1) Manos and velcro 2) broadcasting as insult 3) tourism as narcotic Next fully scheduled distribution 30-9-2012
Manos is currently on special leave. One of his friends was caressing his beard and remarked that it was like velcro; she whimsically added that this made it harder for her to leave him. Manos is now in London where he believes he will persuade the Governor of the Bank of England to arrange for printing of banknotes with a strip of velcro at one end, to make success harder for pickpockets and to reduce loss when a note slips out accidentally. (Hence this distribution on 15th, as earlier announced.)
Our Editor writes
Returning to Europe four years ago from my stint on Crozet Island, minus one toe of my left foot and two from the right (frostbite and penguins), I was immediately struck by the giant stride made by public broadcasters lurching down into a swamp of mediocrity and irrelevance. After Crozet, I could tolerate the camera’s invariable selection of the prettiest in a crowd of terror-stricken refugees or starving victims of drought, but all those other quirks, earlier merely half-noticed irritations, had seemingly turned into obligatory blemishes – the reporter giving tedious details of some utterly predictable communiqué while advancing pointlessly on the camera, or treading the curve of a semicircle to show a backdrop of undistinguished landscape presumably considered more interesting than anything she had to say (which may well be true, but calls into question the value of the clip altogether); the unnatural hand gestures and head movements intended to show the reporter is alive and not a well made-up dummy; the ‘interactions’ of a pair of presenters each required to express surprise at the other’s news items (although they have of course both seen the script already, as we all know). The main surprise in any case is how trivial and inane reports can be and still make up a news broadcast; ‘The Duke of Cambridge is to give a lecture on the illegal trade in rhino horn’ – a recent BBC headline. Then there is the interchange of jokey remarks, as witless as those offered by RBS in information on children’s accounts. There is the ever-annoying ‘easy-listening’ muzak – encountered on programmes as diverse and in as little need of muzak as the making of lenses, work as a retail butcher, and the political situation in North Korea; one extraordinary use was for a programme with two experts talking about monetary policy, to the backing of not mere instrumental noise, but a song about money, repeated in fragments throughout their discussion, and loud enough to drown out the spoken words. Perhaps the idea is that offering something, no matter how inane, for the auditory sense may help fill any deficit in informational content – muzak to support newzak, in other words. Most infuriating of all are the remarks made, presumably as recommended during some benighted and forlorn master’s degree on broadcasting, which are supposed to induce a ‘friendly, casual’ atmosphere. ‘It’s great to have you with us’ , ‘Good to have you back’, and most idiotic of all ‘Good to see you again’ (AlJazeera, and ABC, from whom one might have hoped for better). Audiences hugely resent the implication that we are so woolly-minded as to be taken in by this claptrap. The makers of programmes may think their audience is stupid but when we descend to remarks by presenters such as the one last cited the need to prove intelligence clearly falls not on the audience but on the programme makers and channel owners.
The overall effect of all this rubbish must be to drive television watchers away from their sofas. We may reasonably suspect that this is deliberately intended since virtually every channel now gives frequent reminders that ‘all this and more’ is available on a corresponding website. The natural question is why there should be such an intention. The answer given, usually after local microphones have been switched off, is ‘to save costs’. And it is certainly true that the same newzak and alleged entertainment could be transmitted far more cheaply (to anyone still willing to receive it) over the internet. This has serious implications, first for those engaged in public broadcasting [if you are a presenter you are invited to review the third item in the 5th June distribution]and second for members of the audience, who, whatever precautions they take, will find themselves bombarded with persistent intrusive requests to buy or hire or support this or that gew-gaw or worthy or dishonest cause that they happen to have touched on, be it never so tangentially, and left on screen for a couple of minutes while they went to make a cup of tea. But taking other matters into account I now incline to suspect another purpose, and sympathise with the view of the editorial received by co-incidence from Luddites Gazette this week and which follows directly below. The same mish-mash of newzak and alleged entertainment, along with the social networks, will serve most excellently to absorb the time and interests of populations (I do not speak of their energy because long hours slumped before their screens will leave that an uncertain factor) to the great advantage of the régimes that control them.
But whatever intentions lurk in the shadows as public broadcasting withers away, actual results may be different in at least two important ways. First, in recent evidence to the British Parliament the Citizens Advice group pointed out that 8.5 million had never connected to the internet, and 14.5 million had virtually no relevant skills. There is not only a widening gap between wealth and poverty in western nations; there is also a gulf between those who can and cannot use the internet and this will increasingly be a cause of social troubles. Second, it is not only governments and publicly known companies that will spy on what is received on the internet. Hacking thrives on behalf of criminals and unknowably many groups of uncertain identity. The consequences are quite unpredictable but there is no reason to suppose they will be trivial.
How serious will these two issues be? Time will tell.
Thoughtful students of history generally agree that, all other things equal, a régime has a better chance of long-term survival if it finds ways to charm its subject population into quiescent docility, rather than attempting totalitarian tyranny, or total democracy (actually, a theoretical option only), or a programme of foreign conquest. Among the diverse means deployed to preserve the pseudo-democratic systems of the west and elsewhere, one of the most widely adopted has been the diversion into tourism of energies and resources that might otherwise have found troublesome political outlets. (One mark of the mature judgment of the present Chinese establishment is the vigorous encouragement offered to their middle class to undertake foreign travel.) In ancient times a régime would provide circuses to distract the people; today the people themselves are travelling circuses, but the political result is the same. There is, however, a curious aspect to this. In nearly all cases – it has been claimed Japan is an exception – subject populations appear to believe that going on holiday is enjoyable. The belief is so solidly fixed that it is even held by those who are themselves on holiday.
It is hard to say how far the spread of this error has been conspiratorially organised by those who benefit from tourism. But in any case it is manifestly fallacious, for northern Europe at least. If we pick out one common characteristic in holidays taken by inhabitants of those parts, it will be the determination to undergo experiences for which they are not suited. The airport itself, den of authoritarian bureaucracy and preposterously priced comestibles, is so notorious a cause of stress that no more need be said, except that there is another version at the recipient end. But what do the tourists then do? Those emerging from rainswept cloud-covered springs at once toss their pale bodies on to tropic sand to lie for hours under a blazing sun. (The Turkish Beys, who understood the effect of the climate much better, used to peg out misguided upholders of legitimate rights naked on the sands as a rather severe punishment.) A librarian whose most perilous ascent in the rest of the year is filing books belonging to the top shelf goes rock climbing in the Dolomites. The pathologically shy sign up for encounter groups in California or Cambodia Men with the sexual charisma of abandoned potato peelings flock with SSSS Tours (the advertisements mean you to guess) to Camp Wink Wink in West Africa where they will nightly be scorned by all women in the party who will favour instead the French students who are the Camp’s staff in the holiday season. Stomachs that feel well attuned to a regular diet of pizza and chips and similar are rightly outraged on being asked to deal with exotic and powerful spices. Adolescent brains that at other times face no higher challenge than memorising the `lyric’ of their favourite chart hit are first overdosed on alcohol and then expected to negotiate with strange and evilly intentioned taxidrivers, in a foreign language.
Why do so many spend their free time attempting exactly the sort of thing for which they are conspicuously unfitted? For the unhappy individual the endeavour simply exemplifies a double triumph, of poor judgment over common sense and of advertising over truth. But this is no concern of the country to which the individual belongs. True, there is no advantage to a nation’s stability nor its finances if an odyssean returns with a broken leg, dented machismo, a prison record, a collection of disgusting parasites, or worse. Yet there are undeniably mechanisms by which a government can unobtrusively foster interest in tourism, and undeniable benefits to be derived. Most of its subjects who visit other countries will consider them disagreeably foreign in behaviour, laws, language and cuisine, except for short visits, and on returning will be glad to appreciate their domicile imperfect though it doubtless is, and content to conform to its demands. Moreover as already noted, a very great deal of their capacity, such as it is, for planning and energetic action will have been safely drawn off for the year. Who are we to guess whether our rulers feel a satisfactory balance has been struck?
There is of course, though, the entirely different theory which holds that an urge to suffer on holiday reflects a real element in human psychology closely linked to ancient post-pubertal rites of passage; deeply buried in modern times, it continues in this last faint trace subconsciously handed down in the form of traditional remarks and folk beliefs. (For more, see Bentinck, Verrier, et al.)
honor honestique floreant