Trance TV

I love TV. I really do. But my relationship with it is perhaps comparable to Morgan Spurlock‘s relationship with fast food. While he made a documentary about his problem, my way around being a passive viewer and allowing every laugh-track sitom to slide off my consciousness like so much cold porridge, is to write articles about it for magazines and to churn out love/hate blog entries like this one. I’ve been away from TV for a while now, in favour of reading books and watching DVDs (which is a different thing all together) but my flatmate and I were recently given a TV license as a gift. This morning, over breakfast, the glass teat and I got reacquainted.

Never have I heard punk rock discussed in such a blasé, airline magazine fashion as on the BBC breakfast news this morning. “Wasn’t it just a load of old noise?” asks Bill Turnbull like some botoxed and curmudgeonly uncle. “And the spitting? Wasn’t that just unhygienic?”

While Uncle Bill is entitled to his opinions on punk rock or anything else (I actually quite like him as a news reader), could he not make his apparently impromptu observations a little less run-of-the-mill? Given that he’s on the television and going out live to millions, one might even remark that he has a responsibility to give us something that we don’t get from our own goddam dads. There seems little point in turning on the TV when you can get this sort of verbal skidmark from making smalltalk with winos at the bus stop.

A little while back on these pages, I criticised television not for being a governing, trance-inducing technology like everyone else does, but for being so fragmented in its presentation. “Is a week not an arbitrary period to wait for a show’s next installment?”, I asked. This was before I started to read Trance: From magic to technology by Dennis Wier. (There aren’t many good reviews of this book online, but here is an article by Weir, which outlines many of the areas described in his book. Most interesting, perhaps are the sections of this article about TV- and Workplace-induced trances).

Far from being a book of TV criticism or even of cultural studies, Weir’s book details a history of trance in health and the occult. My cohabiting buddy, Stuart is using it as research for his new book on Shamanism. Nonetheless, Weir describes an everyday ‘hypnotic trance’ that many individuals are permanently engaged in. It can be brought about, he writes, by repetition and mundanity:

“Repetition of mantras, the whirling of dervishes, the chanting and drumming of shamans, the repetition of TV commercials all induce trance by limiting your attention and overloading your mind with repeated thoughts”.

So what?, you ask. What’s wrong with switching off and going in for a little escapism? Well, the TV-induced trance is bad because it leaves the client open to ‘trance abuse’: they become sedated and overly susceptible to manipulation. When it doesn’t show you or tell you anything new (it really doesn’t – we love television for it’s predictable storylines and template characters) it can drench you with “Buy! Buy! Buy!” messages: not even subliminal, for the trancee is up for anything TV tells them.

The only way out of this, it seems, is to break the repetition cycle and free yourself from blandness. Turn off the TV. Get a Haruki Murakami or Richard Brautigan book from the library instead. See an unusual film at the cinema. Learn to goddam cook properly. Anything! Just turn it off!

I’m currently involved in a project at the University of Strathclyde intended to evaluate the music pages of the BBC website. Consequently, I’ve been consuming far more BBC drivel than usual. Perhaps that’s why I just forked out money for this and this when there are perfectly good copies in the library.

The BBC website is strange. It doesn’t have to exist. People assume it has some sort of authority since it is the institute that makes all media. But all it tells you about TV shows or bands or movies is stuff that can be found in more detail elsewhere. Fuck, even Wikipedia does a better job most of the time.

So don’t bother with the BBC, kids. It’s rubbish. If you need TV, watch Channel 101 instead.

Trance TV is a very relevant concept for my magazine project. More on this soon.

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