Sunday, 4 March 2012

Pundit groupies

It seems to me that one of the characteristics of our culture is the way celebrities extend the boundaries of their celebrity. They involve themselves in areas outside the one where they earned their celebrity status, particularly the area of punditry. Added to that and coming from the other direction, we have pundits who need to be celebrities in order to be counted as proper pundits.

We’ve all seen entertainers willing to give their views on anything from green politics to armed conflict to criminology. There’s nothing wrong with it in moderation of course, but I do wonder if there is a tendency for it to crowd out serious debate. 

It’s not so much the sheer number of celebrities scrabbling for our attention, but the way celebrity culture threatens to become the only culture.

For example, Polly Toynbee, the Guardian columnist. Somehow it has become mildly important to refute or agree with her material, even though the quality of her output is variable and rarely rises above the level of predictable.

Or the BBC Radio 4 programme Today. It has become a kind of celebrity news outlet, yet again it is predictable and to my mind limited and uninteresting. But people listen and often feel the need to take it to task over aspects of its output. Why? The programme is second-rate and formulaic - it needs no refuting.

The audience
I’ll labour the idea because the point I want to make is one about audiences. Who is the audience when celebrity pundits air their views like this? I see them as celebrity groupies who seem to rely on celebrity pundits for a kind of newsy entertainment instead of doing their own investigations.

To my mind, the weirdness of celebrity pundits and their groupies is seen at its strangest in programmes like BBC Question Time. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s a kind of current affairs show with David Dimbleby in charge. An groupie audience is invited to lob questions into a panel of pundits. The point of the show seems to be topical entertainment - nothing more.

Anyway, to me, the weirdness stems from the way the audience turns up be entertained by celebrity pundits. But who in their right mind cares what TV pundits actually say? They speak well, but only to promote their own brand of pundit-style entertainment. 

Well I find it weird anyway.


Macheath said...

This subject always reminds me of a speech from 'A Comedy of Errors':

"The time was once when thou, unurged, would'st vow
That never words were pleasing to thine ear,
That never object pleasing to thine eye,
That never touch were welcome to thy hand,
That never meat sweet-savour'd to thy taste
Unless I spake, or looked, or touched, or carved to thee."

The media are, deliberately, I think, busy trying to convince us that we need to follow where a celebrity has led - a refinement of the herd instinct, if you will - which makes us easier to control, and to sell to, whether it be handbags or political opinions.

Bloggers, or at least the emlightened souls in your sidebar, tend to be of a maverick disposition, and thus best placed to observe this creeping phenomenon.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Agreed, I gave up watching Question Time years and years ago.

It wasn't the politicians who annoyed me - I am in awe of their talent for lying and obfuscating and making it up on the spot, it gets you a lot further than being painstakingly honest - it was the bloody "general public" who prove themselves time and again to be terrifyingly stupid.

Sam Vega said...

I think the pleasure that the audience gains is mainly due to the format being gladiatorial, albeit in a very stereotyped and pallid way. They want to see Polly speak truth to power, or show herself up for the rich clueless moo that she is. It is the emotion, rather than the opinion, that is the draw. Hence the popularity of talent shows which have a similar adversarial format. People watch this televised rubbish in the same way that they will gawp at rows over parking places or the drunk couple bellowing details of infidelities at one another.

At least I think the do. I threw my TV away years ago.

A K Haart said...

All - crikey, these comments are better than the original post!

I'm a very infrequent TV viewer, so my take is like yours - the celebrity culture being a major reason why I left it behind.

I still puzzle over those who haven't though.

James Higham said...

The groupies are swaying like the long grass - whichever way they're told the political climate is blowing. The media fuels it, as the only contact with Thought these groupies have.

A K Haart said...

JH - and some of them join the main political parties and keep the crazy show on the road.