The Rise Of Comfort Entertainment
Noel Coward once said; ‘Television is not for watching. It is for appearing on.’ He may have been right, because that’s what a lot of British teenagers seem obsessed with trying to do. Yet TV viewing is up – so what’s the explanation?
A media friend recently spent a day getting data results from a number of British families about their viewing habits. One thing is clear; people are watching a lot more TV because of the way they use content, hopping from staring at a screen on their commute, to watching at work during breaks, during their lunch hour, and home again, jumping between three or four different devices.
But what they’re watching is uniform. Reality TV, shows about cars and cakes,a small amount of ‘quality’ drama, SF for the teens, sitcoms and soaps for mums, sport for dads, talent shows for the young, nostalgia for the olds, nothing unusual, experimental, arty or foreign. Anything with subtitles is a no-go – check out viewing figures or box office figures for foreign TV and movies, then compare them to five years ago. In many cases they’re down to a fifth of what they once were.
What appears to have happened is that although TV viewing has risen, it’s the broadest part of the mainstream that has benefitted most. We’re not broadening our tastes. And what this means to anyone who attempts to create something original for a living is that we might as well give up and write Mills & Boon romances to make a bit of money.
Even more startling is the disappearance of contemporary novels in the UK. State-of-the-nation books, political dramas, tales that use the modern world as a backdrop are still popular in the US, but not in the UK. The part Orwell got most wrong about ‘1984’ is that he envisaged a top-down imposition of state control, never thinking (who could) that we would drive it ourselves from the ground up via the internet. He never imagined that anyone would actively choose censorship, safety and narrowness of opinion in a kind of limited-choice totalitarianism, and he never saw the form it would take.
It’s got me thinking. As a fan of Per Wahloo’s Martin Beck books (until they became too polemical), perhaps there’s room for a police series set in the here and just-around-the-corner…watch this space.