TV Is most on TV really crap?

Sim

Registered Member
#1
A while ago, I came across a rather harsh critique of the state of television in general, public tv in Germany in particular (but I assume the problems described are the same, or even worse in America).

I translated some passages from the article, but it's still pretty long. You don't need to read it all to get an idea where the author is coming from. Here it is:

Stultification Paid by the People

(...) If there is a reason [for the decline of quality of public tv], then it is the competition of private channels which caused the rating pressure, which is the mother of all grievances. Whenever a good program is cancelled, they say: The ratings were bad, and when a bad program remains, they say: The ratings were good. To judge over quality and supply of programs based on ratings means for the public stations to behave like mere economic enterprises, without any responsibility that goes beyond that logic. (...)

Without cynicism, a public broadcasting fee can only be justified if [public tv] it liberates quality from the market not only in the niche, but everywhere, or, with other words: If it creates independence which enables idealistic action. Idealism, in this case, doesn't mean anything arbitrary, but something very precize: Orientation at moral, cognitive and aesthetic norms, or short, the good, the true and the beautiful. Program makers will probably refuse such honorable categories, which carry the baggage of 2500 years of philosophical history, for their down-to-earth medium. Yet the categories are neither quixotic nor non-binding, as their application demonstrates.

Let's start with the good -- with morals, whose standing is not that bad. Public television is no evil medium. But when we add lack of corruption to morals, hidden manipulation, everything that can be subsummized by the term betrayal, the picture is not that good. We need to avoid the cases when information programs bought entire reports from the pharma industries, which then, in the guise of medical education or tips for childcare, were allowed to advertize. (...)

An outrageous, recurring example is hidden advertisement, the nuisance of product placement, that against all claims even exists in self-produced programs; think of the car pools automobile producers provide for certain television series. People don't even notice anymore how absurd it is when policemen are shown to have the newest and most expensive cars. (...)

And what about the beautiful, meaning culture and level of programs? (...) Television, far from raising the audience to the heights of civic education (formerly a famous demand of the German labor movement), or even from opening them the chance for participation, is now competing with the cheapest boulevard medias for the basest instincts of the dumbest parts of the population. (...)

Roger Willemsen once played with the thought that television is deliberately withdrawing from the educated demographics, because its share is marginal, because it won't grow and because, brutally said, it is a dying class, as the Bolshevists said. Even assuming that is the case, especially public television must not resignate. Its greatest and most distinguished objective would be its reconstruction and fosterage for a society that puts emphasis on knowledge. (...)

To reject this objective causes further damage. The disregard for education causes a deliberate or unconscious vulgarization, a lingering devaluation of everything and everybody. Because what is vulgar? Vulgarity is -- according to an impressive definition by Columbian philosopher Nicolas Gomez Davila -- everything which must not remain what it is. Vulgarity is the product of taking the inherent meaning out of things.

Vulgar is a quiz show, where knowledge matters only insofar as it leads to winning money, which often only happens even to the educated by guessing. Knowledge becomes guessing: That is vulgar.

Vulgar is a folk music show, where folk music is not allowed to remain folk music, but has to become chart hits, with singers who become stars, and thus are not common folk anymore.

Vulgar is a news program, where all problems, even those with structural or systemic causes, are personalized. A structural problem is not allowed to remain a structural problem, but has to become a personal problem: That is vulgar.

To confront the audience with something that is not what it is, but only what is expected to be eagerly consumed, is a contempt for the viewer a system cannot afford that is financed by the viewers. This contempt, of course, is hidden in a winking agreement with the resentment of the uneducated -- with the resentment of the one who is actually suffering from his lack of education, but hiding his suffering within the resentment. (...)

Part of this vulgarity is the nuisance of celebrity cult -- the creation and maintenance of fake celebrities, of people who have no other merit but their regular appearance on tv. How far this monkey business has come already becomes apparent when looking at the practize of making celebrities of even necessary function owners of television, like news anchors, talk masters, moderators. Television even reports about those.

With the nuisance of celebrity cult, the question for the dealing with truth is touched already -- as this monkey business includes politics and fosters the stultificating personalization here too. By far most problems in our modern world are structural and systemic problems, pretending them as if they were personalized problems makes them incomprehensible -- and in a democracy, that means unsolvable. (...)

It becomes even more absurd when talkshows are hosting actors from the same channel, or that channel's program is the topic discussed. Another example for the infection with the logic of entertainment is the choice of news anchors or moderators. Why do anchors need to be sympathetic and female moderators good looking?

It's absurd enough that the ratings of news programs are even measured at all. For what? Is the viewer supposed to decide between popular and unpopular news? The importance of news the viewer cannot judge, after all, because for doing so, he would have to know which news is not shown, thus have a broad insight only the editorial staff enjoys. So when the editorial staff bows down in front of ratings, it bows down in front of an imagined opinion among the viewers. (...)

Fortunately, this look on ratings only concerns topics so far. But what if finally, even the suspected opinion tendency of the audience will be reflected? If, for example, in order not to alienate viewers, there is pejorative reporting about foreigners? A marketing study might find anti-Semites do not feel well represented by public tv. When they are an estimated 18% to 20% of the population, that would be 15 million potential viewers, which might considerably improve ratings, if they are just pampered a little. Not that this is possible -- but it demonstrates the final consequence of rating measurement in case of news.

There are clues that support the suspicion that within the tv channels, rule of ratings is confused with democracy. That's why maybe, it's not superfluous to emphasize that democracy is a kind of government that cannot as analogy arbitrarily be transferred to other fields of society -- certainly not on public television, because in that case, its independence would be gone.

There can be no poll or voting on the true, the beautiful and the good. Not on the true, on knowledge and news, because a statement is either true or false, regardless of what a majority wants to be true. Not on the beautiful, the culturally important, because it is principally incommensurable (according to a word by Goethe) and because it always enstranges in the form of the new or the forgotten. So when a report about the painter Giotto has bad ratings, it doesn't mean it should not have been broadcast -- just that the common knowledge of the viewers needs a little extra education. There can be no vote on the good either, on norms or morals -- out of 100 people, maybe only two recognize the morally necessary, while the remaining 98 rather want to see the mob hunted foreigner bleeding to death in the pieces of a broken window glass. (...)

Actually, there are few reasons to assume television programs are just a proper reflection of society. As the new run on universities and higher schools demonstrates, there is a considerable amount of ambition regarding education. Why does television not care about that? Or, differently worded, why does it focus on those parts of the population that don't participate in that? And if it locates its objective within these demographics -- why doesn't it do anything to improve their cognitive state?

Those are the questions that have been asked for twenty years, without the tv stations ever giving an answer -- except for the one that ratings are proving the viewers don't want to improve their education. One could even get the Satanic thought the program makers even like what they are doing, that they are fans of [cheap folk music shows, campy soap operas] and inferior music programs. The alternative is not more optimistic: They are cynicists who despise the masses for consuming something they themselves would never watch. (...)
Helpful background information: In Germany, there had been only public channels until 1984, when private TV was legalized. Today, ca. 60% of the free tv market consists of private channels, 40% of public channels. The author of this article does not even mention private channels (because considering what he has to say about public tv makes obvious he doesn't even think it's worth pointing out private TV is the worst crap under that exists), but complains about the declining quality of public tv, which now starts competing with the private channels and thus dumbs down its quality.

What do you think? Is the author too harsh? Has he good points? Do you fully agree, or with some points, or not at all?

In my opinion, I think he is a bit too harsh. I agree with him that a lot you see on TV these days is really crap: "Scripted reality" shows, stupid game shows, extremely superficial shows celebrating superficiality and propagating questionable role models (does really every girl has to look like a model, and deserves ridicule if she has a few pounds too much?), or horrible talk shows where some people from the street are given a hundred bugs to shout at each other -- so far I agree, these cheap productions are indeed tasteless and mindless.

But on the other side, there have been real quality productions so far, when it comes to TV shows, especially in private pay tv: Shows like "Sopranos", "Six Feet Under", "Mad Men", "Dexter" and so on have set a new standard for quality in tv series, not just in terms of production values, but also in terms of content. They may be controversial, but they often aim at making you think instead of just mindlessly entertaining you, and thus are more demanding that most what you could see before in free tv. The 21st century has brought an increase of quality for tv shows, IMHO.

What do you think?

EDIT: Here the link to the original article in German language -- Öffentlich-Rechtliche Sender: Vom Volk bezahlte Verblödung | Gesellschaft | ZEIT ONLINE
 
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HalfEatenSurprise

Registered Member
#2
I believe that most TV is not rubbish.

The worst of TV, or perhaps the least imaginative is thrust in the faces of the general public, on the terrestrial channels. Hence, the general cry is that most TV is utter garbage. Yet, if you look around and scope out a broader range of channels I dare say that the is something that you like on one of those channels. --- At most times, give or take.

In general, TV is in the eye of the beholder. A lot of people like the stuff that others think is utter crap. Yet, most of the time those people are either too picky, or just not easily amused or haven't look around as extrensively as they could. --- Like me actually. -- I've considered TV to be full of crap for years, yet there are numerous shows on TV that are excellent and well worth a look... It may appear that TV is just utter crap... But I reckon that is not so.

It just isn't. It can't be. Can it?

EDIT: Although, this seems to affect Germany, and I have no idea what German television is like. If public TV is like our channels 1 to 5 then you may be right. Although, if not and it accepts Freeview, and Sky too etc... Then the answer to your wonderment remains as I have stated it. In my opinion of course.
 
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Sim

Registered Member
#3
I believe that most TV is not rubbish.

The worst of TV, or perhaps the least imaginative is thrust in the faces of the general public, on the terrestrial channels. Hence, the general cry is that most TV is utter garbage. Yet, if you look around and scope out a broader range of channels I dare say that the is something that you like on one of those channels. --- At most times, give or take.
I agree: Maybe much is crap, but when you search carefully, you can easily find some gems between all the waste. And by "gems", I don't just mean things you necessarily like, but those programs which are really objectively of higher quality than other stuff.

In general, TV is in the eye of the beholder. A lot of people like the stuff that others think is utter crap. Yet, most of the time those people are either too picky, or just not easily amused or haven't look around as extrensively as they could. --- Like me actually. -- I've considered TV to be full of crap for years, yet there are numerous shows on TV that are excellent and well worth a look... It may appear that TV is just utter crap... But I reckon that is not so.
That's true. Of course there is nobody who likes absolutely everything that's on tv. But I think there is at least party an objective standards when it comes to quality, regardless if you like the program in question or not.

For example, you may easily be entertained by a particular program and like it, yet you know it's objectively not very good -- because it doesn't make you think, it has very cheap production values, there was only few effort put in the production of both concept, script and realization, and because it only aims at causing maximum effect with a minimum of effort. At least that is what sometimes happens to me: I know a particular program is really bad, is neither original nor demanding, yet it entertains me. Like certain stupid comedies.

On the other side, there are programs you realize are objectively pretty good, yet they don't captivate you, maybe bore you, or simply are not your cup of tea. For example, certain documentaries or "artsy" movies: You can see those who wrote the script put lots of efforts in terms of thought and concept into it, the way it's filmed is original and different than most you see, and the topics are maybe very thought provoking. Sometimes, these programs require a lot of patience: You have to carefully watch for a while, before you have an idea what it's really about, which maybe alienates many viewers who are used to quick and shrill stimulation, for whom a few minutes of silence to get a point across is too much to take. It takes some time and effort to get into it, to understand the message, or to realize the questions the makers want you to consider -- often without giving clear answers. You have to do the thinking, not everything is presented on the screen for even the last viewer to get it.

In those cases, I think you can say the quality is objectively higher than in "fast food for the brain"-productions which don't leave any open questions, don't deal with thought provoking topics, and often over-use unoriginal standard techniques.

Often, I really like that. When a TV show, for example, makes me think about a certain question or problem even for a while longer, that has a certain appeal. But sometimes, I just want mindless entertainment. I just don't feel like thinking or educating myself whenever I switch on the TV. And I think that's a fair and legitimate attitude to have. That's what the author of the article fails to see, IMHO.
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EDIT: Although, this seems to affect Germany, and I have no idea what German television is like. If public TV is like our channels 1 to 5 then you may be right. Although, if not and it accepts Freeview, and Sky too etc... Then the answer to your wonderment remains as I have stated it. In my opinion of course.
Where do you live, if I may ask?

Public tv in Germany spans two mainstream channels ("The First" and "Second German Television"), which are still among the 4 most watched free tv channels, as well as seven regional channels and several special interest channels (a German-Austrian-Swiss culture channel called "3sat", a French-German channel called "arte", a documentary and politics channel called "Phoenix" with live broadcasting of parliamentary debates, speeches and high quality political talkshows).

Especially the two mainstream channels and the regional channels are under criticism for dumbing down their programs in order to compete with the privates (which, in most cases, don't have the slightest inclination to respect a minimum threshold for taste and quality) and often show cheap soaps, harmless talkshows, family game shows and horrible folk music programs for old people. But the public special interest "niche" channels are really good, IMHO -- but also only have a small market share.
 
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generalblue

Where is my Queen?
#4
TV shows now for the most part is garbage. I remember the TV show Jericho which was very good, everybody that I knew watched that show and they took off the air at the beginning of the second season. Also MTV used to be nothing but music, now it is tainted with reality bullshit that nobody watches. MTV stands to Music Television, not 15 minutes of fame. VH1 also followed suit shortly after. Also what happened to all the raunchy shows like Roseane and Married With Children, you don't have those shows on your local stations anymore, you have to watch those type of shows on FX which in my area requires you to purchase the highest tier of programming. I rarely watch TV now anymore, I usually watch all the shows that I want to watch on my computer so that way I don't have to deal with all the bullshit commercials and channel surfing.
 

Bubbles

I ♥ Haters
#5
I'm gonna go ahead and echo what generalblue just said. MTV, VH1 and FUSE is just full of reality garbage. They have crap like 16 & Pregnant, 16 & Engaged etc. It just promotes underage failure. And lets not forget the gems like Flava of Love, and I Love New York or I Love Money. This makes me sound like hypocrite since I usually tune in to watch some of the bitch fits on these reality shows. But anyways, not everything on TV is crap. Nick @ Nite, TVLand, TBS and CMT are keeping some of the awesome sitcoms on TV through re-runs.
 

Daemonic

Registered Member
#6
I don't even have cable....

It is a waste of money in my opinion, I use netflix if I want to check out movies....

Other than that I am happier curling up with a book that wasting my time with TV.