Too much aspirational TV is frustrating

For our sins, we’re regular viewers of Gardener’s World. We don’t have a huge garden but it’s nice pottering around in the raised beds, or just generally enjoying nature. Increasingly though, the part of the show that’s relevant to us is around 20 seconds long and comes just before the end credits- the “What you should do in your garden this weekend” bit. The rest of it is filled with the current curse of the airwaves, aspirational TV. Funnily enough I don’t want to see how someone with effectively a small holding manages their variety of pampas grasses or plants their lake. I want to know more practical stuff, like how to keep my buddleia from getting too woody, when to prune my raspberries and why my tomatoes didn’t ripen.

It’s not just Gardener’s World that’s guilty of this, nor the public sector remit BBC though, take a look at Phil & Kirsty and ask yourself in pretty much every instance how a couple that young can afford to spend that much on a property. Especially when you look at the overall decline in home ownership due to supply/demand issues, how high a proportion of property transactions are now in the buy to let area and a million other things.

Too much aspirational telly is depressing; you look at what these people have or have achieved and grumble that you can’t do the same. I’d love to see Phil & Kirsty try to find a house in an outstanding school’s catchment area for a hard pressed family but we’re not likely to see that, it’s all first time buyers Karen and Keith looking at houses up to £400K. I’d like to see Gardener’s World focus more on the practical stuff, that’s much more important than vicariously experiencing someones landscaped grounds but again that’s not going to happen.

In austerity Britain, life is grim, and TV has adjusted by showing us better worlds on our screens. I can take this in the fiction but in the factual programmes? That’s just frustrating.

Drowning in game shows and celeb nonsense

Back in January I wrote about where the cult of celebrity was bringing us to, and to be honest it has only been downhill since then. I’d love to say coverage of the new Labour Party leader’s inaugural party conference speech got off to a flying start but when the BBC’s political editor tweets stuff like this, you do have to despair:

 

But again, is it the fault of television or is television simply holding a mirror up to the society it serves? Bruce Forsythe recently chipped in his tuppence worth of opinion on where the BBC should save it’s pennies after the latest round of savage cuts. He thinks BBC3&4 should be axed. BBC 3 is going online only anyway and if I had my way, BBC4 would be ring-fenced, with anything worth saving from the two “mainstream channels” saved.

As I said to a friend recently, all the BBC channels have shifted one to the right- BBC1 is like the old ITV, full of gameshows masquerading as “reality” shows, BBC2 contains the more “serious” stuff that BBC1 used to show, and BBC4 is the old BBC2.

Some of the BBC’s more popular output is gameshow based but many people may not recognise it: Strictly Come Dancing, The Great British Bake Off, Master Chef, Celebrity Master Chef, The Apprentice, Dragons Den- they’re all game shows but instead of stumping up new contestants every week, the keep the same dreary bunch on for months on end, dropping the least telegenic individual every week, or in the case of Dragons Den, put fake pressure on individuals in a studio environment to make good television.

Old fashioned gameshows have been equally dumbed down to the point where they either have celebs on them or are simple games of chance rather requiring any skill. Some stuff, like University Challenge and Mastermind limp on but generally we’re all doomed now.

I understand the gameshows are cheap to make (aside from the celeb fees of course) but personally I’d rather have less quality television than more generic pap 24 hours a day across dozens of channels. The days I’d watch a documentary on a subject I’m not interested in because it was well made are rapidly vanishing and that’s a shame.

Sexual harassment shouldn’t be the norm

I was reading another depressing article on harassment of women the other day, this time involving jogging. It’s depressing that women can’t even go out for a run without getting cat-called or sexually harassed but ultimately not surprising, and as parents we have a responsibility to make sure we raise kids who know that this sort of behaviour isn’t okay.

When parents let their kids play 18 rated video games or watch 18 rated films, the criticism of the exposure to violence is often the first one that is raised. As a 40 something parent myself, with a long term interest in both films and video games, I’ve long been of the opinion that the sexual violence and attitude towards women in both video games and movies is as much of a problem, if not moreso, than the violence.

If ten year olds are banging prostitutes, and then stealing the money back off them in GTA, or watching 20 year old girls play the love interest to an ageing 50 something action star in a movie, is it small wonder that this only reinforces the attitude they have of women as nothing more than sexual objects that the freely available online porn gives them? Yes, porn obviously is responsible for a lot of the objectification of women that boys and men are exposed to but when the mainstream media reinforces it rather than contradicting it, what are impressionable people supposed to think?

It’s insidious- watch any awards ceremony, interview with athletes, and you’ll see the man asked about his performance/work skills/etc, while the woman will be asked about what she’s wearing, how she balances family life with work or other completely different stuff.

I’m not in favour of ruining childhood and I know I had a free run on a lot of stuff when I was younger but there is definitely something to say about the innocence of childhood.

Reminds me of the old joke:

I was having sex the other day, banging away, when suddenly I stopped mid-thrust and stood really still.
“What are you doing?”
“Something I learnt from online porn. It’s called ‘buffering’.”

It’s funny but does highlight the pervasiveness of online porn and how it affects lads. It reminds me of an article I remember reading about the effects of porn on men- one woman said she had a boyfriend who always withdrew and wanted to ejaculate over her chest/face because he thought that’s what was normal. Yes, that’s the most ridiculous (and probably grossest) thing you’ve read today but I’ve no reason to believe it isn’t true and that’s what makes it all the more depressing.

What is required is a sea change in attitude, something that has to start with us and our kids.

It needs to be done now.

Resources:

 

 

BBC Charter review: how I would change the BBC

There has been a lot in the press recently about how the Government has appointed a person who has shown public antipathy for the Corporation as head of DCMS (department of culture, media and sport). Comment has also been made on how the Government has raided the BBC for £750m to fund the license fee for over 75’s, with cynics querying whether the power companies will be asked to fund the winter fuel payment. The final nail in the coffin of the doomsaying has to be the selection of the Charter Review panel, of which it has been said is clinking with the sound of special interest group affiliation.

I don’t think the BBC is perfect and to lobby for no change on the basis it does nothing wrong isn’t right in my view.

BBC website

One of the big noises that has been made by Government involves the BBC website, which they feel impinges on commercial interests too much. I have a big problem with this. Commercial websites are inherently driven by traffic which in turn drives advertising, which leads to content being written for search engines or in a lot of instances, just for the sake of having new content:

 

The thing is, if you look at the BBC news website (or the sports section for that matter), you won’t find awkward headlines or “list” articles written as click bait or for search engines- the BBC doesn’t need to bring advertisers in, so it can write about the news and sport without having to worry about that aspect of things. Getting rid of something that avoids all the issues that Peter Oborne wrote were the reasons he resigned from the Telegraph (articles about HSBC scandals not run as HSBC were an advertiser, subdued reporting on the Hong Kong protests as China was a big advertiser) would be a big step backwards and a massive boon for the press barons who, like the owner of the Independent did in the days before the election, use their papers to further their own interests.

BBC TV

At times the output of BBC1 looks much like the output of ITV, with trailers for other BBC shows replacing the advert breaks. The current fad for gameshows dressed up as reality TV, celebrity this and that, makeover shows and so on generally means that there isn’t much on before 9pm in the evening. At the same time BBC2 has recently started showing some antiques game show that I’m positive used to be day time television fare. I’m not going to pretend there were halcyon days of perfect television on the BBC in some rose tinted version of the past that never really existed but I would suggest the following:

  1. Ditch 90% of the reality/gameshow stuff from BBC1.
  2. Ditch the majority of panel shows full stop. They’re cheap television, and it’s boring to see the same faces week in and week out smugly reading the same sort of gags off the Autocue. Don’t insult me by even pretending you’re doing to show for points either for goodness sake.
  3. Move over the more populist programmes from BBC2 to the main channel to make up for the loss in programmes. For example, Gardeners World and Top Gear would be BBC1 programmes, a lot of the sit com output could shift to BBC1 with little or no effort. Click could also get it’s own prime time BBC1 show without changing the way it is currently made to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
  4. Bring back all the proper programmes from the ghetto of BBC4 to BBC2. You can tell the difference between a BBC2 and a BBC4 documentary easily- one will be framed as a “whodunnit”, with scientists being the detectives searching for an elusive clue, the whole programme hung on a “story”, which plenty of out of focus dramatic re-enactments, the other will be a straight presentation of the subject at hand, by men with beards who are often painfully uncomfortable in front of a camera.
  5. Use the iPlayer more efficiently as a method of consumption rather than an online catch up service. If a series is running weekly, don’t offer an episode on catch up for 7 days.

Reducing the output by effectively shifting BBC4 back to BBC2, and scrapping a lot of the toss on BBC1 would allow for more focus on quality rather than quantity.

I like the BBC, in theory as well as in practice but there are changes it needs to make to be better. I’m not buying the current Government narrative about the BBC not chasing ratings though, this is a Trojan Horse that will eventually be used as a stick to beat the BBC with; “nobody watches their stuff, that means the license fee isn’t fair.”

Free holidays for parent bloggers- a minefield?

Parent bloggers in the UK are a diverse bunch- we’re in to so much more than just writing about our kids- craft, frugal living, food, and a million other different things- and right now family holidays seem to be very much at the fore. Of course this isn’t anything particularly new; I know a few cruise companies have been sending some parents sans kids on family cruises for years, I’ve been a Butlins Ambassador myself and we’ve been on a “for review” package holiday to a water park in Northern Italy before the kids were in the full time education system. What does seem new (to me at least) is the volume of these offers (enough for some bloggers to start specific family travel blogs off the back of it) and the seemingly intentional targeting of families with kids of school age for trips in term time.

I can sort of see the point of a quick break to see a family resort without the kids (I was invited on this one last year but had to drop out at the last moment due to work commitments) but really, what’s the point of going on a family holiday without your family? Times are tight and I know there is a definite temptation to see a free review holiday as a substitute for actually paying for a holiday but there are pitfalls with this. A lot of agencies don’t realise that bloggers are inherently different from journalists. Journos are paid to do what they do and if a trip is cancelled, they have something else to do lined up at work. They won’t have to explain to three kids that they’re not going on that trip any more.

I’m sure I’m not alone in experiencing the silence from an agency when you email a week or two before an agreed trip, only to find out after more emails and maybe a phone call, it’s not happening any more. It’s not unusual and we’ve come to see any trip like this as an nice bonus of what we do rather than what we do.

The rules law on taking kids out of school during term time are quite clear:

holidays

Penalties start with a fine of £60 but repeated absence (or failure to pay the fine) can lead to prosecution:” You could get a fine of up to £2,500, a community order or a jail sentence up to 3 months. The court also gives you a Parenting Order” (i.e. sends you off to parenting classes).

I’ve politely turned down any approach about a review holiday in term time (for a number of reasons, including our eldest’s need for routine, the fact the school will almost certainly turn it down, and of course the kids educational needs) but I know from reading comments on Twitter and Facebook, a lot of bloggers don’t. Some try to do the right thing and get permission in advance (often with no luck), others just wing it and front up to the school afterwards. My understanding is any school that considers a free review holiday as an exceptional circumstance would be in a distinct minority, which is understandable I suppose.

I’m not going to make comment on whether I think the rules are a good or a bad thing other than I’m sure for every parent that takes their kids out of school and provides them with a wealth of educational stimulation while they’re away, I’m sure there are ten that don’t. It’s unfortunate that responsible people have to suffer for the irresponsible but I don’t see any easy way to sort it out other than the system that is in place.

When a qualified teacher (who wasn’t in a teaching role at the time) took her two kids out of school earlier this year for a trip to Peru, there was a lot of debate when the family was fined. The “they learnt more with me on holiday than they would have in the classroom” argument is a common refrain and one I feel some sympathy with. However, the curriculum is now so narrow and so focused on testing, whatever the kids would have learnt in Peru, whilst benefiting them as people, almost certainly wouldn’t have benefited their school education.

When we go away, as we did over a long weekend that finished with an inset day, there is usually an educational aspect to what we do and see- neither of us are people who like to lounge on the beach or go around theme parks all the time, but even talking to the kids about the stone age and the meaning and  mythology around long barrows doesn’t neatly tick any boxes as far as the school is concerned- it’s about us teaching them additional stuff.

I think a large part of the issue are holiday companies and PR agencies offering these free trips during term time. Whether you look upon it as holidays having a massive premium during the school holidays or being deep discounted during term time, it’s an inescapable fact that the vast majority of trips on offer are in term time. From an agencies point of view it’s understandable- it’s cheaper for them and it also means they have a lead time so any content generated can have an impact on bookings for the upcoming holiday season- but it obviously does cause an issue when it comes to school.

I don’t know what the answer is, I’m not even sure I know what the question is but if you’ve made it this far, I’d love to know your thoughts on the matter.

Museums value in society

I was pointed at a new DCMS report called A review of the Social Impacts of Culture and Sport. It’s a reasonably academic paper but easy to read, that sets out to effectively review research into the social affect culture and sport have on the populace. I’m not particularly interested in the results for sport; they’re fairly self evident from a health and social anthropological viewpoint (membership of modern tribes, the feeling of belonging, self esteem etc) but I am interested in the conclusions on the cultural side, specifically the museum aspect. I am not a museum professional but I am married to a museum professional and know a lot of museum professionals. Heck, I even read FRS (Financial Reporting Standard) 30: Heritage Assets when it came out. But I am an outsider looking in.

The issue the report found with social impact and museums is an odd one. It’s headline finding (p.10) is a little disingenuous:

“The most obvious way in which MLA promotes social capital is through the use of volunteers. “

This is preceded by:

“For social capital, education and wellbeing impacts, the Museums, Libraries and Archives (MLA) literature is more aspirational than evidential, with many references identifying the sector’s potential for social impacts, via MLA professionals’ perceptions, but few providing empirical analysis of the sector’s contribution to social impacts. “

This is all taken from the executive summary and broadly supported by the detail some 90 pages further on:

DCMS report
I find it worrying that the report effectively bases it’s conclusion for the social impact of museums on the evidence it can find, rather than highlighting the apparent lack of research in other areas and calling for more.

Museums find themselves in a difficult position as it is, most lack the funding to do much, and those that can do work in this area, like St Albans Museum’s work with the local Asian Women’s group, certainly lack the funding and resources to publish a paper on the impact it has made.

We’re in danger of having a discussion about falsifiability  with regards to the assertion that the obvious social benefit from museums is derived from the only area that has hard empirical reporting but suffice to say I believe this is flawed.

Perhaps it needs to be regarded in the wider picture of the narrative of austerity and cuts, both at a national government and local government level. The “big society” idea may have talked about social inclusion but at it’s heart it was really about making cost savings by making most professional positions redundant and getting well meaning volunteers in to do the work for free. Big society was and is a main driver of the newly reinstalled (and unfettered) administration’s attempts to cut local government back until it costs next to nothing.

Either way, the social worth of museums has got to be a hell of a lot more than somewhere for people to volunteer.

 

I believe that Children are our future

However clearly the electorate as a whole don’t. This is a shame because the policies that have seen a massive increase in childhood poverty are going to continue unabated. We really are looking at a disenfranchised generation:

  • There are 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK today. That’s 27 per cent of children, or more than one in four.
  • There are even more serious concentrations of child poverty at a local level: in 100 local wards, for example, between 50 and 70 per cent of children are growing up in poverty
  • Work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty in the UK. Two-thirds (66 per cent) of children growing up in poverty live in a family where at least one member works
  • People are poor for many reasons. But explanations which put poverty down to drug and alcohol dependency, family breakdown, poor parenting, or a culture of worklessness are not supported by the facts
  • Child poverty blights childhoods. Growing up in poverty means being cold, going hungry, not being able to join in activities with friends. For example, 61 per cent of families in the bottom income quintile would like, but cannot afford, to take their children on holiday for one week a year.

(facts courtesy of Child Poverty Action Group)

I really wasn’t joking when I tweeted:

 


But it’s all too easy to get bogged down in doom and despair. Do something positive, I’ve just set up a regular donation to the Trussell Trust; they are one of many organisations that run food banks so that people can actually eat. Over 25% of children in poverty have working parents, and even if they’re not working, it’s not their kids fault is it?

You can give here, any amount helps.

Sacking Jeremy Clarkson- a great example to our kids

There’s been lots written about Jeremy Clarkson in the press over the last couple of weeks after the infamous “fracas”. There has also been a lot on social media. One of his columnist chums from the Sun even set up an online petition which had more than 1m signatures.

I can even understand a little how some people have defended him; for example I quite enjoy Orson Scott Card’s Ender series of books. The man himself is a terrible homophobe (for mostly religious reasons I understand) but I put that aside when I’m reading his fiction. People who enjoy Top Gear want to put aside the assault that Clarkson did on a junior member of staff because they enjoy watching the TV show he appears in and I can see the parallel, so it’s not as if I’m immune to understanding what’s going on.

Of course it’s been much worse than people simply sticking up for Clarkson- the poor lad on the receiving end has been subjected to social media hate campaigns (despite the fact he didn’t report Clarkson, Jeremy actually shopped himself)- and it’s not as if the chap was new to the show; he’d worked on it for ten years.

Ten years, imagine if a senior work colleague you’d know for ten years did the following to you:

findings

Via The Guardian

That the media and social media is full of people sounding baffled that the BBC is effectively flushing £50m of foreign sales down the toilet by sacking someone who’s committed common assault, beggars belief. The number of celebs commenting that Clarkson is a character who will bounce back, and offering support for him, is equally strange- it’s not as if Clarkson has been hard done by, he’s lucky plod hasn’t arresting him for assault, so to simply lose his job for what he did is exactly what anyone could and should expect. I’m really disappointed by Hammond and May’s response too. The slightly useless lad bonhomie is ruined by the pair of them expressing their disappointment that assaulting people gets you the sack. What’s the world coming to eh lads?

Reading around it, the assault is bad enough but the tirade about making sure Tymon would be sacked and not work on the show again is also unspeakably horrible. Again, the context is that these are two people who have worked together for ten years.

I’m sad to see the end of Top Gear (in it’s current format) because I liked it. I liked it a lot more 5 or ten years ago before they started recycling jokes and the format got a bit tired but the TG special to the North Pole is one of the finest TV programmes I’ve seen the BBC output; it was genius from beginning to end. But I’m glad that Clarkson has been sacked because I would be completely and utterly stumped if one of my kids asked me “Daddy, why did that man not get into trouble for hitting someone? Is it okay to hit someone?“.

There’s no real answer to that is there?

Bullying is still a real issue in schools, especially among boys, and the idea that a campaign has been run to basically say “as long as you’re popular bullying is okay”, strikes me as exceptionally depressing.

Another breast feeding study is flawed

Of course that’s not the headline. Nobody in the mainstream press will run with that headline and plenty of the uber lactators will be patting themselves on the back smugly, while women who for whatever reason couldn’t manage to breastfeed will feel like the biggest failures on planet Earth. What am I talking about? There’s another new study, this time from Brazil, into the link between breastfeeding and intelligence in babies.

Normally these studies are pretty flawed because they fail to take into account that people in higher socio-economic groups are much more likely to breast feed, and that these families are more likely to spend additional time with their kids that aids their development. It’s chicken and egg- do kids who breastfed do better because they’re breastfed or they have the attention, chances and opportunity afforded to them by class? It’s a control bias that’s hard to remove. The professor behind this study says this has been factored in and everyone has therefore jumped up and down in excitement.

As Dr Colin Michie, chairman of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s nutrition committee, said: “There have been many studies on the link between breastfeeding and IQ over the years with many having had their validity challenged [due to external non-controlled factors].”

However, it looks like this study is equally as flawed, if the initial analysis by Stuart Ritchie, a Research Fellow at the Psychology Department at The University of Edinburgh is anything to go by:

 

 

Basically he’s saying that they should have done an initial IQ test on the mums and didn’t, which invalidates the results because you now cannot tell whether the results are affected by the maternal IQ or not.
This is a subject quite close to my heart because I saw my wife driven to the verge of a nervous breakdown by a plethora of breast is best “experts” when we had our first child. She was made to feel like a second class mother and a failure throughout her breast feeding problems, something that affected her relationship with each of our children in the long term and you can read her view on it all here. Yes, we (well my wife) had a bad experience and I’m sure there are plenty of other people that had great experiences but like most things in life, personal experience colours things somewhat.

On your bike Plod!

I was somewhat aghast to see a report on the news this morning about a 4 year old girl who was effectively menaced by the police for riding her bike on the pavement for the two mile commute to and from school. Obviously she was with her mum and being 4 years old, wasn’t cycling like a nutter but plod told her mum that the girl was breaking the law and further said that if he saw the girl re-mount in his rear view mirror as he was driving away, he’d stop his car, come back and confiscate the bike.

If it sounds too unbelievable to be true, you can read about it on the Independent’s website. Note the presence of stabilisers and how the girl is wearing a cycling helmet- this isn’t some older kid going mad, this is a 4 year old girl.

I have to admit to holding incorrect views of the exact legal position mini cyclists held- I’d always thought that bikes with a wheel diameter below a certain threshold were allowed on the pavement but it turns out I’m wrong, thanks to some 19th century law that was amended by a later 19th century law to ban velocipedes and Penny Farthings from flattening Victorian pedestrians. So, unless it’s a footpath that’s been specifically designated as cyclist allowable by the local council, it’s technically against the law to cycle on the pavement.

What right minded parent is going to let a 4 year old cycle on the road during the morning rush hour?