Anglican Samizdat

February 27, 2010

Toxic TV

Filed under: Pop-Culture — David Jenkins @ 6:51 pm

Leo Tolstoy in his later years was taken to see a film by a friend. His response was, “why would anyone watch such rubbish?”

Malcolm Muggeridge, after a lifetime of making his living from television, retreated to a small English village and had his television aerial removed. I met him in the early 1980s and mentioned how much I enjoyed his writing. He said that that was music to his ears; I doubt he would have responded similarly had I said how much I enjoyed his TV appearances.

Theodore Dalrymple isn’t swayed favourably by the pernicious twaddle that emanates from the electronic purveyor of mental pollution either:

Shortly before Mr Blair was elected Prime Minister of Great Britain, a newspaper discovered that I had not had a television in my home for about thirty years. This struck the editor of the newspaper as an extraordinary circumstance; so extraordinary in fact, rather like having been an anchorite in the Syrian desert subsisting on locusts and honey, that he contacted me to ask whether I would agree to having a television installed in my home so that I could tell readers, after a week of watching it, what I thought of it. This I consented to do on one very firm condition: that the newspaper took the television away at the end of the week. The newspaper agreed.

When the television arrived, I plugged it in and turned it on. The picture was grainy, for something else was required, evidently, to have a good reception. But it was good enough to know what was going on.

The programme was one of those in which a degraded family, or perhaps I should say a group of human beings who have lived in close association for some time or other, airs its appalling behaviour in public in return, I should imagine, for money, and for the prurient delectation of a voyeuristic audience.

A fattish woman approaching middle age was complaining in a monotonously high-pitched voice, halfway between a harangue and a wail, about her three daughters who were aged twelve, thirteen and fourteen respectively. According to her, they ‘did drugs’ and had left home to be prostitutes.

At this point, the presenter of the show interrupted her and asked the audience to give a warm welcome – with, of course, a round of applause – to the three young trollops in question, who came tripping down the steps to the television set with smirks of self-satisfaction on their faces. No lack of self-esteem there, I thought; rather too much, in fact.

Of course, mother and daughters began at once to trade high-pitched insults and accusations, and generally behaved like a dog and a cat enclosed in a sack. There was undoubtedly a morbid fascination in all this, though the spectacle was disgusting; suffice it to say that I was not encouraged by it to take steps to ensure that the television had a permanent presence in my home.

The newspaper had given me a timetable of programmes to watch, though it did not inform me as to the criterion it had used in their selection. Whether what my wife – who likewise had had no exposure to television for years before I met her – and I watched was better or worse than the average that was on offer to viewers, we could not say; but it seemed terrible pabulum to us, having approximately the same effect on our consciousness as a food-mixer on vegetables. It turned it into a kind of soup.


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