Raging Against the World

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Monthly Archives: March 2010

Mediocrity Abounds

I was reading a piece by Charlie Brooker.  It’s basically just a filler article.  Someone has told him to write a certain amount of words on anything he wants to and he’s run out of things to say.  So he writes a mediocre article, as I’m sure he’s very much aware of.  He did after all write a tweet, thus:

“Typed some words out: http://bit.ly/bwN8Rg

Even  before clicking on the link I was underwhelmed.  He’s dead in the water and he knows it.

So I read the article which peters out rapidly at the end.  Disappointing, but I knew it was coming.  Then I read the comments:

  • “Brilliant.”
  • “Bravo. Best one for ages. Genius!”
  • “I would absolutely love to see Charlie Brooker on acid.”
  • “Lol – classic”
  • “bang on the money as usual”
  • “Charlie Brooker’s output is a drug and I am a junkie.”

and I started to think, “is it me?  This piece is lame, it’s a man out of ideas, why am I the only one who can see it?”

I find myself constantly moaning on Twitter how everything is crap on tv and in entertainment.  I question myself, “have I lost the capacity to enjoy things?  Am I too cynical?” and check out the things going on to find out.

A few weeks ago I started hearing a lot of people on Twitter giving praise to Come Dine With Me, yet another in a long line of middle-class dinner party tv programmes which started way back in the early 90s with Loyd Grossman’s Masterchef and have never been off TV in those 20 years.  I started to realise that a large swathe of Twitterati are middle-class people with middle-class sentiments.

During the heavy snow we had in the beginning of the year I noticed one particular middle-class person bemoaning that she was “snowed in” in her home in London and “couldn’t” get out.  She began talking as though she was in desperate fear for her life and would have to eat her beagle to stay alive.  This irked me.  She was in LONDON.  A Capital City.  You’re hardly cut off from civilisation in the largest city in Europe.  There are people in villages in the Orkneys and Shetland Isles who are not complaining like she was.

OK, you’re thinking, maybe there was heavy snowfall where she was.  But this woman had run a marathon in 2005.  This is not an easy task, there is a HELL of a lot of endurance and agony which takes place in the training, let alone actually running a marathon.  This woman had gone through all that but was now doing the “look at meeeee, i’m suffering” shtick to get attention.  When I was at my most poor I sometimes had to go for days without food because I simply could not afford it.  I remember one Christmas Meal was Spaghetti on Toast.

The difference between the middle classes and the working classes is that when faced with a problem the working class will buckle down and just get on with it.  The middle classes will be the ones moaning and moaning about it, expecting other people to fix things.

Did this middle-class woman go outside with a shovel and clear a path?   This is what working class people would do.  They would go out and fix the problem.  She did not.  Did she go out and de-ice her pavement?  Again, a quick google would tell you methods for doing this.  She did not do this.  She went on Twitter and said “I have no food!  I’m trapped indoors!”  Eventually her problem was solved when, and I’m not making this up, she had a pizza delivered.

So, you see my problem with the middle-classes.  Now I’m not advocating Class War, I just want people to grab them by the shoulders, shake them and “Pull Yourselves Together and Stop Moaning!” 

So, going back to TV, I checked a typical night’s entertainment and was dumbfounded by what I saw.  I used to watch TV a lot, but for the past couple of years I’ve moved away from it.  I turn it on rarely as I spend more time on the internet or playing Online Games, such as World of Warcraft.  Now and again I’ll turn on the tv because something is being discussed on Twitter.  And… I’m horrified by what I see.

The News, once the bastion of unbiased reporting of fact around the world.  There are still journalists out there who can report the news fully drawing our attention to the things which matter, but they are now being sidelined for a program of news.  Things which are deemed to be important by the powers that be, whether they deserve it or not.

ITN has decided to go down the tabloid route with SCARE STORIES being the course of least resistance.  Charlie Brooker has been railing against this, in particular in this important clip from his Newswipe series.  You are being manipulated.

The BBC have also slipped down the slope of Lowest Common Denominator.  You will now see tortured metaphor and ridiculous analogies.  Recently on their website they’ve been reporting every single “Gordon Brown Unpopular” poll with a suspicious zeal.  Important polls by reputable unbiased polling companies come out now and again, the weighted polls by biased organisations are more regular and this is why they draw my attention.

Panorama lost its credibility with me a long long time ago when Jeremy Vine, he of the ambulance chasing daytime radio show, took over.  He’s turned lunchtime radio into one of those horrible media shows where anyone who calls in can make any dirty little accusations unchallenged.

And Panorama is an extension of that style.  Newsnight has also gone down this route, to my chagrin.  Newsnight used to be a great place to find out the nuts and bolts of any issue but… it’s just not what it was.

If the rock of News crumbles then it’s no surprise that the lesser programming has also lost its way.  Here’s a sample of that night’s television.

On BBC 1 from 8pm to 10pm they had Rugby Union, a middle-class sport if ever there was one.  We’re all aware of the sort of person who joins a Rugby Club: the boorish, loutish, shouty people who make nights out such less fun.

BBC 2 have gone for the following stellar programming

8pm – Mastermind, a group of well-educated people show how clever they are.

8.30 – Episode 4 in *a series about Fell Walkers*

9pm – Mastercrafts – “Under Monty Don’s watchful eye, three hopefuls who are passionate about learning the craft of the blacksmith are put through their paces by the country’s leading practitioners”

10pm David Mitchell, a well-educated middle-class man, presents a quiz where Celebrities are quizzed on made-up news stories.

I’m not making this up.  I began to realise that something was very wrong with television.  I have called this “Stepford Television”, a reference to the 70s film The Stepford Wives where independently-minded women were replaced with mindless subservient robotic wives by husbands tired of their independent thought. 

ITV on the other hand have gone for… oh.  More middle-class television.  Dancing on Ice followed by yet another instalment of Coronation Street, a soap opera which once promoted gritty realism but now is just a cosy “who’s sleeping with who?” soap opera.  But surely, you’re thinking, I’m just projecting anti-middle class sentiments onto these programmes.  I bet other programmes are less obviously middle class, that’ll prove him wrong!

Next programme: Michael Winner, an extremely wealthy man who’s famous for eating at the best (ie most expensive) restaurants goes to peoples’ houses and sneers at their non-Michael Winner provincial lifestyles.  For an hour.  And after the news Charles Bronson plays an architect who becomes a vigilante against the working class thugs.  Directed by Michael Winner.

Well ok you’re thinking, bad though it is, there’s other channels.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Channel 4.  Remember when Channel 4 started it was a deliberate anti-orthodox TV channel.  It was hip, raw and risky.  It would take chances.

8pm – A Place in the Sun.  Couples with lots of money to spend look at places to move to and plough their big piles of money into.

9pm – Embarrassing Bodies.  Come on, let’s laugh at all the people with problems while knocking back the wine and having something to gasp at with all your pals.  Yeah, that’s entertainment! 

10pm – Chris Moyles’ Quiz Night.   Chris is a mediocre man with no discernible talent who somehow got the job of being a Radio 1 dj.  This means he does nothing but talk about how much he drinks and the nights out he has with his vast amounts of money and his friends who similarly live such privileged lives.  He is, essentially, a University student who never grew up.  And what is university but a way for the rich to put off working for a living?  While the wealthy children of the wealthy get to study poetry, philosophy, politics and ‘humanities’ the working class 16yr-olds are working in minimum wage jobs making sure everyone else is well fed and that there’s plenty of plastic-wrapped things to buy.  Chris Moyles has somehow risen to the top of popularity.  If you look at the people following Chris on Twitter you just may be surprised at the cross-section of the British populace who find him fascinating.  I don’t know why, I can’t fathom it.  Even the working class people think he’s one of them.

Channel Five (or ‘five’ as they’ve now been styled by the cognoscenti) have bucked the trend with the classless documentary about Highland Rescue services.  Congratulations five!  The first piece of television tonight not aimed at a specific demographic!  Oh.  Then we get three solid hours of police drama, two of which are American buy-ins.

And that’s your tv for the night.  Mediocre enough for you?  We’ve come full circle.  From the mediocrity of a hastily written article of a man who just hasn’t got anything interesting to say to mediocre tv designed to appeal to a very specific audience.

And yet somehow this is fine.  No-one objects to the dumbing down of television.  No-one complains of the lack of range.  There’s not something for everyone, just something for the chattering classes.  Mediocrity abounds.  Why else do we get so much tv presented by preening middle-class people paid above and beyond what they’re worth.  Until recently it was your Vanessas and Trishas, but now it’s the people who present Come Dine With Me and Strictly Come Dancing.  Now you can have Monty Don and Piers Morgan.  You get Louis Walsh and Simon Cowell in their megabucks madness.  Jedward were screamed at by teenage girls who seemed oblivious to the lack of talent the boys possessed.

The power of Hype has overtaken the power of creativity.  People with ideas are now overtaken by Celebrities who do nothing, because everyone who’s a commissioning editor or a tv booker is someone who went to University.


Layers of Difficulty

So my DVD boxset of The Space Museum/The Chase turned up yesterday which meant I could delete the .mpg version of the VHS edition from my hard drive.  Going into the folder I found a copy of an old UK Gold trailer

As a little exercise of video editing I thought I’d update the trail to the DVD-quality visuals and that it would be very simple indeed.  And then I became aware of the limitations of Pinnacle Studio.  I’ve known for a long time that I need something a bit more professional and this has really put the tin lid on that.  The trailer, though simple, has one slight drawback.  The UK Gold logo overhangs the edge of the clip.

The logical thing to do is to Chromakey in the footage of the new sequence into the red windowed area, but then we have a problem with the green area, which has a moving clock.  Pinnacle Studio can deal well with Chromakey, but it wouldn’t overlay the new video into the red area without obliterating the edge of the UK Gold logo or vice versa.  It allows for transparency but this just means you’d have a section of the logo which was slightly odd-looking, a different colour.

I tried creating my own mattes:


but this just left me with a non-moving clock.  I tried the same in reverse with the clock


but again, the same problem with the video box.  In the end I managed to make them separately and overlay a corner of the screen (the clock + corner of the background) onto a video of the Red Box area + background and this proved seamless, but frustratingly difficult to do with the awkward interface of Pinnacle. 

So now I need to find a piece of software which can overlay multiple layers, eg:


Funny how something which seemed so simple can prove not to be.

You can view the finished version here: