Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Santa claustrophobia

I've written before (here and here, for example) about how difficult it is, in a universe of cultural relativism, to pitch a piece of writing. What assumptions can you make about the knowledge base of your readership, or the allusions they might pick up? Each sentence is a precarious balancing act between going over their heads and insulting their intelligence.

Increasingly, it seems that content producers are more worried about the former sin than the latter. But is this wise? Last night I sat down to watch a documentary about some travellers who got into trouble in the Amazon rain forest. I lasted about three minutes, switching off when the narrator boomed "Bolivia, South America". It's straightforward enough; if something's pitched at people who don't know what continent Bolivia's in, I'm probably not going to enjoy it.

And from La Paz to Pacem in Terris (did you see what I did there?), here's the closest you'll get to a Christmas card from me this year. Although, I'll be honest, it's not as good as Llewtrah's festive quiz. But what is?

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Reminded me of Private Eye's "Dumb Britain" column where they print examples of spectacular ignorance on the part of contestants in TV & Radio quiz shows (but you already knew that!). A year or so ago people complained that the answers weren't so blindingly obvious, and for a few weeks PE started printing the correct answers to each question which somewhat undermined the biting satire. Hang on...that could have been a double bluff of irony which had gone straight over my head....bastards!

Anonymous said...

The Pacem in Terris comment went over my head, I'm not proud. Does it mean feet on the ground in Latin?

Spinsterella said...

Oh Tim, don't you ever despair of the appalling grammar, spelling and random apsotrophe's of your commentators on CiF?

Anyhow, back to the point of cultural relativism, I think it's fair to say that if it's on television it's probably not going to go over your head or mine. Or over the head of anyone who can actually read and count beyond five...

patroclus said...

La Paz - 'peace' in Spanish

Pacem in Terris - 'peace on earth' in Latin.

Is there a prize?

dh said...

I guess you've been following the story of 'Turistas' a film set in Brazil about backpackers who get their organs (internal type) stolen? That one seems to be pitched at the gallery.

Tim Footman said...

Murph: I'm equally amused by the people on supposedly more erudite shows who exhibit bizarre gaps. Like the guy on Brain of Britain who thought Bette Midler was a pioneering feminist author.

Doc: Don't worry, I couldn't do a tracheotomy with a biro. But now we know you're not a Fenian.

Spin: Not quite true. I watched that Jonathan Miller thing on atheism, on BBC4. That was quite a brainstretch. Then I watched Torchwood and leched over Tosh.

Patroclus: Yeah, right, how cool was getting the Latin prize at school?

dh: No I haven't, but it sounds cool. This one was about people stuck in the jungle. Well I presume it was, I left them to it, moving their lips as they read their map.

First Nations said...

i knew i was right to take a firm stand with my bloodshot eyeball christmas lights! thank you for making me feel even more cutting edge, my darling. wonderful article!

Billy said...

I prefer it when political correctness "runs amok", it is a much more amusing image in my mind.

Spinsterella said...

Oh, BBC4 - they don't like that sort of thing round Spinster Towers.

I have to suffer stony resentful silences through the ONE hour of tv I like to watch each week.

(Which is only David Starkey's bloody Monarchy - it's not exactly demanding.)

patroclus said...

Tell me about it - I too managed to commandeer the television for ONE HOUR to watch a BBC4 documentary about Orwell vs Huxley (accompanied by tutting, sighing and eventually snoring from my mum) and now it's back to wall-to-wall Cash in the Attic and Hetty Wainthropp Investigates.

Anonymous said...

Mind you, those Hetty Wainthropp cases can be quite complicated.

Tim Footman said...

I'm delighted to be surrounded by so many frustrated intellectuals. Our patron saint must be Tony Hancock, struggling through Bertrand Russell while Sid James offers tips on the 2.15 at Doncaster. Or maybe Peter Glaze, his lectures inevitably sabotaged by Don Maclean (and d'ohing 20 years before Homer Simpson made it fashionable.

Well, OK, maybe Murph isn't such a brainbox, but he's pretty sharp for a Labrador.

llewtrah said...

I have a website that tries to be accessible to all ages between "high school student" and senior citizen. My policy is "assume no prior knowledge". I'd rather risk insulting the intelligence of the few while educating the many. Luckily that's been a fairly successful approach (judging by feedback) as it gets used as an educational resource and is used by many people whose native language is not English.

And thanks for the linky :)