Monday, February 25, 2013

The BBC

Like all good British citizens I pay my television licence fee. I've paid it since the age of 39, which is when I got my first TV set. However, as a science fiction fan, a republican and a democrat I'm less than pleased with some of BBC policy.

When it comes to science fiction BBC TV continues to fob us off with a children's programme "Dr. Who" instead of some serious adult science fiction drama written by H. G. Wells or Michael Moorcock. They gave us the equally puerile spin-off "Torchwood" and the slightly more interesting "Outcasts" but cancelled the latter when they found it didn't appeal to a broad mainstream TV audience. Well of course it didn't! Good science fiction will always be a niche market but, as long as science fiction fans are forced to pay the same licence as the mainstream viewers, the BBC should make some effort to provide genuine science fiction instead of Doctor bloody Who! Why isn't the BBC drama classics department doing War of the Worlds? They've done Dickens to death and, with one exception, ignored Herbert George Wells, author of "The Passionate Friends", "Kipps" and The Time Machine. The exception is an adaptation of "The First Men in the Moon", brought to the BBC by the excellent Mark Gatiss. However, imagine a BBC drama of War of the Worlds, faithful to the book, set in the 1890s in the South East of England. Good science fiction needs to be mentally challenging rather than just trotting out reconstituted tropes. Bring us J. G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock, Brian Aldiss, Philip K. Dick and William Gibson.

The BBC has been "dumbing down" television drama for years, steering the nation's minds along the same repetitive tracks, murder mysteries, tawdry romances, carefully avoiding themes which might inspire people to think too much.Where is the more intelligent version of the BBC? On radio, strangely enough. Most of the programming BBC TV needs to make it more of a genuine public service to the whole population (including minority interests like science fiction and kosher cookery) actually already exists - on radio. It's like a 2 tier system: TV for the underclass, radio for the slightly more thoughtful class. A 3 tier system if I count the option of ignoring the BBC all together and reading a book, which is the option I used to take up until the age of 39. At 39 I joined the masses and got my first TV, a decision I may still choose to go back on.

The BBC is, of course, a propaganda organ of The Crown. Not of the government, but of The Crown. This position as a pawn of Crown policy allows the the BBC the freedom to disguise its propaganda by criticising the government, whichever party happens to be in power and any other political faction and thus appear to be radical, edgy, unbiased and investigative etcetera. Meanwhile BBC drama continues to perpetrate such obvious propaganda exercises as Merlin the most powerful magician in the world being more than happy to humble himself by polishing King Arthur's boots because that's what loyalty to The Crown is all about. A 2013 offering from BBC drama "Dancing on the Edge" is described by the Daily Telegraph in this way: "New BBC drama to show the scandalous stories of the playboy Princes" - "They were the royal playboys who made Prince Harry’s indiscretions appear distinctly small fry". I'm not a big fan of the Daily Telegraph but I'm sure they've got it right in this instance. Clearly the purpose behind "Dancing on the Edge" is to make the British public feel that Prince Harry the Nazi armband wearer isn't so bad after all.

The subtext running through all BBC TV programming is something along the lines of: "Don't think too much" - "Give all your loyalty to the monarchy" - "Stay stupid" - "Think only in repetitive stereotyped ways" - "Be normal" - "Keep watching" - "Tune in with everyone else" - "Support our military aggression around the world" - "Maintain the Status Quo"......

In George Orwell's time propaganda was forgiveable as Britain coped with the threat of invasion by the the most vicious and deceptive opponent it had ever faced. What's the excuse these days?

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