Sunday, June 10, 2012

The BBC, the Jubilee, the Daily Mail and the hard cash value of abject stupidity

I won’t, if you don’t mind, spend too much time pontificating on the BBC’s coverage of last weekend’s Jubilee fandango, chiefly because I didn’t watch it, apart from a brief YouTube clip of a hula-hooping Grace Jones, who was utterly superb, and a rather briefer moment of Cheryl Cole sounding as if all the toilet attendants in that world had chosen that moment to punch her in the vocal cords; or maybe she’d caught Prince Philip’s bladder infection. Apparently the rest of it wasn’t very good. 

But the subsequent commotion over the inadequacy of the Corporation’s work is about far more than mediocre pop stars and posh people looking at boats. As I understand it, the problem is that the BBC’s programming over the weekend was geared too much to celebrities who didn’t know what they were talking about. My instinct is that this is indeed a bad thing: the shift in all news media over the past 30 or so years from an emphasis on empirical facts and informed debate to vapid, glossy, concocted quasi-realities where fame (however transient) trumps ability is something to be deplored. 

What sticks in my craw, however, is that the media outlets leading the charge against the BBC are the worst offenders when it comes to replacing hard news with vacuous, airbrushed twattery. Look at the homepage of the Daily Mail. Look at the stripe of shrill banality down the right-hand side, the gibbering sub-Kardashians falling out of limos and bikinis, the gittish prattle about shoes and hair and cellulite, the cheerful dishonesty that this cynical collusion with media PR machines might in some way be described as journalism.

Ah, says the Mail, but that’s just celeb fluff. The Jubilee was a royal occasion, and worthy of more respect. Well pardon me, but which were the media organisations that hitched themselves to Diana three decades ago and turned a stuffy, self-effacing entity into just another manifestion of Celebrity Inc? Who was it who started prattling about the Queen’s grandson’s wife’s sister’s arse? Was it the BBC? Was it? The Mail and the Telegraph and the Sun are not annoyed that the BBC’s coverage of the jubilee was superficial, banal and ill-informed. They’re furious because superficial banality is what they do and they don’t like anyone else encroaching on their turf.

Now, I believe in a free press. If the Daily Mail wants to make a few quid from morons looking at pictures of other morons, it should be allowed to do so. But isn’t there a certain level of hypocrisy, cognitive dissonance even, in burrowing so deeply into the steaming shitpit of vapid, pointless celebrity, then shrieking like Cheryl Cole’s singing coach when the BBC skims a little off the top?

The problem, of course, is nothing to do with the Jubilee. The problem is the licence fee. The privilege of public funding brings with it the responsibility to maintain a certain level of quality, below which the Daily Mail happily ducks every day. But if everyone pays the licence fee, that includes a certain proportion of fudge-brained Kardashian fans who switch off if anything more demanding stumbles into view; and the BBC has a duty to cater to them as well. There’s a serious debate to be had here, and a difficult one because it touches not only on money but also on notions of cultural hierarchy and social class, and the British find it very embarrassing to talk about such things; although since the mainstream media seems entirely capable of celebrating the embodiment of inherited status and privilege without once mentioning social class, maybe it’s entirely possible to sidestep that particular elephant. But until the Mail admits that it wants to fart raw, wet stupidity into the dull eyes of its readers and what it objects to is subsidised competition for said eyes, its own contribution to that debate should not be taken seriously.


Tim Atkinson said...

Personally I think part of the problem is the enshrined anti-BBC sentiments of the right-wing press who - together with the Tory party - seem to think of the whole thing as some pinko-liberal nationalised British Leyland kind of corporation in need of a hefty dose of free market reality...

How else to explain the demise of dear, dear Television Centre?


Unknown said...

There's a reason (Sir) Paul chose to mention TDM in his song. The Mail's BBC whining reveals a crass self-mockery that's sadly just a mirror of society. Sure, the Mail creates the shit more than reports it, but "readers" choose to inhale its fumes, hoping for a whiff of…celebrity's thong? More than the terrorists, Kardashians and sub-Kardashians I fear those who follow them.

Paul Mount said...

Tbhe Mail's anti-BBC stance has become embarrassing now though, as they crowbar it into everything. Chris Tookey's review of Simon Pegg's new film on Friday managed to get in two digs at the BBC's Jubilee coverage - without any relevance at all. A proper Culture secretary would surely put a stop to all this.

Geoff said...

I bet Prince Charles wished he was in that hula-hoop.

Is it possible to dumb-down the monarchy?

Tim F said...

True, Tim. I do recall some frothing Tory complaining that it was impossible to expect balance from an organisation where the majority of the employees vote Labour or Lib Dem. Er... in common with the general population, then?

Indeed, Ross. The proper response is to lambast the Mail, but to lay off the readers, who supposedly don't know better. Propriety be damned, I say.

Paul: I do wonder if there's a list of things that Mail hacks are encouraged to crowbar into stories even if they bear no relation to the story. The misdeeds of the BBC; the sins of working mothers; house prices; the arses of minor royals...

Well, Geoff, only to the extent that Andrew is even more dumb than Charles.