this is the way it is, you cannot criticise the Hollywood blockbusters in anything other than the blandest terms. Otherwise, you are alienating your customers, erm, audience. People on the Guardian website have generally supported the idea of Mark Kermode, an outspoken critic currently employed by the BBC, being given Ross's film show on BBC1. One or two have tellingly remarked that he might not be mainstream enough - after all, he delivers heartfelt rants against the likes of "Transformers 2". Kermode is hardly a fundamentalist for intellectual or European cinema; he praises much of the better Hollywood product. It says a lot that he might be deemed out of bounds for a BBC1 film show; he has opinions! He dares to assert feminist arguments against the most tawdry of Hollywood summer films... Obviously, much better to have Ross hedging his bets and trying to offend nobody! He was rarely as oafish on his film show as often on other programmes, but just not entertaining or enlightening on the whole... His opinions were received and rehearsed, the programme's intent being to give a focus-grouped consumer's view.

Jonathan Ross is not the point; he is surely being claimed as a scalp of the Daily Mail's in their wider campaign to shut down voices of opposition. Voices in the media which might, as Adam Curtis asserts (in a passage quoted by Mark Fisher in his fine Capitalism Realism), offer people ideas *beyond their selves*, beyond the infantilizing pandering that has comprised so much of our media. Currently, insecure selves are offered admonition; you should be this, you should be that. Universally, the 'betterment' proferred is banal, solipsistic, simplistic - focused on appearance, home furnishing and the whole sorry litany.

Andrew Marr pulled back from a denunciation of the Noughties in the recent three-part BBC2 documentary on the past - seemingly unlamented - decade. He is undermining his own position and the public service he has given in the past by not providing the requisite damning closure to a programme about a damnable decade: the horror of American power laid bare for all to see - Bush, Blair, Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Katrina - and the destructiveness of acquisitive capitalism leading to taxpayers supporting failed gamblers, erm, businesses. In the midst of all this you have had British consumers going about their merry way with little regard to planet or neighbour. Enjoying a cultural operation, a media brainwashing comparable with any totalitarian state. And Marr can state that it wasn't all bad... Evidently some advances were made for people in their individual lives, as in any era. But what do lives mean if lived with no regard to anything else...?

Positives might include the potential space offered by the internet; Wikipedia, however necessarily flawed, offers a route to issues and ideas otherwise not discussed (adjudicated through terms of objectivity by a regular team of editors). YouTube and other such sites have great material (inexhaustible amounts of Adam Curtis and Jonathan Meades stuff, for example)... But these avenues are as yet not producing any change. This is the year that the left must use media to expose media. David Cameron's fatuous, Blair-copybook posters should provide an easy first target...

You have many opposing Daniel Hannan, Nick Griffin, Jan Moir etc., but still around 50% of those bothered to vote in the European elections casting a vote for a decidedly backward-looking right-wing option.

The last ten years should cause the end of postmodernism and self-absorption. That they won't sums up the level of subconscious indoctrination - many good people are allowing themselves to be deluded, refusing to break with previous assumptions. Only a full-scale de-indoctrination process - Berger's Ways of Seeing taught in schools from age 5! Languages and Philosophy given greater emphasis - will do. But until then, you avoid the worst options; many on the left have argued that the visible collapse of neoliberalism will hasten its demise. The collapse is not visible within the media, or for most people. It is our task to make this clearer, and an extension of this, for me, is support of the founding ideals of our better public institutions. If we don't do this, we merely hasten greater neo-liberal control of cultural life (the dissident voices that we do get via the BBC would be silenced). The 'consensus' is not about to collapse by the force of its own contradictions. The unbelief, the disavowal of meaning or a better future, exists as unconscious belief for the majority.

The pro-BBC campaign has to be made in terms of the best instincts of the BBC, the fact of it speaking to a diverse audience... but also to a stronger drive to get audiences thinking and not consuming.


  1. A lot of interesting points. Re film, I think the maddest film review I ever read was in The Times. Cosmo Landesman was reviewing 28 Weeks later and really spat the dummy out at the outrage of portraying American soldiers as trigger happy brutes. Perish the thought.

    Anyway, if I remember correctly, in the same issue (or maybe I’m confused) he gave a positive review to Shrek 2. It seems these days you’re regarded as a bit of a nutter if you think, maybe, children’s films are for children and stuff. I don’t have a TV and rarely watch films myself, but often get shocked by how the broadsheets treat moronic films by people like Adam Sandler.

    However, because Jonathan Ross and Chris Evans often competed in the 90s, I’ll always feel some measure of gratitude to ‘Wossy’ for not being the intolerable, ginger creep whose smug, infantile humour really annoys me.

    As I don’t have a TV, I didn’t get your point about Marr. Did he refuse to do a show on the noughties or just avoid the unpleasant bits? Thought his one about the 80s at least had the merit of pointing out that Thatcherism was successful due to North Sea Oil rather than her economic reforms.

    Unfortunately, addressing your broader comments, I fear that the BBC and other British media forms are in a quagmire right now because Britain just bluntly doesn’t have a philosophical culture, but one of conformity and consensus. Adam Curtis is a voice in the wilderness…oddly enough, he doesn't even like being called left wing. I suppose even someone pretty conservative would probably feel uneasy by how neo-liberalism has become a religion in Britain.

  2. Marr - he was contributing to a three-part BBC2 series attempting to investigate the decade just gone. I only watched the first in full, and must say that there were valid points and many of the right areas explored - the baby-boomers cashing in. Young people oblivious that they will be footing the bill - and atomised, unable to organise in any way.

    The generation gap element was there - telling to use Blair's quote about wanting us to become 'a young country again'...

    On the whole, Marr seemed to be giving reasoned points against the greed and excess of the Noughties, but I was just infurtiated at what amounting to a bit of a cop-out at the end. A typical modern TV moment, with him saying 'on the other hand, it wasn't all bad', with the upbeat music kicking in and it cutting away to a montage showing 00s elements that were 'fun'.

    It is the sort of uncritical moment characteristic of British TV in its current form; EVERYTHING'S ALL RIGHT (to quote "The Day Today"). For the consumer in his/her own bubble. The message basically being: We might accept things are bad elsewhere, but there is never anything we can do about it just focus on our own lives. Don't waste your time thinking! Unmutual!