So much for the planned blog series about my television viewing this week. I thought the task was going to be easier than it turned out to be; that’s what I get for underestimating the energy it takes to watch television and write about it critically. I think I got slightly overwhelmed thinking about a particular aspect of television in relation to my thesis work, so my attempts to write something about my everyday viewing pleasures during my leisure time resulted in a slight brain melt-down. More than slightly, actually. ‘It’s not that easy to explain’.
Anyway, I hear there are no rules when it comes to this blogging caper, so perhaps ‘TV Week’, the series will be published over a few weeks. Meanwhile, I’ve been inspired by Tim Sterne’s post at Sterne and cross-posted at Sarsaparilla about the books he isn’t reading at the moment. I do have a couple of stacks of books, mainly of the not-generally-interesting scholarly imprint variety, but rather than list those, I thought I’d stick with the medium of television and tell you all about the television I haven’t watched this week.
I’m fibbing a bit by listing this one, because I did watch it on a couple of occasions—it is my preferred news bulletin—but the news often has the effect of infuriating me, and that wasn’t the best thing for me this week. My ire is usually raised when the news reports on John Howard’s pronouncements. For example, I see that Howard is capable of exercising his power against mining and environmental destruction when it threatens the sites which he holds to be sacred, like the Kokoda Trail in PNG. If only he so vigorously defended the values of all the citizens of Australia he represents.
The other news item that caused my blood pressure to elevate was the Qld Police Union’s reaction to the State Coroner’s finding about the Aboriginal death in custody that sparked the Palm Island riots. The sophistry they engaged in upon learning the coroner’s finding that the police were responsible for Mulrunji’s death is more than distressing. I was interested to note the ABC’s wording which went something like ‘the police officer blamed for the death of ...’. ‘Blamed’ seems to me to be a curious word in this context; doesn’t it suggests a hint of over-reaction and irrationality of behalf of the coroner? Why not say ‘the police officer was found responsible for the death of ...’. Wouldn’t that wording be far less emotive and therefore more appropriate for a news service?
I had a meeting with my supervisor this week and we spoke about how viewers come to define whether a programme is a ‘quality’ programme or not. I had just read a chapter of a book that discussed an audience survey where viewers were asked to select from the top-rating shows those that they nominated as ‘quality’ and those that they ‘appreciated’. There was a disjuncture between the figures attributed to each of the two categories, showing that viewers used different criteria for their nominations in the two categories. The author speculated that because the viewers made a judgement about the ‘quality’ programmes they therefore must have watched them. I expressed to my supervisor that I didn’t necessarily agree with the author’s assertion, and the example I used to explain my position was Four Corners. I have barely ever watched Four Corners, but I know it is ‘quality’ investigative journalism. I know this because of the way it is framed in the ABC’s promotions; the way, over the years, the reports have been used by other news’ services as a primary source; the way it has sparked Royal Commissions—in particular the Fitzgerald Inquiry in Qld and the AWB Oil for Food Inquiry; and the way it is discussed by intelligent and learned people around me. If I was asked, I would say unequivocally that it is ‘quality’ television, but I certainly couldn’t claim that I had ever ‘appreciated’ it.
Conversely, in view of the comments about Bones that have appeared on this blog over the last few days, I can unequivocally state that Bones is not ‘quality’ television, yet I would rate my appreciation of it quite highly.
I’ve never been a regular view of this programme. I watched it in the beginning, but then it clashed with two other programmes I liked better. More recently, I’ve watched it when someone I’m particularly interested in has been interviewed: James Blunt, Lily Tomlin and Jamie Oliver, for example.
I’m not all that enamoured of Denton’s interviewing style, although, again, I know it’s considered to be very good, afterall he’s won a Walkley Award. I’ve also had the experience of being able to have a conversation with any academic sort I’ve ever encountered at the post-seminar coffee sortie, if I mention that week’s guest on Enough Rope.
If I had to articulate what makes me wary of the show, I would say it’s the sort of therapeutic probing of his guests that Denton undertakes. I feel slightly uncomfortable and embarrassed on their behalf, I think. Does a ‘good’ interview necessarily require this kind of messy, emotional surgery? I suppose for that reason, I’ve rather enjoyed it when, on the occasions I’ve watched it, his guests have refused to be drawn into what seems to be Denton’s therapeutic imperative. On the one hand, James Blunt’s refusal to provide the graphic details of his role in the British peace keeping forces in Kosovo was appropriate. On the other hand, Lily Tomlin was just delightful when she demonstrated she hadn’t even stepped foot on the psychotherapeutic planet that Denton’s interviews inhabit.