Two incidences of bullying in the media have been the subject of discussion in the last few days. The first was the alleged assault and racist abuse of a TV producer on the BBC’s Top Gear program by presenter Jeremy Clarkson and the second was a bizarre verbal attack on a performer on music program the X Factor NZ by two of the judges.
What is to be learned from these events? Well, firstly, ratings count. The shows concerned are businesses and they derive a considerable portion of their income and profits from selling advertising slots. And nothing sells time on TV like controversy.
Secondly, social media can be a force for good or it can be used to try to bully decision makers into doing the wrong thing. Both incidents have seen online petitions spring up. In New Zealand there are petitions on Change.org and facebook calling for the removal of judge Natalia Kills. Ironically neither calls for the removal of the other judge, Willy Moon, whose own half-witted contribution was to accuse the contestant of being a closet serial killer. And, sadly, the comments on the facebook page include some misogynist bullying that is at least as bad as the things Kills said herself.
Happily, both Kills and Moon have now been sacked.
In Britain, a right wing blogger has launched a petition for Jeremy Clarkson to be un-suspended from his Top Gear job, despite the gravity of the alleged offence. Astonishingly, that’s now the fastest growing petition on Change.org. There’s a faint echo in that sad fact of the idea that Julian Assange should be forgiven his alleged crimes because he’s also rather popular in some quarters. Of course Julian is unlikely to take Jeremy’s job, should the latter be fired. It’s hard to do a motoring show entirely indoors.
The BBC has tolerated Clarkson’s dinosaur attitudes for far too long. By accepting his behaviour, which has included regular racist jokes, they have set a very low bar. They can’t really sack him because they have encouraged his buffoonery every profitable step of the way. And, here in Godzone, the producers of the X Factor NZ were probably hoping to survive the fallout – ‘we don’t endorse bullying!’ – and get even more viewers tonight with eyeballs glued to the box to see what outrage Kills and Moon will come up with to humiliate the wannabees. What used to be about talent is now about talons.
It’s all too predictable and all too depressing. I thought the interwebs were going to do away with broadcasting, but instead social media has become an accomplice in the bread and circuses that the MSM throws at us. I suppose I could stop watching both shows, but as I never started, that’d be futile. I guess I’ll just have to grimly hang on until free streaming kills the box’s business model.
Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long. I’m comforted by the fact that the best reality show currently on air in the UK is Gogglebox, which is based around the concept of viewers watching viewers watching TV. It’s strangely fascinating and hopefully a sign that TV is now disappearing up its own fundamental orifice.