I’m sitting in front of 4 flat screen TVs, only one of which has the sound on – KISS TV – filling the canteen with the sound of rap and soft porn images. Next to KISS is Realitatea, a Romanian news channel, where sound isn’t needed: so far I have learned there is a big meeting going on in Brussels about “the pact that stabilised Europe” (I’ll believe that one when I see it). They have several crawler texts on the screen one of which contains financial information and share listings, another one with “urgent” news updates.
Next up is National Geographic which is showing an incredible programme about birth and evolution; when I last glanced up they showed wolves stalking bisons and then cut to the more recent evolution of the mutt – two lapdogs being driven around Hollywood by a glitzy blonde in a huge limo. Earlier I saw a stunning animation of the chaos of sperm cells fighting to enter a planet sized egg (we are all survivors of those epic battles in which millions of sperms take part but only one survives). Now they’re showing incredible images of foetus’s of humans and dogs at different stages of development.
On the last TV screen is Bear Grylls doing his survival thing on a tropical island. His breakfast consisted of some weeds smashed up by rocks and then roasted, and now he’s on a boat looking at sharks prowling about below. (Now they’ve cut to fast paced ads: Jeremy Clarkson is firing a pistol then skidding a car onto an ice skating rink; a grand piano is dropped onto another vehicle; now a fisherman kisses an ugly catfish while being watched by a bunch of pretty Pacific island girls, up to their necks in brown river water.)
What makes Bear Grylls show work is the incredible energy he brings to “surviving” in the back of beyond. Most of us would be so exhausted that we’d never be able to find (let alone cook) enough roots and insects to survive. I wonder if the TV crew put up with the same diet.
All the above images I picked up while drinking my tea and writing this. I write a sentence, take a sip and glance at the TV screens (now there are four nurses pole dancing, masked policemen carrying boxes into a van, baby wolves and more fishermen wrestling with catfish underwater). This proves — to me at least — that one can function with all those distractions blaring away in front of you.
I don’t have a TV, or the time to watch one, and think life is better without. But I’m starting to think that this type of TV viewing is perhaps the best way to deal with the medium. Considering how many channels there are nowadays, and how many interruptions — even films are continually interrupted by ads — how can one be expected to concentrate on anything for more than a few seconds? Perhaps watching four screens at once, and doing something else at the same time, is the way to go.
When I first came across this array of TV screens, in the Bucharest University Library canteen of all places, I thought how absurd it was. How inappropriate! In a building that is dedicated to silence and the study of ancient documents (they have vast folders with pre war newspapers I’m keen to check out one day). But maybe not. Maybe this is the future and it is I who needs to evolve, from the prairie wolf to the pampered lapdog on Sunset Boulevard.
We didn’t have a TV for much of my childhood (my parents preferred us to be outside running wild) and when we did there were only three channels – BBC One, BBC Two and ITV – with a predictable line-up of programmes. Top of the Pops was a weekly high point and cartoons (Tom and Jerry, Top Cat, the Magic Roundabout) were rare and highly appreciated. The news was very serious, the comedy awesome (but infrequent) and the films were about WW2 heroics and cowboys in arid Spanish landscapes (hence the name spaghetti westerns).
Was it better in those days? Is too much TV, internet and computer games bad for you? I used to think so but am not sure anymore. All I know is that TV is constantly evolving we need to as well – or become one of those oldies who get their grandchildren to operate the remote. I also know that you need a Bear Grylls type of energy to keep up with this disorientating visual feast.
Now the Romanian band TAXI is playing – one of the few groups with a sense of humour – more news about Brussels, a mountain expedition is about to start on Nat Geo and on Discovery grizzled arctic fishermen battle the elements on “Deadliest Catches”.
Time to go.
There is no doubt that the access (not entirely legit) we have to the BBC iPlayer and its outstanding children’s programmes (Horrible Histories is worth the license fee on its own) have helped my bilingual children speak better English. They watch it on the computer of course, but that is still TV, no?
That sounds great but all that technology (iPlayer, setting up the computer as TV) makes me feel like the grumpy old man who can’t handle the technology.
Send your kids round to give us a seminar…