16 June 2013

Speaking Out about Dumbing Down

In an interview by Michael Hogan in yesterday's Guardian, acerbic art critic Brian Sewell has denounced most factual TV as disgracefully dumbed-down — particularly on the BBC.

I love Brian Sewell. OK, he's made a career out of being opinionated and often downright rude, but I love the way he isn't afraid to speak his mind. And so often he is right, too, just as in this interview. For example:
I'm not really talking about the entertaining things. Hateful though I find them, the BBC does those perfectly well. But anything they tackle that is intellectual, historical, biographical, cultural ... It all turns into a travelogue of some kind. Whether it's Andrew Graham-Dixon on the Italian Renaissance or that rat-faced young man [Simon Reeve] wandering round Australia, it's the same, because this is what the BBC asks for. The channel controllers are of little education and no background. The editors are very technically clever but know nothing about the topic, so they fit everything to this comfortable format. We deserve better. It's patronising rubbish.


All those Simon Schama and David Starkey programmes inevitably turn into walking about and arm-waving. Poor Mary Beard, trundling around the ruins of Rome on a bicycle. Why? These devices even creep into news bulletins: some wretched reporter suddenly emerges from behind a car or tree and walks towards the camera. For God's sake, you have news to communicate. Stand still and tell us what it is. I don't want to be entertained, I want to be informed.


Attenborough does very well because he is just there, talking as the omnipotent voice. He's good at that. That's infinitely more convincing than Brian Cox with his sibilant delivery, trying to be the sex symbol of science.


[The BBC is] terrified of being too intellectual. There's no debate, no critical discourse or differing viewpoints. The BBC has forgotten the tradition of the Third Programme, which was introduced on radio in 1946. It was fundamentally serious: we didn't talk down to you, we talked to each other as we normally would and you'd better hurry along behind. I taught history of art in Brixton jail for 10 years and one lesson I learnt very quickly is never talk down to people. If you treat them as equals, you've got them, they're with you. But talk down, they smell it a mile off and hate it. That's what the BBC does all the time.


I see [Top Gear] as three clowns enjoying themselves and nothing whatsoever to do with motor cars. They never talk about the aesthetic beauty of cars, their history or future. They're just overgrown schoolboys.
And there's a lot more in that vein.

The other evening we watched the BBC Horizon programme on the doings of domestic cats in a Surrey village. It actually told you nothing that wasn't known 25 years ago; there were no new discoveries, no real research and actually little information — basically just a load of Oooo's and Ah's backed up by a bit of new-ish technology and a load of waffle. And this despite the programme being better than most of what Horizon pushes out.

Do read the Sewell interview. Whether you agree with him or not (and I have to admit, I do agree) it is a hoot!

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