Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Hell is Local TV...

Jean-Paul Sartre believed that hell was other people and visualised damnation as being trapped in a room with people who irritate you for all eternity. Personally, I think that if had lived in the UK, he might have revised his ideas and concluded that hell would be an eternity being forced to watch local television - that bastion of parochialism and insularity. At least, that's the way it often seems to me. It is the way they try and convince you that nothing more important is going on in the world than some local council increasing parking fines which always gets to me. Of course, they'd say that they were simply focusing on the issues that really matter to local people. Mind you, there are times when they can't pretend that eighty-seven year old Mrs Gladys Thing's terrible ordeal when her next door neighbour's savage domestic cat climbed through an open window and ate the frozen fish she had thawing in the kitchen is actually more significant than, say, suicide bombers attacking the London Underground system. In such cases, their contingency plan comes into operation: find a local angle! In practice, this means highlighting the fact that the bombers' rucksacks had been made in a factory just around the corner from the local TV studio, (cue interviews with manager of said factory saying how he'd been suspicious about the number of rucksacks being ordered from the Bradford area...).

The presenters are perhaps the worst thing about local TV news (I'm highlighting local TV news, as, since ITV's big reorganisation, it is about the only really 'local' programming you get outside of the main population areas in England). They tend to fall into two categories: the young and enthusiastic who just know that this is merely a stepping stone to greater things, and consequently find conspiracies and major 'scoops' everywhere; then there are the middle-aged anchors and senior correspondents - they just know that the call from the network is never going to come and that this is as good as it is ever going to get for them. This latter group spend their time trying to covinces themselves that they really want to be on local TV and that what they are doing is really important by overdramatising even the most trivial of stories. For instance, where I am, the local BBC news magazine is anchored by a middle-aged lady who shouts a lot and gets very aggressive with local politicians, utility managers and the like. Frankly, she scares the hell out of me - she's the only person I know who can make a village duckpond running dry sound like a terrorist outrage when she reports it!

Mind you, I've recently discovered a form of broadcasting that might well be even more mentally corrosive than local TV - my cable provider's own sales channel. Until a few days ago, if I alighted upon a cable channel I wasn't subscribed to, I simply got the cable provider's logo. Suddenley, as soon as I switch to cable in fact, I'm confronted by this looped video featuring three idiots trying to sell me various different telephone and broadband packages. Each segment lasts under five minutes and simply consists of some idiot stumbling through an inept sales pitch. I get the impression that they didn't really think that this was ever going to be broadcast. Indeed, I strongly suspect that these were simply audition tapes. However, irritating though they are, there is no doubt that these continously looped little sales vignettes hold a a certain perverse fascination. I find myself switching over to them every so often, just to see if they've added any new ones, or simply to marvel at how crap they are. I particularly like it when the girl trying to sell me broadband tells us how this great new technology just blows her mind! And let's not forget their frequent claims that this particular cable provider is 'simply the best' and that there is a call centre of really helpful agents just waiting to talk to us, (this latter part is clearly intended to reduce anyone who has ever tried to get through to their call centre to hysterics).

So, there you are, hell for the Twenty First Century - trapped in a room with only two TV channels; local news or cable sales pitches. The only thing worse might be getting put on hold by the cable provider's call centre and forced to listen to that bloody muzak - punctuated by a recorded voice telling you how much your custom is valued - for all eternity...



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