Dumbing down

I was reading recently that veteran broadcaster and intellectual Jonathan Miller has described those in charge of commissioning at the BBC as 'media studies twerps'. At last, I thought, somebody speaking out about the growing incompetence and lack of vision that has been slowly developing in the UK and, I'm sure, elsewhere, and its resultant effect on the standard of television and, let's face it, other facets of life too. I don't know about you, but I no longer 'watch' television. Sometimes, in our house, it's on but nobody is watching or, worst still in many ways, somebody is flicking through the channels desperate to find something worthy of their attention but only finding repeats on Dave or American sitcoms.

Blur once claimed that Modern Life is Rubbish and they weren't wrong, but don't get me started on popular music, well, perhaps just one comment...driving home from Camber Sands yesterday evening I found myself listening to Capital Radio. My! How it has declined in quality! I don't even know the name of the female presenter but she had 'Professor Green' and somebody else whose name escaped me, a female 'artiste', in the studio, both of whom were going to perform for the listeners. But that's not what was wrong. What was wrong was that the presenter engaged them in a game of 'snog, marry, avoid' – or whatever it's called, you know the game I'm talking about, the one where you're given the name or names of certain individuals and you have to decide whether they're worth snogging, marrying or simply avoiding like the plague. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't want to be a spoilsport or anything, but going back to Miller's remarks about the BBC being full of media studies twerps, I found myself thinking: would Peter Townshend of the Who or Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin or Damon Albarn of Blur or Bono from U2, would any of them have been engaged in such a stupid game by John Peel or whoever else was presenting music programmes on the radio 'back in the day'?

Using the phrase 'back in the day' makes me sound like a bit of old git (perhaps I am) but listening to Capital last night made me realise that things have dipped very, very low culturally and the crappy nature of everything was brought into focus recently with the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. God! It was awful! Unprofessional, disjointed, an untidy collection of individuals and some God awful performances by the likes of Lulu, Deacon Blue and Kylie who, I'm told, was miming. In fact, Kylie is regarded as good these days, a musical icon, but it's a real case of the Emperor's New Clothes in my opinion. It amazes me how tongue-in-cheek acclaim soon translates into genuine hero worship. I managed to avoid watching any of the games. I couldn't tell you who won the most medals, I couldn't even tell you the names of athletes who made a name for themselves, which in itself is an amazing achievement as the Games dominated the BBC's channels One, Two and Three.

Why was it so dominant on the UK's 'state television'? Probably because of the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence. The royals were out in force and the BBC did a 'Doctor Who' – they had a kind of 'Commonwealth Games Confidential' programme fronted by the sadly ubiquitous Clare Balding and some other bloke – a poor man's John Stapleton – both of whom were charged with the task of 'bigging up' something that what was essentially very boring (just like Doctor Who – click here for more). I'm so glad it's over.

As for Miller's comment about 'media studies twerps' I think it goes some way towards reinforcing the theory that things are dumbing down, being diluted, getting worse and certainly not in anyway improving. The 'golden age' of most things seems to have passed in the UK – we're crap at football (that golden age passed in the sixties on the international stage and the national game is now full of nobheads earning far too much money for what they're really worth); popular music has imploded (just listen to Capital Radio or Kiss FM at virtually any time for proof of this); literature, well, there's too much of it, too much crap, and I'm not well-versed enough in the art world to pass serious comment – although there's always the Turner Prize and the fact that many so-called works of art are known as 'installations'. As for politics, we no longer have politicians that really care about world in which we live. In short, they are 'career politicians' concerned only with themselves and the direction in which their careers are travelling. Even our terrorists are no longer polite enough to warn of an impending attack.

What was good on television recently was Melvyn Bragg's new series on radicals, people like John Ball from the 14th Century and, later this week, Tom Paine. It was good on many levels thanks to Bragg's intelligence (what was John Humprhys doing criticising him recently?) but also because it made me realise that we need some more radical thinkers and revolutionaries in the UK as things are beginning to look very similar to the late 14th Century when we had the famous Peasants' Revolt – my guess is we need another one: right now!