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Tuning in the twenty-first century.


THE PEOPLE WHO live directly opposite us have a huge TV in their front room. It’s so huge I can stand at our window and watch it. I can’t hear anything, of course, but I could solve that by turning on our own TV to the same channel and listen. I’d have to be mentally unbalanced or on drugs to do so — or perhaps conducting a piece of performance art. Luckily I am of reasonably sound mind given the current circumstances, the only drugs I take are painkillers and I am no longer interested in doing any more performance art. Besides, the programmes on our neighbour’s TV are always children’s programmes. They have a boy of about six or seven. I saw all that stuff when our grandson was growing up. Some of it was fun but I don’t want to hear another thing about dinosaurs.

Huge televisions are de rigueur these days. Some of them are so big they practically turn living rooms into home cinemas, which people seem to like. We resisted the lure of wider screens for a while when we needed to choose replacements for various clapped-out sets but came to accept the reality: wide monsters were the norm. Thank heavens, though, they’ve all become flat and lightweight. The first big TV we acquired was deeper than it was wide and required two people to lift it.

It has got to the stage where if a set ceases to work it’s cheaper to buy a new one than try to get the old one fixed. I believe this is called progress.

The new equipment has not proved to be expensive, either. It has got to the stage where if a set ceases to work it’s cheaper to buy a new one than try to get the old one fixed. This is now the standard for all mechanical and electromechanical products. I believe this is called progress. So it was without discussion that we bought a new TV recently to replace the “old” one. I say old because we didn’t seem to have had it more than two or three years. I also took the opportunity to get something bigger than previous sets, not out of rivalry with the people opposite but just because I could.

One of the miracles of our rampantly consumerist, materialist culture is the ability to get stuff delivered swiftly. I opted to stump up an extra 50p for the benefit of getting delivery next day, thinking it was too good to be true. A couple of quid extra, I thought, would have been more like it. But arrive the next day it did. My wife was slightly taken aback by the size of it (no sniggering at the back) and wasn’t sure she could get used to the screen occupying so much space but by the following morning she was completely used to it.

Swift arrival was not the only miraculous element of our new TV — it also worked perfectly on installation, which also involved connecting with some older peripheral equipment. Anyone over the age of fifty will likely recognise how marvellous this is, having spent umpteen hours in the past trying to set up and reinstall software in various electronic machines, all the procedures for which are blithely described in instruction manuals as simplicity itself.

The next move was to buy one of those streaming sticks that allow you to access extra channels (and lots more if you’re willing to pay) via wireless. Why am I not already subscribed to one of the major providers, you ask? Because I’m a tightwad, that’s why. And I don’t want the hassle of having cables installed and dealing with the administration. Anyway, as a result I’ve ended up with an eclectic mix of films and programmes to choose from, in addition to the multitude already available from the Freeview option. To give you an idea, this includes various horror flicks (Children of the Corn, The Mothman), classics such as Zulu and The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, scifi of variable quality (though it’s got Dark Star, a favourite of mine), children’s programmes, American TV series I have never heard of, apart from Bonanza, which may tempt me for its nostalgia value, and documentaries of dubious provenance — on Edgar Allan Poe, David Bowie, Rod Stewart, and C S Lewis(!) I can watch endless programmes on the Second World War and find out that Hitler was the most evil man in the world and dabbled in the occult. A veritable cornucopia of glitter and dross.

I’ll happily admit I use television as a form of time-filler. I know, obviously, that most of it is garbage — the old criticism that more does not equal better is true — but I still have enough discernment left to sort through the trash to find inoffensive items. As Virgil was reported as saying when found reading the works of the poet, Ennius, he was doing it “aurum in stercore quaerere”, ie looking to find gold amidst the ordure. And it’s true that as the decades have passed the ordure has increased in volume as well as (lack of) quality. Most of what is presented to the public is visual tranquilliser laced with propaganda. We are well past the time when TV could produce intelligent documentaries such as Kenneth Clarke’s Civilisation, or adaptations such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, still in my opinion the best television ever made.

Clicking through these programmes is like sorting through the ruins of a culture. Something decent eventually turns up. Thus I found The Trial, a version of Kafka’s novel produced by Orson Welles in 1962, featuring Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau and Romy Schneider. When you’re aware that you’re being lied to and misinformed by twenty-four hour news while trapped in a kind of open prison, it’s an appropriate piece for our distempered times. It’s in black and white, which, since I will be watching it on a huge modern TV in a multicoloured age, constitutes an act of reactionary rebellion. It’s the least I can do in the circumstances.

suxcoverCurrente Calamo colum­nist, poet and writer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire. A Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Lincoln University (2005 – 2008), his poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent book is Albion Days (perennisperegrinator press). Sucks to Your Revolution is a collection of his Fortnightly columns.

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