Despite the outpour of eco-aware speeches, global warming was nowhere in sight at the recent MIPTV convention in Cannes. When it did not rain, a howling wind swept through the Croisette, uplifting scantily clad TV people who braved snowstorms in various European airports in hope for a sunny week on Côte d’Azur.
It was in those conditions that I found myself huddled under an outdoor café umbrella with a couple of TV buyers, and, stranded under the rain, attempted to outline to them my view of TV of the future. My company, you see, has just launched a TV channel, and I have to either practice what I preach, or shut up.
Taking into account my well-known opinion of television, and people who program it, this attempt at communication with the two buyers was truly a good will effort on my part. A television buyer, you see, is someone in his mid-thirties, give or take a decade, who may have set out on this noble path with vague ideas of contributing to universal culture, and possibly even changing someone’s fate. By the time this person does reach a position of some responsibility within the well-oiled machine of selling ads to eye-balls, he had been trained by the system to never question it, and the only fate he is intent on changing – or maintaining, at the very least – is his own.
My interlocutors on that cloudy afternoon looked like too poles of that very TV trajectory: a fourty-something girl with considerable clout in the business, and many a boozy MIP behind her, and an ambitious 20-something, with an eager face of an altar boy with a penchant for sacramental wine. Despite our obvious ideological differences, we have arrived quite amicably to a consensus that none of us watches the eight o’clock news any longer. Why bother, we agreed, to sit and listen to someone tell you in 40 minutes what you can find out on the Internet in five?
Those of you who do not feel like “Halleluiah!” at this point, have obviously not met my channel’s 60 year old director of programming who still insists on broadcasting jazz at 8pm, because “everyone has got the news on anyway”.
Full of hope that progressive thinking has arrived in the world of TV, I launched into describing to my new friends the vision of the “ über-channel” of my dreams – a high-brow venture where you can always switch from watching to choosing to watching again. The beauty of this process, you see, is that it involves some thinking – whereas it has been scientifically proven that watching traditional television shuts down your active brain waves (the beta kind) and leaves you in what researches refer to as the “mind fog”.
Noting that the eyes of my MIP fellows were becoming quite foggy as well, I have decided to pull out of my hat the one trick that has always worked: an example involving Audrey Hepburn. “Imagine,” I said , “being bored out of our mind watching some documentary about the 60s, and you don’t really care for it, but suddenly it puts you in the mood for a comedy – ‘The Pink Panther’or ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ – and you can just jump to one of those, instead of zapping to another channel”. The TV girl across the table looked skeptical – but not nearly as much as the guy who scratched his head with geeky genuineness and said “not sure that would work for me. I have not really seen any Sellers’ pictures, I am afraid.” Though quite irrelevant, this comment left me speechless. Having discovered both Sellers and Hepburn in the nineties, it never even occurred me that there will come a generation who will draw a blank at those names. I mean, it’s not like I am suggesting that “Harry Met Sally” is timeless. It’s like saying that Shakespeare will one day be forgotten, because he is not recent enough. “Yes, Shakespeare, of course mused the boy in an embarrassed way, which made me realize that even the Master was not off-limits. “Wake up, Natalia” yelled my inner voice at this point, “ where do you come off bringing up Shakespeare at TV market? What are you going to mention next , ‘The War and Peace’?” At this point the clouds dispersed and off we went on our merry ways – they, to program the brainwaves of the masses, me, to wonder about the state of the culture in general.
Is it possible that skipping the eight o’clock news, with its occasional theater and movie reports, is not such a good thing? Could it be that our digital freedom is also a curse, because by choosing what we like we are bound to only choose what we know? And what we know is, of course, mostly made up of what’s on our mind – messages placed there by advertisers as we rush through our busy lives. So, unless some intellectual marketer decides to associate his product with a classic, shall we be left with films and songs as recent as the brands we buy? Between mind fog and self-perpetuating ignorance, which one would you choose?