Monday, June 28, 2010
50 YEARS OF TV WHY DO WE DWELL ON THE TRAGIC?
From my back door.
We are being provided with snippets of history over the last fifty years as New Zealand T.V.celebrates 50 years of transmission. The first official broadcast was June 1st, 1960 in Auckland. As late as 1969 there were only 65 hours of TV a week as programmes were broadcast from the four main centres, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin each week night. It seems incredible now that there was a time when we didn't have 24 hours of what is frequently drivel beamed into our homes.
Last night we were given a cornucopia of news stories and presenters' bloopers. They were worth the giggles. It is quite weird seeing our history, local and global, broken up into short visual bites according to how the programme people rated them. It is even stranger to see the results of a public pole in today's newspaper. Of the top ten stories in the last fifty years only three are celebrations. We rated the Moon Landing, The Fall of the Berlin Wall and Winning the America's Cup in there. The top two stories were the terrible day of 9/11 followed closely by Princess Diana's death. I will never understand how she became the people's idol although she did seem to have had a genuinely compassionate side. The other tragedies include the Assassination of JFK, the Wahine Disaster, a modern day shipping disaster with loss of life in Wellington Harbour, the Erebus Disaster, when a scenic flight flew into the Antarctic mountain, a gunman running amok at Aramoana and finally the 1981 Springbok Rugby tour which stirred up all kinds of racial tensions and divided the country. The last is possibly the only one that you could say is working out for good.
In 1981 South Africa practiced apartheid and in New Zealand we were appalled by the laws restricting black or coloured and white people mixing. We considered ourselves completely non-racist although racism is alive and well here just like any other prejudicial attitude. The Springbok Tour should have been cancelled. It should never have happened but because it went ahead the true nature of our feelings were exposed and from there we began to address some of the inequities in our dealings with Maori, New Zealand's own native people.
The disturbing part of all this history is how humankind relishes tragic events. As far as Tv is concerned this is understandable. Tragedy makes good dramatic footage and TV is for entertainment rather than education or any other high minded activity. Frequently people say they want to hear more good news. The trouble with 'Good News' is that it lacks bite, it lacks entertainment value and it seems tame, almost boring. Is this the fault of viewer demand or is it the result of programmers taking the easy way out. It takes work to make something nice entertaining. You only have to listen to an actor delighting in getting the part of the nastiest character to know how much more exciting it is for us to be unpleasant.
I can think of few programmes that delight with their 'Good' content. One of my favourites is the long running Country Calendar. This program brings country lifestyles and the successes and struggles of people who live off the land right into our homes. It crosses the boundaries between city and rural. It is successful because the focus is on sometimes extra-ordinary people who are normal, nice folk following their passion.
I am truly annoyed by our reporting of war and tragedy. The reporters seem to set themselves up like little gods, deciding which footage tells the story they want to tell. I want to hear the real story. I want to hear about the great things the troops are doing in places like Afghanistan. I want to hear how some people are feeling safe enough to lead a real life. I know we are only getting part of the truth and I want to know why we are only hearing about the blood and guts. I want to hear the real story behind what the news media are willing to report on.
We are in a struggle of evil versus good. We need to hear that evil is not the victor. We need to know about the battle but we need to hear about the successes along the way. We need to learn to think about whatsoever is good and see that life is not all tragedy and drama.
Let's look for the rainbows