I make it a rule never to argue with drunks. Not even when I’m drunk myself. But especially not when I’m sober – alcoholic intoxication impairs the ability to reason, which means that it is impossible to engage in any kind of logical debate with a drunk. So, in this editorial, you are going to get what I didn’t say to some drunken idiot in the pub a while ago. An idiot who gate crashed a conversation I was having with the Landlady about so-called ‘reality’ television. This individual’s ‘contribution’ to the conversation was the usual denouncement of ‘reality’ TV as worthless rubbish, but they then went on to pour out the usual utter bullshit as to how television generally was responsible for the decline of Western civilisation – apparently it was the reason for supposed declining standards of literacy, the decline of book sales and the erosion of ‘civilised’ values. The trouble with this ‘argument’, apart from the fact that it has no evidence to back it up, is that you’ll find the same cobblers being said about radio, the cinema, the popular press, horror comics, probably even music halls, in the pre-television era. It seems that there are certain sections of society that always needs a convenient scapegoat, in the form of whatever, at that moment in time constitutes mass popular culture, to blame the supposed ills of the world upon. Nowadays we’re beginning to move from TV being the main culprit to the internet and video games.
The reality is that the amount that children read and the level of their literacy has more to do with the environments in which they grow up than the allegedly pernicious influence of TV. Hell, I watched a lot of TV growing up. I still do. But I grew up in a household that also valued literacy, so I also read a lot of books, and continue to do so. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. One form of media doesn’t necessarily supplant another. The web, for instance, is still very much a literary-based form of media – it requires a certain degree of literacy to fully utilise it. Print media might appear to be in decline, but e-books seem to be thriving and, as they make it easier for authors to get ‘into print’, they are arguably democratising the publishing process. Video games (or whatever those crazy kids call them these days), whilst not being my cup of tea, are clearly becoming a highly immersive experience for gamers, with storylines boasting the complexity of a novel, yet with the added dimension of user interaction. None of which seems like a case of cultural ‘dumbing down’ to me. Quite the opposite.
But just reading stuff isn’t a guarantee of that people are actually consuming ‘culture’ – a lot of what gets read would undoubtedly be classified as trash by those who advocate the value of literature. Besides, just because people don’t read books doesn’t mean that they lack literacy or aren’t exposed to culture. The fact is that people today are able to consume their culture via a far greater variety of media than ever before – it’s part of an evolution that’s been going on for the past couple of centuries, from the rise of the popular press, through film, audio recordings, radio and eventually TV. Each new innovation has increased access to culture. But, of course, for those who condemn things like TV, it isn’t proper culture, it is popular culture aimed at a mass audience rather than an elite. Which also utter bullshit. Popular culture might not be high art, but it is entertainment, and there is nothing whatsoever wrong in entertaining people. Besides popular culture provides us with fascinating insights into the era in which it was produced, far more so than ‘high’ culture aimed at an elite does. It should also be remembered that much of what is now considered ‘high’ culture – Dickens or Shakespeare, for instance – was originally popular culture, aimed at a mass audience.
Anyway, the point I’m groping toward is that the anti-TV bullshit is an incredibly reactionary position to take – it condemns the very concept of mass culture, rejecting it as ‘bad’ and anti-social. It precludes the possibility that the working classes could ever produce worthwhile culture themselves. Because, of course, true culture – worthwhile culture – can only be imposed from above by the social, political and economic elites. Only they have the education to understand what culture truly is. Which, of course, is utter bollocks. Like all such reactionary positions, it seeks to blame the perceived ills of society upon some external factor, be it television, video nasties, gay marriage or immigrants , rather than acknowledging that they are the result of complex socio-economic factors created and controlled by government and business.
For example, during the Vietnam war problems were encountered with the M16 rifle when it was first issued to troops there – it had a tendency to jam when ejecting spent cartridges. The problem was identified as being caused by an insufficiently rigourous cleaning regime, (the M16A1 was also modified to allow an easier manual ejection of jammed cartridges) and soldiers were issued with new instructions for cleaning their rifles. Interestingly, these instructions were issued in the form of what was basically a comic strip booklet, as it had been found that literacy standards amongst the conscripted men were very low. Now, when these soldiers had grown up, TV was still in its early days and, even in the US, had pretty restricted broadcasting hours, so we can’t blame that for their poor literacy. There were no video games either, so we can’t blame them. The fact was that, in the main, they were working class kids who had grown up in relative poverty, lacking any opportunities for educational advancement. Moreover, many of them were also poor and black, having grown up in US states practising racial segregation, a system designed to ensure that they received only a second class education. Clearly, their lack of literacy was the result of economic, social and political policies imposed by either local or federal governments.
So, if educational standards are poor, then it is down to education policy, which is dictated by governments which are elected by ourselves. Likewise violence and anti-social behaviour – they are fostered by the kind of society we create. But like I said, a reactionary position – and one being espoused by a drunken idiot who likes to style themselves as some kind of ‘bohemian’ ‘radical’ type. Should we be surprised? But, the rant’s over now! Hopefully, next time I’m in the pub, I won’t have my conversation hijacked by a drunk. Then again, pigs might fly. Or even get shagged in the mouth by David Cameron. Which alleged incident, by the way, neatly demonstrates that simply having an education is no guarantee of having social mores. But on that note, I’ll draw things to a close and urge you all to keep it sleazy until next time.