Mixing it up

A little bit of politics

Two Brazils. Can I have the one on the right?   Photo: Tuca Vieira

Two Brazils. Can I have the one on the right?
Photo: Tuca Vieira

The economist Diane Coyle* recently reviewed a book from a few years ago, Estates, by Lynsey Hanley.  It describes the housing estate in which she grew up, and how it suffered because all the people with jobs moved away, leaving a dispiriting and isolated mono-culture of the elderly and unemployed. The area suffered because it was all housing and nothing else.  The healthiest communities in cities, feel like those in which people live, work and play – so there are people socialising or being entertained in the evening, working during the day, and sleeping at night.  Mixed developments.  A blend of people.

As Diane Coyle points out:

I’ve lost count of the number of middle-class London friends who claim to have opted for private schools for their children because they’re worried about their education. Nonsense (I think) – they’re actually more worried about the social contagion of mixing with working class children. Nobody is entitled to call themselves left-wing or progressive, in my view, if they opt out of their local state schools, that is opt out of their community.

I agree completely. I have two primary school age children, and am astonished by the tiny number of children from their (state) school who go on to the main local schools.  There are two good comprehensive schools within walking distance of my house, but only one child out of thirty leaving the primary school last year went to one of them (and to be fair, someone was stabbed to death outside one of them last week).  Private schools may offer small classes, an ethos of hard-work and decent sports facilities, but their main feature seems to be the absence of poorer people.  It seems to be an instinctive tribalism among affluent people that is subconscious, and slightly embarrassing (even to those who are aware of it), to reject the mainstream, and to wish better for their own children.

It’s the same thing that makes the young fear the old, cyclists dislike cars (and vice-versa) and so on… fear of the other.

And with television, you get some of this too among the people who work in each sector.

When I worked at Westminster Cable TV in the 1980s, I thought ‘terrestrial’ TV was old-fashioned.

At CBS in New York in the 1990s, I rejected cable TV (derivative and parasitical),

At MTV Europe, we rejected breadth (young people and young people alone are the future)

At Channel 4, we wanted to be ‘ahead of the mainstream’ (laggards are lame)

In Asia at Star TV, I rejected the domestic national channels (how zenophobic) and Europe (how old),

In news for international audiences at the BBC, I disliked ‘local’ (isn’t it limited to spend a career looking at only 1% of the world’s population?), and ‘TV as entertainment’ (how shallow)

At ITV, I found the charms of ‘small’ channels a little sad (many of whose programmes get no reported viewers).

And audiences can be like that too.  They often have instinctive dislike or indifference towards channel brands.  Or they come up with all sorts of reasons to like or dislike something.  As I may have mentioned once or fifteen times, they seem to delight in announcing that they never watch ‘live’ TV any more (yeah, right).

And fair enough.. we often define ourselves by what we dislike or don’t have time for, or what we used to like and have moved on from.  I don’t care much for Peter Andre and what he represents (chiselled celebrity) and he (with Jeremy Kyle) puts me off an ITV brand which has been transformed in recent years.   And generally, that’s just snobbishness.  I’m snippy about Sky’s dominance of sport and technology (and despite the excellence of many programmes).  I’m rude about televised football, because I think it takes up the valuable brain space of  smart people (and distracting them from the pernicious reality of wealth redistribution from poor fans to wealthy players).

But when you look at the audience profile for TV programmes, they’re all broadly similar (if anything this is a guilty secret within the industry).  There aren’t the hard-demographic skews between people who watch news, music programmes, or dramas.  No programmes are exclusively watched by privileged people, or even by committed fans. Snobbishness in commissioning is rewarded by failure.  We can all watch what we want, and we all do, and only the programmes that reach out to different types people are successful.  It’s an egalitarian, democratic system.  A mixed development.

And that’s why we all love it.

Big hug.


* Who I met last night, coincidentally.  At a very exclusive dinner party with a strict no-riff-raff entry policy.





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