Insulting the viewers' intelligence

02:36, Dec 15 2012
TV content leaves a lot to be desired says Martin van Beynen.
TV content leaves a lot to be desired says Martin van Beynen.

In the last few weeks I have made an effort to spend more time with my youngest, who, without giving too much away, is a fairly typical young teenager.

To ensure we are doing something he enjoys rather than what Dad thinks is fun, we watch TV together.

My son is the perfect TV viewer. He is entirely undiscriminating, non-judgmental and can find something worthwhile even in an infomercial.

Watching free-to-air television is rather a new experience for me because for many years I have avoided it.

What little I have seen in that distant past so appalled me that I could not watch most stuff without a sick bag handy. I could not even stomach most of the news programmes and news is, of course, my business. I could not stand the repetitive advertising and its crass manipulation.

My kids hated watching television with me. They loathed my remarks and they say I spoiled their enjoyment with my scatological condemnation.


So I came to TV with relatively fresh eyes a few weeks ago as I attempted to bond with my teenager over his favourite recreational pursuit.

I saw immediately nothing has changed and indeed things have got a good deal worse. To put it bluntly, most television is a gross insult to the intelligence and I'm not even that bright.

If you took all the reality shows and cooking programmes off the schedule you would be left with very little to watch. Not content with our own reality shows, we import just about everything else available from overseas. I wouldn't even mind reality TV - a misnomer if ever there was one - but the makers insist on doing these banal interviews with participants who are asked to comment on the patently obvious.

Our father-son viewing stints have brought me the delights of a reality show called Ice Truckers which is now on its fourth series. This programme is about trucks driving along an ice road, for God's sake, a content which would have strained 30 minutes let alone four series.

Then we came across TV1 News one night. The news led with a police manhunt for a guy who had disappeared with two apparent hostages. We crossed live to a reporter whose black mop on a broomstick appearance was much more shocking than the hyped news event we were supposed to be hearing about.

The rest of the news, presented by the pompous Simon Dallow and deeply off-putting Wendy Petrie, showed the dumbing down process is plumbing new depths. An item about a South Auckland resident being pestered by door-to-door salespeople could have been interesting except the victims were never asked why they didn't use a two-word phrase starting with F.

It is interesting to observe the extent to which TV fiction has strained its plots to ensure it provides good roles for women and other minorities, so much so that the tokenism is so obvious it defeats the purpose.

The other night we watched CSI Miami, a show in which the female detectives are brave, up-to-the- minute with forensic science and drop-dead gorgeous at the same time. One of these, however, handled her gun as though it was a foreign object found in the dishwasher. The hero of the story was a black billionaire nerd who had made his fortune making cellphones.

The tokenism is somewhat defeated by the stereotyping going in all the social advertising. Maori or Polynesian people front ads about cervical cancer, smoking, family violence, drink driving, mental illness and even the need to have smoke alarms.

If the police targeted Maori and Polynesian in the same way as the advertisers, they would condemned as contemptible racists. Don't white people smoke and get cervical cancer? Asian people have a problem with gambling but you don't see too many Asians in the ads about problem gamblers.

I was brought up with Some Mothers Do Have 'em and Barney Miller. Now my teenager can hear about anal sex on a cartoon like Family Guy and take in the American obsession with predatory sex on the admittedly quite funny How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men. To say moral standards must keep up with the times is to assume moral standards are like technology.

Covering local comedians, some of whom are very good, is also cheap TV. This also exposes viewers to the Kiwi comics' easy penchant for monotonous obscenity. How we all laughed when a comic the other night talked about urinating on his children in the shower.

What in the end gets me is this.

People who make programmes, buy them and schedule them are, I assume, quite intelligent people on generous salaries. They should in theory be well-educated and live in nice, arty sorts of suburbs with lots of creative types. They know what they doing.

You have to ask, then, why they dish out such pap and drivel to the ordinary populace. They will argue they are only giving the market what it demands. This is a bit like soldiers saying they committed atrocities only because they were ordered to.

One day society will revolt against stupidity and I know who should be the first against the wall.

The Press