Aside

As my “about me” stated long ago, television is a distraction. A good one.  Offering entertainment, fun, escapism and is often more enjoyably palatable than reality. Before social media it was the ultimate distraction.

A show that captures this notion is Big Brother, the final topic of this series. Debuting in 2000, Big Brother is a platform where young diverse strangers bond.  A very artificial platform with little connection to reality and always under scrutiny and surveillance. It was the first Facebook.

It offered distraction for us and especially them; literally swapping their life for this fantastical fishbowl, they’re twisted away from their original focus of attention (the definition of distraction)  and into this diversionary environment where any real-world issues were replaced with concerns regarding who to evict or who to kiss on national Tv. It’s like how our real-life priorities dramatically alter while on Facebook ; where the urgency is the amount of likes we get on photos, comments and whether our crush will poke back. Distraction is a dreamstate where the bigger life issues needn’t apply and the only concerns are the fun, gratifying stuff that hide  the scary things but they’re sadly only ever that, distractions; mobile phone games you play during a high school class which are eventually turned off by the teacher that is life.

It was blogged here; http://ma.tt/2012/05/culture-of-distraction/ that we ‘re in a “culture of distraction”.  Matt offers the valid sentiment that we can become addicted to distraction and that, like Aldous Huxley theorized in “Brave New World”, any culture overly fixated on self-gratification and trivial distractions will destroy itself.  While I don’t necessarily agree with Huxley’s extreme hypothesis, I do agree with the rationality of Matt’s mentioning it. That we must find balance between the real and distraction because reality will always catch up and triumph. That despite more and more of us are constructing time according to our online or “distracted”  lives and chipping away at the importance of clock time and real-life contemplation; distraction ends and soon real-life sets in.

This was tragic ally indicated in this year’s Big Brother series; the shock death of a housemate’s brother forced his understandable withdrawal from the show . Any fun, diversion that he found in there vanished in the face of the sad, real event that diversion can’t remove.  Reality always wins-out over a distraction and leaves us with the hangover of the distraction; facing up to the ridicule over what you undertook in the Big Brother house that may result in job loss or unwanted infamy and the same extends sadly to social media too. There’re daily headlines of people facing negative consequences in reality for what they did while distracted online and it’s reality which inflicts the worse consequences and clearly it’s reality that you should try to please. Like the Robert Hassan lecture on the 16th of October stated; distraction may be caused by outside stimulus but it is the individual’s problem and the individual “needs to manage it”.

So there you have it; while no-one, not even Big Brother can tell us what to do and how to spend our time, we can only hope that as a collective whole we will allow time for fun and distraction but allow even just a little more effort and time toward are own realities and making the best of our lives we can. Distraction should always have some part in our lives though; whether television or social media or whatever, it’s there to be enjoyed, to offer a variety of means to enjoy ourselves and we should all enjoy it while we can. And thus the Television Code is cracked. 🙂

Now Showing: Big Brother

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Now Showing: Free Speech

A major issue in blogging is that of free speech, do we have a right to offend and can/should it be punished. This issue is also just as topical in television and its content.

Before 1987 a Freedom Doctrine was in place in the U.S that made it compulsory for any show to be balanced in its handling of news or controversial topics, it was also an environment that sought to protect commercial interests by not alienating any audience segments, so all shows were harmless and inoffensive like cheery sitcoms e.g. Bewitched, children’s programming e.g. Disney and entertainment variety shows e.g. The Ed Sullivan Show. Anything offensive or satirical like South Park or Jon Stewart etc was absolutely non-existent but that changed. Following 1987 and the abolition of the doctrine, news programs began to reflect political bias more strongly like the awesome Fox News which launched in 1996 and the more controversial satirical shows came in large numbers beginning with the 1989 launch of The Simpsons and continuing.

It is safe to say that following this trend we have become a society of more acceptance toward people exercising free speech for the sake of comedy or opinion, for the most part.

The reason I say for the most part is that there are varied sources who say people who are behind shows that may offend or offer sharp satire do receive backlash; one of these sources is http://mercedesmccormick.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/30-rocks-use-of-satire/ a 30 Rock-centred blog who reports that the show has a large amount of “not-so-fond critics”, “non-believers” and that series creator and writer Tina Fey has received a large amount of “grief” for the content on her show. While that blog may be correct, it also ends with an equally correct point that at the end of the day “[30 Rock] is still funny”. I agree that no show can ever be totally free of criticism, particularly one that pokes fun at society left, right and centre but at the end of the day it is quality that wins the battle and negative feedback can only remain just that; an exercise of free speech regarding a show that exercises free speech.

Although the line of what’s acceptable has been stepped over in numerous occasions on many shows, to my knowledge there has yet to be anything so bad as to warrant mass protest, censorship or cancellation. We will always appreciate quality no matter what, a pleasing illustration of this is the fact that the very satirical and forthcoming shows like 30 Rock and the Daily Show continue to be very successful in ratings and the winning of awards and many blogs that put forth strong and perhaps controversial opinion do tend to attain solid readerships; tv like blogging can enjoy a free platform for whatever expression they choose and long may it continue.

By The Television Code Posted in Other

Now Showing: Lost

In the established theme of time, few shows have so extensively and epically explored this than the hit drama Lost. Beginning in 2004, it documented the trials and tribulations of a diverse group of people whose plane crashes on an island but while beginning as an intense Gilligan’s Island it quickly manifested into a mysterious, supernatural extravaganza where smoke monsters, polar bears, time travel, a scientific organization and society of armed “others” etc all pepper what is just a simple journey to go home.

Like the Robert Hassan “Network Time” article explains, time is a construct and it’s the way in which we organize our lives and determines the rhythm in which we move and act. On the island however, without clocks or any reference to time the survivors experience the condition of being “released from the domination of the clock” and acquiring the very primitive concept of time that suits their predicaments like how long it takes for them to dig a hole or walk from one place to another; like a character on the show so aptly states “Time doesn’t matter on a damn island”.

This idea is explored in a post from this Lost-themed blog that can be seen here; http://ncjl.wordpress.com/current-theories/the-others-stuck-in-time/

It is put forth there that those who are more in tune with the island (the mysterious “Others”) and the bizarre sense of timelessness are therefore the most deeply entrenched in that and that is why they do not travel into the future when Ben turns the magic wheel and moves the whole island into the future. I agree with his implication that time is not physical and despite the instance of physical time travel, it isn’t enough to alter the minds of those who have formulated their own concrete view of time and it supersedes anything else.

Even those of us who aren’t stranded on islands adopt similar ways of telling the time; thinking in terms of how long it’ll take this video to load, how long it’ll take the tram to get to a stop or for me to finish this sandwich. It’s a rather self-centered view of time but of much greater immediacy to ourselves as opposed to taking stock of every second or minute or (in the case of the tram) hour an activity takes to finish. We construct time as we see fit and even in spite of what a clock tries to tell us, like the Others we don’t allow the perceptions of others to alter our personal mindset of time and like the other island inhabitants we frequently judge time in accordance with our personal needs and activities.

So just like time doesn’t matter on a damn island, if we’re not looking at the clock and forming just makeshift ideas of time based on what we’re doing; does time really matter to us? In any case we can now see Lost is a show that truly offers more to ponder than just it’s baffling content and more to be impressed with than it’s high quality: it truly is an effective reference point and exploration of the idea of time which ties very much into our study of how we view and construct time in this day and age.

By The Television Code Posted in U.S Shows

Now Showing: Youtube

“Me at the zoo” – four seemingly innocuous words which entitled the first ever youtube video that would soon kickstart an enormous revolution in internet, society, sharing and you name it (and there’s probably a video for it too).

Youtube has really transcended above not just being a popular site (which it is stands as the 3rd most visited website1) but introducing a whole new paradigm for how we’re entertained and share information, it was arguably the flagship for web 2.0 and the new system of people creating internet content and having power over it which proved to be so vast that the Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2006 was, on the back of this web 2.0 shift, us.

However Youtube’s influence on television has always been an interesting one with a persistent debate being can television ever be rivalled or replaced by Youtube or other websites. For now it appears the answer is, other websites maybe but Youtube, no. Yes it’d be silly for me to say that Youtube hasn’t attracted a mass audience for people who want to be entertained but for a long time and currently the line-up has predominately been music videos and funny things caught on camera etc which are of course great but still alienate the many others who seek episodic, original tv content that are found on tv’s, dvd’s and other websites, as i said. Very tough copyright guidelines inhibits such content being showcased on youtube (for instance show me a clip from a Fox show on youtube and i’ll show you something that’s very soon to be taken down) but there are exceptions which do pertain to various British shows in which whole episodes can be found from variety shows and some other shows like Fawlty Towers but not a whole lot else.

Signs do show that a change in Youtube is occurring, recent moves to fund original content being created and aired exclusively on youtube in large quantities and by successful artists have taken place and may prove to grow fast as people can be tempted to conveniently make content and immediately share it and side-step the very long and difficult process of making television shows.  Through this we may see a move away from the “amateur” and toward the “auteur” as far as youtube content goes and from this it’s quite possible that a new TV can be found in youtube; only time will tell but if any site can do it, it’s Youtube.

1http://www.dailytech.com/YouTube+Internets+Third+Most+Visited+Site+Turns+Five/article18393.htm

By The Television Code Posted in Other

Now Showing: Desperate Housewives

In its prime; Desperate Housewives was truly something to behold. The comedy/drama about 5 women living in the lush Wisteria Lane pioneered the extent to which television shows can flourish and consume society while offering valid nods to many issues and offering quite notable meaning.

There’s little doubt than in 2004/2005; Desperate Housewives was the biggest thing on the planet; the pilot episode was the most-watched pilot since 1996, it was the 4th most watched series in the U.S1, it filled magazines and talk shows, won numerous awards and just got everyone talking regardless of age (including schoolkids which i can attest to) or gender or celebrity status; both Oprah Winfrey2 and Laura Bush3 publicly declared their fanship. It was really something new; while both M*A*S*H and Seinfeld’s finale episodes caused a global stir, and The Simpsons no doubt grew over 20 years into a cultural powerhouse, It was Desperate Housewives that really broke the mold of how a tv show could cause such a large commotion so quickly and so widely upon its debut.

But how? The show so neatly combined quality with shock that it pleased critics and audiences thoroughly and concurrently; the former though the pristinely lavish production, top-quality acting and storytelling with supremely juicy one-liners and the latter being overt sex, a literally M-rated promotional ad (don’t think i’ve ever seen such a thing before or since), to a galore of sensitive issues and guilty pleasure moments that probably fuelled more water cooler gossip than most shows had done before. It no doubt blazed a trail on which many shows would graduate beyond playing it safe and keeping budgets low.

The show’s meaning however is interesting and only really surfaces in the finale; the epilogue reveals that eventually all the main characters leave Wisteria Lane and only then do they excel and realise their dreams and potential, the sense of frustration and futility that plagued them during the show was finally lifted when they broke free of a life they didn’t want to live. A valid message for everyone.

1 Jaffer, Murtz: ‘Housewives’ Premiere Cleans Up for ABC], Prime Time Pulse, April 10, 2004

2 Brioux, Bill: Oprah pays a visit to ‘Housewives’, Jam Showbiz, February 2, 2005

3 Laura Bush: First lady of comedy?, USA Today, May 1, 2005

By The Television Code Posted in U.S Shows

Now Showing: Can of Worms

Can of worms sees an age-old TV practice (sometimes coincidental, sometimes intentional) being undertaken; take the
format of another show, tweak it and market to a different audience.  In this case
the show was Q&A, an interactive platform on which guests of
politicians, journalists or other public personalities discuss
important issues, take questions or comments from the audience and
fuel an online conversation between Twitterers and Facebookers. Take
away the politicians, swap “important” for “trivial” and “conversation”
for “frenzy” and you have Can of Worms. It’s a show where every week 3 well-known people are quizzed on an
array of issues and topics where they must take a stand and be
prepared to reveal all; the topics while maybe sometimes important
like cyber bullying and discrimination, mostly pertain to the
hard-hitting subjects like is re-gifting ok, have you ever dated an
older person, do you swear a lot or flash your car-lights when there’s
a speed camera around; the sort of stuff that seems targeted toward
young people or at least the young person in all of us.The show is an extension of the interpersonally interested society we
have no doubt become; we like learning about other people so we engage in
social media and we like learning about our favourite celebrities so
we buy tabloids; Can of worms effectively combines both aspects of
this; we are learning the views and dirty secrets of popular Aussie
celebs while the social media conversation this show triggers sees us
doing likewise with other such people connected on the cyberweb.But all of this harks to a deeper issue; a blogospheric issue too. As
Laurie Johnson, 2012: 62 stated; the identity that we form “must
always be worked out by the individual”. Celebrities would only seek
to bare-all on such a show if they sought to form a relatable persona
that in turn brings people closer to them and more likely to watch
them, listen to them, vote for them or enact whatever gesture of
loyalty towards that celebrity’s professional work. This is especially the case in Australia where we culturally detest pretension and arrogance and hence seeing someone famous humble themselves in a most public, humiliating way would be par for the course in attaining more popularity; don burke probably attracted as much adulation from his Can of Worms swearing streak than in the many years he spent on people’s gardens.Some however just want for the sake of it attention and hence another element of blogging is enacted; we don’t
blog for ourselves we blog for others to read it and guests on the
show share views so that it can cause an online and possibly
news-cycle stir that brings that person into the forefront even if for
the wrong reason.

Now Showing: Everybody Dance Now

Yes, shows don’t have to be hits to be interesting or to supply some valuable commentary. This locally conceived and produced talent show was certainly not the former, attracting quite dismal ratings and being cancelled after 2 weeks but in many ways it can be regarded as the latter. Everybody Dance Now exemplifies how “white noise” not only applies to blogs but to television as well especially in terms of local content competing with that of overseas and how television 2.0 is upon us, for better and for worse.

Like the web, television is a level-playing field in which the people choose from a spread of shows (sites) that occupy the same platform and only the best (most-viewed) survive. But TV is very different; for one thing not anyone can do it, it takes a whole series of pitches and interviews and filming and negotiations before anything appears on screen and there is much more involved; while websites can be built with a few pages of code by a few people, television is built on a whole foundation of money, time and effort to get it going and if it falls it falls hard.

Like the web it’s been so heavily digitalized by cable TV, digital channels and web services that there is much, much more to see and heavier competition. With more and more shows being produced there is more white noise; even the icons like The Simpsons and Mad Men are having to fend off competition to be heard above the noise but the most evident victim of this has been Australian content.

Networks have a choice of cheaply importing overseas TV content to air or produce original local content that is expensive and may struggle to compete content-wise and quality-wise with it’s international rivals, Channel 10 show Everybody Dance Now was the result of option B.

While quality is subjective, as far as attracting audience goes the show just didn’t do it; with viewing figures that even “SBS would frown upon” to quote from the Switched On liftout of the August 29 Herald Sun it was revamped after 1 week and cancelled after the next. It’s a cogent symbol of the democracy of TV (the fact that the show was cancelled even though the host is married to the boss of Channel 10) but more clearly the level of competition that truly exists now in the sea of options from the bustling TV 2.0 that threatens to leave a whole nation of programming behind, ours.

Now Showing: Gilligan’s Island

Few shows have been as influential content-wise as Gilligan’s Island; pioneering and utilising both the comedic and dramatic potential of having people strandard on a deserted island that no doubt paved the way for other such movies and shows like Lost, Castaway, 7 days 7 nights and countless similar TV episodes on shows like the nanny and family guy; all of which have only this show to tip their white hat to.

But there is more to the show than just a premise, Gilligan’s Island boasts a whole ocean of interesting messages and discrete meaning that transcends it above a show into almost allegorical status or, short of that, mind-blowing status. Full steam ahead.

The foremost theory behind the show that has had conspiracy theorists and bloggers abuzz is the idea that Gilligan’s Island is a direct illustration of hell; a fact that creator Sherwood Schwartz has openly acknowledged1 and went on to admit that each of the 7 castaways represents the deadly sins: Ginger – LUST (clearly), Mary Ann – ENVY (jealous of Ginger), The Professor – PRIDE (due to his intellectual arrogance but bear in mind this is just relaying what the creator has stated – this blogger happens to be a Professor fan), Mr. Howell – GREED and Mrs. Howell – SLOTH (both also clear) and the heavyset hot-headed Skipper – GLUTTONY and ANGER2. People from all walks of life and personalities, united by the underlying fact that they’re sinners and will be jointly punished; who’s to say this isn’t meant to be referring to culture as a whole.

The show is clearly making a novel statement about the nature of evil; it began barely a couple of decades after World War 2 and one year after the JFK Assassination; in the former case we saw an unbalanced artist become one of history’s biggest tyrants and the latter, a dyslexic from Louisiana assassinate one of America’s greatest Presidents; the show may’ve wanted to emulate the notion that evil can come from anywhere and despite who the person is which is also why, brace yourselves, Gilligan represents Satan. Yes, even a dopey sailor can unknowingly be the true beacon of evil on this show, not only is this shown through his constant wearing of red but the fact that it is always him that is the centre of any complication and always him that ends up sabotaging the survivor’s escape plans and keeps them on the hell that they’ll therefore never leave.

This careful allegory acts as a chilling warning to the viewers; that is is sinful indulgence and immorality that can lead you to hell (the castaways were on a pleasure cruise when the boat got marooned on the island), that hell is a terrible place and one you don’t want to be in (the castaways are exposed to nothing but treachery and discomfort on this island throughout the series from dictators to cannibals to even an obnoxious theatre critic one time) and most of all that hell can never be escaped; the castaways never leave the island despite any and every attempt and the series ends with them still there.

The show’s conclusion in the early 70’s saw the beginning of a new time, the wounds of previous evil had relatively healed and a new era of love and moving forward had dawned and would remain undisturbed, for a little while. Rest assured though Gilligan’s Island will always be there, as a meaningful message for all future generations to heed; a group of castaways not unlike you and me forever frozen in time on a hell of their own doing, never able to leave and all they wanted was a 3 hour tour, a 3 hour tour.

1Inside Gilligan’s Island by Sherwood Schwartz (April 15, 1994) St. Martin’s Griffin ISBN-10: 0312104820 / ISBN-13: 978-0312104825

2http://www.gilligansisle.com/sins.html

3 Ibid

By The Television Code Posted in U.S Shows

Now Showing: Impact of Social Media

As my blog seeks to shine light on the interesting background and messages of TV shows; it is therefore simple to see how Social Media has had an enormous impact on this topic with many new shows now having social media as their background and in some cases, their content too.

Why? Well, it makes absolute logical and financial sense; current statistics indicate that 55% of women and 45% of men all tweet while watching TV and that over 40% of TV watchers in America watch TV whilst using their devices1. It’s a huge amount of eyeballs and by creating a funnel between social media and their TV shows, they’ve allowed for more of that viewership to fall upon their shows.

As channel 7 CEO said; “Viewers are changing the way they watch TV and we’re changed the way we produce shows to cater for this. Social and interactive elements aren’t an afterthought anymore, we are integrating them into the making of our shows”.2 And they have, both in Australia and other nations.

So what shows are we talking about? Well while almost everything you see on TV now has it’s own socially-driven page to stir up discussion and gain audience opinion but few television shows have so wholly integrated themselves with the social media change than the new dating show “Ready for Love” on which 3 eligible bachelors are matched-up with a woman via social media. It’s a far-cry from the old dating shows of someone picking from 3 people behind a wall, having 2 people meet in a dark room, someone choosing from a pool of 25 possible partners, selecting a date based on the dinner they serve you (boy do i watch too much TV). But anyway besides from sending the message that love can be found through social media, “Ready for love” fully capitalizes on the fact that social media can provide a useful tool for conducting social interactions and objectives as well as having a large in-built audience that can transplanted onto the particular show which indicates a new trend of more shows building their foundation on such sites and basing their content around it.

Another show that is just as adept at using social media as it as good at crashing it, is Q & A. It’s an interesting case where the show doesn’t base its content on social media nor did it arise from social media, the show started in 2008 when both Facebook and Twitter were still quite young and the show’s concept was already rock-solid; who wouldn’t want to tune in to see politicians slipping up and hot topics being very controversially commented on. No, the show was impacted by social media through it’s ability to augment the show using it; giving people at home a voice to share their view, have it displayed on the screen during the show and starting a conversation with others and engaging in fiery open debate ; it’s democracy squared. Like Robert Hassan stated, if we wanted to write for ourselves we’d do it in a notebook and keep it locked in a desk but the vast majority want to write for others and write to have it read and make an impact, through social media we can and via more and more TV shows like this, we will.

1http://thesocialskinny.com/99-new-social-media-stats-for-2012/

2http://www.tvtonight.com.au/2012/02/social-media-changing-the-tv-landscape.html

By The Television Code Posted in Other
Link

http://justtv.wordpress.com/

This TV blog has the thoroughness and depth of analysis that my blog seeks to undertake although mine will be perhaps more on the informative, exposition side rather than the review side. Excellent blog though.

By The Television Code Posted in Other