CSI, Reality TV and Gangsta Gun-slingers – a few random weekend thoughts

Written By: - Date published: 5:47 pm, May 2nd, 2015 - 33 comments
Categories: Media, tv - Tags: , , ,

I’m currently 25,000 words into writing a new book that is particularly taxing on the brain. By the time I get back home I’ve been thinking hard for around six or seven uninterrupted hours and my brain feels like it has been replaced by jelly! There’s no point trying to read, I am sick of staring at a small computer screen, so I turn on the telly.

As a result, I keep analysing what’s on the box and pondering why it is so many of the programmes on TV now tend to fall into one of two categories (and often overlap). The first group can be briefly summed up by ‘gruesome death, war, mayhem and gross violence’ and the second by ‘Reality TV’ which features sex, appalling accidents, public humiliation, god-awfully ignorant people and the worship of greed. For light relief, we might get a nice aside in war movies or dystopias that reflect some grim autocratic military state. There is a real siege mentality about all these programmes, a deep ugliness and very little human kindness.

What I wonder is who thinks this stuff is the best way to entertain people? And what does it say about us if this is what we most want to watch? (I really want to know the answer to this one particularly, because I really, really don’t get it.) Yes, I understand that some of these programmes have witty scripts and quite intriguing plots but, actually, to me that almost makes it worse. It’s like putting lipstick on a pig; sexing up cruelty and carnage with a bit of witty repartee. Why does a good script suddenly make cruelty and carnage morally acceptable?

Are we being purposefully desensitised perhaps? If so, why? Is it so that as we are corralled and duped into passive acceptance of an autocratic state or so terrified into submission we won’t make a fuss? I wish I didn’t think this was even a remote possibility, but I’m afraid I do. More and more I can’t help thinking there is a cynical logic at work, an electronic equivalent of setting up gladiatorial arenas to amuse us while we’re screwed from behind. It’s the same with the ‘news’. It’s very hard not to believe this is a cynical ploy to distract and diminish anything of real newsworthiness – or worthiness fullstop. Poor George Orwell must be turning in his grave.

And most times it’s not even subtle, and certainly not expensive. We have the bloody Bachelor, for god’s sake, which reaches new heights of gross insult to anyone with half a brain and even a skerrick of scruples. And then there are the underlying messages of consume, consume, consume…. because it always boils down to money one way or the other.

One last thing that occurs to me as I flick through the channels (and then always give up in disgust and go and listen to a podcast): why IS it that advertisers think we’re more likely to eat something if they give it human characteristics? Are they appealing to the latent cannibal in us? Why do they think putting legs and arms and face on a yoghurt mean I’m more likely to buy it?

Random thoughts – just wondering if I’m the only one who thinks this stuff? Anyway, enough! I have an appointment with the Kardashians ….

33 comments on “CSI, Reality TV and Gangsta Gun-slingers – a few random weekend thoughts”

  1. Phaedrus 1

    A similar theme comes through in Ray Bradbury’s book ‘Fahrenheit 451’ especially the use of mindless reality programmes to distract the masses.

  2. b waghorn 2

    its not a conspiracy ,its just proof that humans in general have not evolved far past being apes. The only plus is that at least the pointless killing is make believe and not done in a stadium like the romans .
    As for the the bachelor , my wife would not of come near me if I’d had a dozen women on the go when I met her but she loves it , much to my disbelief.(the red blooded parts of me enjoys the view though)
    On a deep down level humans have never learnt to cope with the move from small family/tribal groups so we cling to the familiar ,which explains why some have watched coronation street for 50 fucking years.

  3. Charles 3

    Theory 1

    Pop culture is a self-affirming loop. You buy what you’ve always been told is the thing to buy, even if you have no idea what it is or what it does. In the case of yoghurt, you buy it because the advertisement appeals to you, even if you don’t know if your body needs it, or what it does once you eat it. Ingredients are irrelevent. Advertisements, you now know (but you don’t remember how you know, or when you began to know) are ready made memories, for the supermarket later, when you’ll be faced with the tough decision of which yoghurt to buy during your aimless wandering through the brightly lit aisles. You need yoghurt. The stuff with the arms and legs. You dreamed it once.

    Today I read that skinny jeans are going out of fashion. Any woman who is any one now wears “boyfriend jeans”. Few friends that are boys have worn tapered jeans since 1982. Where are all these taper-wearing boy-friends? And if you’re a guy wearing skinny jeans, who was your boyfriend? Taper jeans for women were skinny once, eye-popping tight. In fact, taper jeans are skinny jeans 25 years later. We’ve been had, but we need them anyway.

    Three girls tried to give me a tub of free yoghurt on Queen Street today. They were wearing skinny jeans and black hats like they were lost in the eighties. Yoghurt doesn’t agree with me.

  4. Maui 4

    Chris Hedges likens the TV spectacle to that of the Coloseum in Rome. Best left to be described in his own words, skip to 3:20 in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sU0AA31NcDw

  5. Bill 5

    Cop style programmes – shit scripts and ‘shot up with no blood or screaming agony’ aside – always presume that the good guys are the guys in authority. Been that way since…oh, John Wayne westerns I suppose. Go through them,,,Spooks, CSI or just whatever. The good guys (our societal betters) win over the, often, incomprehensible, if not utterly reprehensible bad guys….always. In short – propaganda.

    Reality TV. Urgh. Can’t watch ’cause my brain starts bleeding, but I guess there’s room for ‘wallpaper’ in everyone’s life. I just prefer mine to be aural.

    Competitive Reality TV. Particularly twisted pieces of propaganda where cooperation is always entered into for cynical personal gain with the aim of busting the deal at the moment set to deliver maximum personal advantage. Or the competition is singular (ie, no cooperation) but utterly meaningless, ie – edited to be hyped up and generally stressed out cooking competitions etc.

    And we get it all squeezed out and delivered between the ‘crappy happy consumer makes for perfection and don’t you just love this even though you’re not too sure what it is and will never be able to afford it’ bullshit with the sideline that if you keep on working and believe the consumer paradise is right around the next corner, then hey… 24/7. And here’s some recycled aloe vera hypo allergenic multi purposlessness that you can dry your eyes, wipe your bum and clean the toilet with in no particular order. Now in handy squeeze tubes. (warning: keep out of reach of children and pets. If blistering occurs, seek medical advise. Call toxic waste services for pick up of empty container.)

    Did I mention I threw out the TV some years back?

  6. In Vino 6

    Agreed.

    I blame the market model that Media Works are using to justify axing Campbell Live. If a programme does not draw enough ratings, it is quickly axed. As a result we get the few main channels competing with the same sort of popular stuff at the same time (News, Reality Shows..) instead of the variety and choice that the system should be providing.

    As a teacher (semi-retired), I think we should try running our schools using the same stupid system. To hell with the intelligent, capable minority of students – we should base subject availability on how many students enjoy the subject, and choose to turn up for it. Subjects with attendance below a very high rating should be instantly axed because they do not draw a sufficient audience.
    Our schools would rapidly turn into vulgar pleasure-farms, with new subjects like Bachelor-hunting, Bachelor-hunter Avoidance Skills, Reality-show Judging, and Fast-food Consumption… an endless array of choices.

    Shakespeare? Sorry, just did not attract ratings. Sorry, but Physics, Chemistry, French, Calculus + Stats, in fact all advanced Maths went the same way. Insufficient numbers of students eager to do it. Never mind that those willing and keen were the gifted few.. they were too few, and our magic market system accordingly eliminated their subjects. All for the best in the best of all possible systems. If you don’t like it, go to North Korea.

    Never again would NZ produce another Lord Rutherford.

    We do not do this to our most gifted students, but we happily do it to quality Television. Interrupting quality films and programmes with ads is cultural butchery, yet we allow the Advertisers to rule our Television system. And please do not tell me that the so-called SOE TVNZ is state-owned – the CEO is a man from the bloody Marketing industry…

    How the heads of Media Works and TVNZ manage to remain blind to their own cultural and moral barbarity escapes me. The theory that the market is the best possible master is just too bloody stupid for me to accept. End of rant.

    • Anne 6.1

      Thanks In Vino. Rant perfect. No need to add anything further. I sometime feel like I want to throw the whole damm lot of em into a vat of boiling tar – if that is scientifically possible. 😕

      Edit: In short, its pandering to the lowest possible denominator by those who represent the lowest possible denominator.

      • In Vino 6.1.1

        Yes, bloody bollocking blinkered baboons, the whole lot of them.

        Pandering to the lowest common denominator by those who profit best from doing so?

        Parasitic middlemen, and they get to run our MSM??

        (Still inwardly ranting…)

        • Anne 6.1.1.1

          *I avoided using the word ‘common’ in case someone took issue with it sounding elitist. But the truth is, most of them are very common. 😈

          • In Vino 6.1.1.1.1

            Yes, élite appears to be a dirty word when we ask the Market Forces masters to provide us with some quality TV. Yet our élite students do so well at school prize giving… And then those Market Forces people put their names and photos out in their local newspapers…

            But if an élite film or programme turns up, they will barbarically butcher it with as many intrusive and unannounced commercial breaks as possible. Utterly ruinous.

            How stupid is it to have marketing people running our television?

            I would like to invoke Christ throwing the money-changers out of the temple, but it is getting late.

    • Incognito 6.2

      Isn’t it a little ironic that in his days Shakespeare kinda worked in the “entertainment industry”? I mean, Romeo and Juliet is not exactly The Bachelor but they have many elements in common, don’t they? [disclaimer: I have never watched The Bachelor]

  7. mickysavage 7

    Thanks Mandy.

    Your post starts to explain why on prime time TV we have Paul Henry and Mike Hosking filling our heads with their world view. There is a certain assumption that consumerism is king and beautiful people are somehow better.

    And pretty well every progressive I know have turned off MSM and seek their entertainment from blogs, from Youtube, from alternative feeds.

    The “left wing media” (apart from the Guardian) concede too much, the right wing media are full of nutbars.

    And TV is more and more a noise in the background.

    • Anne 7.1

      And pretty well every progressive I know have turned off MSM and seek their entertainment from blogs, from Youtube, from alternative feeds.

      You can add me to that list mickysavage. Apart from the news (and its becoming increasingly impossible to watch much more than 10mins of the so-called news) I only watch the occasional Current Affairs programme. My one weakness – Downton Abbey. Dame Maggie Smith is a magnificent actress and the clothes of the period are just beautiful. 😳 (that’s supposed to be a ‘red face’ but it looks more like a monkey. Oh well, take your pick.)

      • aspasia 7.1.1

        But we are forgetting the publicly funded, magnificent Maori TV with actual real people on screen and actual real current events (Native Affairs) and media review (Media Take) and wonderful documentaries (Tuesday) and movies (two recent watches, Jane Campion’s Bright Star again and last night’s much too relevant Incendies) and even public service ads:). Watch it before (like Campbell Live) the new brooms try to sweep all the good stuff away!

    • wyndham 7.2

      I do hope your first paragraph does not carry any suggestion that Hosking and Henry are “beautiful people” in any way !!

  8. Rosemary McDonald 8

    “…an electronic equivalent of setting up gladiatorial arenas to amuse us while we’re screwed from behind.”

    I wondered what that pain was…..

    My partner and I have not watched much telly for about five years….and none at all for the past six months.

    (We live most of the time in a converted Bus….no telly….and we’re usually parked up in such a glorious spot that it would be an offence against nature to watch anything but the view.)

    We listen to Natrad, read, and shockingly….have conversations! With each other! Or with complete strangers!

    A few years ago most would talk telly….and soon gave up when met with blank and confused looks.

    Now…we see an increasing dissatisfaction with content and how it is delivered. The gladitorial and voyeuristic nature of many of the shows is so overt that finally some people are starting to admit to feeling guilty watching them.

    And they switch the goddamn thing off.

    You’d be better off lying on the couch with your eyes closed listening to the radio…

    (non commercial, and not the pm giggle session on Natrad!)

    Great piece. Now, get on with that book!

  9. Paul 9

    George Carlin always nailed it.

  10. mpledger 10

    I really don’t know who is watching tv anymore and those that do record and skip the ads anyway. TV is as we know it is dying.

  11. Corokia 11

    So agree with you Mandy! The more TV choice we’ve got, the more violent and nasty, or superficial and stupid the programmes have become . Most documentaries have to be dramatic or shocking to make it on to mainstream TV. My household watches mostly sport, but even then there are constant TAB ads telling us we need to be gambling on the game to make it worth watching. The upcoming $300 million boxing match is just an obscenity in a world where so many live in poverty. The ads brainwash us to consume more and watching them explains to me why no action ever happened on reducing fossil fuel consumption.

  12. Corokia 12

    I watched Downton Abbey for a while until it had me screaming for someone to get on with the revolution.

  13. emergency mike 13

    I removed TV from the place I live a few years ago, about the time they started making ‘reality’ shows documenting the trials and tribulations of young couples renovating their fucking kitchens. I don’t miss it and feel much better.

    It really is a form of pacifying mind control. I’m not sure to what extent if any it is planned to be such, but that’s what it is nonetheless. The flickering images and constant edits alter brain states towards one associated hypnosis and suggestibility. Then, commercials tell you who you want to be, and the products you need to buy to achieve that end. The news presents selected, filtered soundbites about good guys and bad guys interpreted by self-impressed overpaid low-brow careerist poseurs. The entertainment is violent, crude, and crass. The hours of flicking through channels looking for the least crap crap slide by…

    Anytime I go somewhere and see people vegetating in front of a TV I can only see this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rn-Sa0MlFkg It does indeed make one wonder about the function of TV in our society.

    I saw a good thought experiment online recently. Imagine that throughout your whole life up to now, there has been a video camera on top of your TV. It has recorded every moment of you watching TV. Now imagine that you are forced to sit down and watch this footage from start to finish. Not a pretty thought is it? Before TV human beings used to spend their spare time doing something constructive.

    Have some self respect and show it the door.

  14. Corokia 14

    Looks like the billion dollar taxpayer funded broadband project is mostly going to be used so NZers can access even more shit programmes online. Progress not.

  15. philj 15

    Thanks Mandy. You are not alone in your low opinion of our current media, especially TVNZ. I don’t watch it anymore and find much better offerings on line. It is worrying that people do watch it, I am told.

  16. Well, my TV’s gone to the basement since broadcast TV bosses have made it clear that they are hostile to the idea of showing anything that isn’t an insult to my intelligence, so a good long middle finger to them and their sponsors too.

    That’s not to say that there isn’t good programming out there, but there’s no need to sit down according to someone else’s schedule and endure their choices to get through to it.

    I personally think that we’re seeing some of the best long-form drama, but we can watch it on any platform at any time on our terms without being beholden to the old broadcast paradigm.

    Kevin Spacey gives a very interesting lecture here on new possibilities and trends:

    Note: It’s 47 minutes long.

  17. vaughan little 17

    TV has always been ridiculous – that’s an innate part of the medium. Clive James made his name back in the 1970s celebrating the ridiculousness for the Observer in prose that rewards reading even today, long after most of the names and events he discusses have passed into obscurity.

    But there’s a toxicity that wasn’t always there. I don’t believe that you can pin down the cause of that toxicity to one single actor, be it a company like mediaworks or the illuminati (or whoever is meant to be running the conspiracy). i think that partly it’s due to a crisis in authority, or to put it another way, a lack of conviction within the culture. john campbell is a throwback. he’s a great example of how electrifying conviction, belief and vision can be. these qualities have pertinence to any age, but tend to get downplayed in one like ours, which is hardly famous for its optimism.

    let me pitch you a concept. picture the average 18 year old, who has grown up in a highly dysfunctional economy and in an age of global warming awareness. doom is probably quite a substantial element in their mental backdrop. i imagine they won’t have a cast of mind that is drawn to tackling really big challenges. i imagine they’ll be fairly timid, and will seek entertainment that has a matching level of ambition. i think that’s partly what’s going on.

  18. plumington 18

    IMO nothing happens without a reason,the social engineering over the past 30 yrs the msm and current PROGRAMMING (what does that word actually mean)definitely suits a purpose ,you would ALMOST THINK it is all in a design ,but who’s purpose and design?

  19. Adrian 19

    Ironicly In Vino, the recent surge in the popularity of Science courses at University has been put down to shows like CSI, but I think it is probably more Mythbusters and the like.
    I think that we are a bit hard on the popularity of Shock and Awe programs particularily the perception that they are a recent phenonoma when TV is no more than the equivilant of the village or tribal storyteller and boy weren’t his tales bloodcurding toe curlers.
    Nothing changes ( much ), everything remains the same.
    Yes, Corokia, Downton Abbey would have been at lot better with the addition of a few castle sackings.

  20. adam 20

    This is from TISM.

    From 2001 album De RigueurMortis lyrics only (Only found a bad live video on youtube) – bad language be warned.

    TISM:Channel Turd Lyrics

    Real TV
    Real TV
    Real TV
    Real TV makes us all arseholes

    The people who make it
    How do they live?
    The producer’s a jackal
    The director’s a spiv
    And P.R. they’re liars
    The sound guy is a slime
    The hostess is a bimbo
    With a petulant whine

    Real TV
    Real TV
    Real TV
    Real TV makes us all arseholes

    The people who’re on it
    What could they have heard?
    One day you are unknown
    The next you’re a turd
    You can’t return fame
    And get your money back
    Imagine going on TV
    To find what you lack.

    The people who watch it
    Are arseholes and creeps
    Watching other arseholes
    The cycle’s complete
    You think reality’s crap?
    I disagree
    Crap isn’t crap
    Til it’s on TV

    Real TV (You are on Channel Turd)
    Real TV (You are on Channel Turd)
    Real TV (You are on Channel Turd)

    Real TV (You are on Channel Turd)
    Real TV (You are on Channel Turd)
    Real TV (You are on Channel Turd)
    Real TV makes us all arseholes

  21. halfcrown 21

    Excellent Mhager. I could answer all the posts on here, but others have already said the way I feel.. Agree 200% with everything that has been said. I would like to add though, as a sports fan I do not watch any sport for the same reasons. Win at all cost’s, the corporate costs that is. Not sport, sick of hearing of team “A” wearing this corporate shirt is going to take out team “B” wearing that corporate shirt, played on some blooding corporate sponsored ground festooned with bloody adverts. Also sick and tired of hearing some irresponsible shit who cannot behave himself gets “suspension” only to the level of his importance to the corporate team “winning”. when really the shit should be banned for life
    I was thinking of getting Netflix or something via broadband, but after seeing it is a continuation of the crap we already get on TV I will stick to YouTube and my books.

  22. grumpystilskin 22

    Turn it off, simple really.
    I did several years ago and lost a lot of status anxiety after the harvey norman man stopped yelling at me..
    You all really need to read “Remotely Controlled” by Dr Aric Sigman , it’s not good news.

  23. TheContrarian 23

    As far as I am aware TV consists of mutants cooking, mutants decorating houses, mutants trying to be pop stars and mutants being arrested.

    That’s it

  24. Ant 24

    There seem to be a GREAT many who now deplore TV. I know of no-one who watches
    with any regularity. As someone commented, the commercial aspect of consumerism via advertising is active in supporting low denominator content. Is it possible to reverse this self-serving cycle? We’d not been long in NZ when Helen Clarke made a commitment (unrealised) to improving TV. Anyone know whether Labour would make this a priority?

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