Tag Archives: bread and circuses

Race to the Bottom?


Once again it is that time of year. I don’t mean the changing of the seasons, the nights getting longer, the onrush of winter and that Christmas thing. No, I mean it’s X Factor/Strictly Come Dancing time again. Which one will you be watching?

Oh, please. This morning’s BBC Breakfast was full of it. Endless froth about X Factor (ITV, blue corner) and Strictly Come Dancing (BBC, red corner), with added excitement in the form of whether Spooks (BBC) and Downton Abbey (ITV) will also pull in the punters.

My jaw almost hit the floor, which would have been inconvenient since I was eating toast and supping tea at the time. 

Why, I wondered, does the BBC, a publicly-funded broadcaster through the television licence, feel the need to fight for ratings with an advertising-funded network? I fail to see the point in these ratings “wars”. Who wins in the end? 

My contention is no-one wins in the end. Everyone’s a loser.

Let’s leave aside the Spooks vs Downton Abbey thing, because as far as I can tell (I don’t watch either show, I freely admit) they are both well-written, well-made examples of their breed. Pitting them against each other in the same time slot seems pointless, since anyone who cares enough will simply record one of them to watch later, or catch up online—this in itself negates the whole “X million people watched it last night, so our show is bigger than your show, yah boo sucks” shenanigans, but there you go.

No-one wins in the end when two celebrity-obsessed “reality” shows are pitched at each other. Everyone is a net loser, even those of us who don’t watch them. Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor: celebrities making fools of themselves versus members of the public making fools of themselves. The latter I find particularly irksome as it feeds on sad peoples’ need to “be famous”, without needing to do any of the hard work to earn the fame. The goggle-eyed sofa-bound point and laugh. It’s gladiatorial combat, only lacking the blood and gore. In fact, I’m sure there’ll be blood and gore in a future series of X Factor. They need to keep the ratings, after all.

No-one wins because both are really just for those who enjoy air-head television. It’s style over substance. Both shows encourage viewers to phone in and “vote” for a winner, at vast expense mind you. Both are fixed, there is no real competition at all. Why viewers aren’t intelligent enough to see through this manufactured charade is beyond me, but perhaps it’s the chance of seeing a famous person making a fool of themselves, or a fool making themselves momentarily famous. I don’t really know.

All of which still fails to answer my question: why does a publicly-funded broadcaster feel the need to follow another channel down the plughole? 

ITV needs people to watch the shows so they can be advertised at. It’s a commercial broadcaster. X Factor is funded by sponsorship and advertising, aimed at the goggle-eyed and sofa-bound. The entertainment is to keep you watching so you can be advertised at. That’s all it is. You are the product, not the end user.

The BBC, however, doesn’t need to appease advertisers. Who are they trying to fool? Ratings mean nothing to the BBC. They don’t need to compete, so why do they bother? I have no idea.

What I’d like to see is the BBC realising it really doesn’t have to chase ratings. I’d like to see Auntie concentrating on making the best programmes it can, without continually dumbing down to appease the stupid. There are plenty of smart people out there who enjoy a challenge in their entertainment. Stupid people have ITV, Five or anything from Sky to watch if they feel challenged by anything made for intelligent people. Make excellent programmes and smart people will watch them, I can guarantee it. Earn the television licence instead of continually underestimating the intelligence of your viewers. We’re not stupid, so please don’t assume we are.

Oh, and while we’re at it, don’t scrap BBC Four. It’s one of the few places where we smart people can still watch intelligent programming.


‘We the people’ deserve something better than a high-class villain’s charter | Anthony Barnett | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

The cabinet secretary, Gus O’Donnell, has just issued a 150-page draft cabinet manual that sets out how we are governed, and is being widely hailed as the foundation for a codified constitution. Although an unelected mandarin, he took it upon himself to give an interview in advance to the Telegraph and told them: “I think those who are in favour of a written constitution will start with it … It has never existed before; we’ve been waiting decades and decades for this.”

Really? Let’s put that little “we” on hold for a moment.

The document is not in any way a draft of a democratic constitution. It is a manual for British dictatorship. It is quite open about this. It states: “It is written from the perspective of the executive branch of government”. It adds: “It is not intended to have any legal effect or set issues in stone. It is intended to guide, not to direct.” In plain language, we can change it whenever we think it is best and it sets out how the executive can get away with whatever it can get away with.

When the Tories were campaigning for the 2010 general election, they went on and on about something they called “Broken Britain”. They made out the meaning was schools and hospitals were broken, families were broken, society was broken.

What “we, the people” didn’t spot is that what is really broken is government. The “system” is broken, not the country. Nothing changed with this coalition, despite the published agreement between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, despite the mutual love-in the garden of Number 10. Yes, Britain is broken, but it wasn’t the people that broke it. And we’re getting to a point where we will be unable to fix it because the elitists who are running it keep moving the goalposts so we can’t. The elitists don’t want we lower orders to have any control over how we are governed.

Britain has been broken for more than four decades, but we’re just too lazy to get of our fat arses, turn off the celebrity non-entity television and sort our country out.

Well, that set me up for a good mood, didn’t it!

New Statesman – The party game is over. Stand and fight

The old myths of British rectitude, imperial in origin, provided false comfort while the Blair gang built the foundation of the present “coalition”. This is led by a former PR man for an asset stripper and by a bagman who will inherit his knighthood and the tax-shielded fortune of his father, the 17th Baronet of Ballintaylor. David Cameron and George Osborne are essentially fossilised spivs who, in colonial times, would have been sent by their daddies to claim foreign terrain and plunder.

Today, they are claiming 21st-century Britain and imposing their vicious, antique ideology, albeit served as economic snake oil. Their designs have nothing to do with a “deficit crisis”. A deficit of 10 per cent is not remotely a crisis. When Britain was officially bankrupt at the end of the Second World War, the government built its greatest public institutions, such as the National Health Service and the arts edifices of London’s South Bank.

Amen. Bread and circuses.

In other news, a Tory reckons we’ve “never had it so good”. Nice one, Lord Young. What planet are you from?

Panem et circenses


Last week a ceremony took place in a field by the river Thames at Runnymede. It was the beginning of five years of celebrations leading up to the 800th anniversary of a king signing a piece of paper. This is, or was, what became known as the Magna Carta.

While essentially the laws and rights outlined in the Magna Carta have since been superseded or swapped for others, the founding document is still held as historically important for being the first time rights of the ordinary people (or at least the free men) were codified in England. The original Magna Carta was also used as a basic outline for the Constitution of the United States of America. 

It was a pretty influential piece of paper.

There is an irony, then, that successive governments in the United Kingdom have seen fit to chip away at those basic rights set out in AD 1215. Such basic things as having the right to be judged by a jury of your peers, or not being imprisoned without due process of the law, and so on. 

What I find frustrating is that hardly anyone seems to care that these rights are being taken away from under our noses. Our rights as citizens of the UK are being eroded, bit by bit, chiefly in the name of “increased security”.

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Benjamin Franklin

Never a truer word spoken.

The problem I see is the general population of these benighted islands is far happier with their noses stuck in colourful, noisy celebrity-obsessed magazines and newspapers, watching endless and ultimately pointless “reality television”, and looking forward to a royal wedding next year. As long as they have their bread and circuses, what do they care if people get locked up in prison without due process of the law, or people are tried in a court of law without a jury?

It also seems those who claim to have been elected with a mandate from the people are complicit in this charade. Just this past couple of days:

Speaking in the House of Commons, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said civil legal aid would only be routinely available in cases where life or liberty was at stake.

(BBC News web site link.)

So, at a stroke, all but people with a reasonable income — the rich, in other words — will find themselves unable to take a case to court if they cannot afford legal representation. How, in the name of all that’s holy, is that fair?

There are also the proposed public spending cuts, all in aid of reducing a huge deficit in the country’s finances. This will, of course, hit hardest those least able to cope. All the time our lords and masters, most of whom are millionaires we should never forget, chant the platitude “we’re all in this together”. All the time, huge corporations are legally able to avoid paying vast sums of tax to the state, sums which would virtually halve the budget deficit at a stroke. But, no. It’s the poorest, the disabled, the retired, the unemployed, the disadvantaged — these are the people who will be made to suffer. 

This stinks. 

What are we to do about it? What can we do about it? 

I don’t know. Unless we all decide to stand up and be counted, I guess nothing will happen to change anything. Apathy with win, again. We’ll just have to be happy with the prospect of a royal jamboree next year, an Olympics the year after, and then decades of blood, toil, tears and sweat. Never mind that everything is a huge distraction from what’s really going on, just keep the proles dosed up with entertainment and food.

I am now thoroughly depressed. I shall leave you with some further reading from The Guardian and Channel 4 News, some of which shows that at least some members of the Fourth Estate are beginning to take notice.

Prince William and Kate Middleton: a royal wedding in the age of austerity

The Government’s cuts might drive me into the streets

Royal Wedding: For the sake of them and us

Is that Royal News?