Thursday, 25 November 2010

Doing it on purpose.

With some uneasiness, and a couple of proviso's, a TV entered Tan-Y-Fron yesterday.

Quite pointedly, the digibox did not and hopefully will not. So no live broadcasts. It's just a big screen, for occasional use.

As in, if it gets used, it will be used for a definite occasion. Maybe not a big one, like last night's viewing of a double bill of Brain of Morbius and Toy Story 3, but not channel surfing.

One of our number in the house expressed concern that she didn't like TV because of her own problems in resisting just sitting and watching ANYTHING... which I can completely relate to.

(See also resisting just eating ANYTHING in my case. Easy fake temporary satisfaction, I guess.)

So the TV is going to become like a freshly baked cake, or that one book, or a board game... rewarding, but not entirely convenient enough to be taken for granted.

As usual, this is firing some other thoughts in the butterfly brain, so hang on...

Doing it on purpose.

Speaking personally, whenever I do something "just because", it's unsatisfying. Watching whatever's on TV. Eating whatever's in the fridge. Scanning through chunks of my rss feeds. Most casual PC games.

Making time, making effort, doing things on purpose, much better. Writing. Most boardgames. You get the idea.

Thing is, some things can be done either on purpose or just because. Some people play RPG's because, well, it's what we do every Thursday. Some people have sex, or get married, or go to church, or don't go to church, or send their kids to school, or vote for a particular party, just, you know, because.

Some people do some of those things "just because" sometimes and "on purpose" sometimes.

A couple of years ago, there was talk on The Forge RPG site about "playing on purpose", trying to break through the old saw of RPG's being 20 minutes of fun wrapped up in three hours of play. There was some resistance to it from some quarters, a lot of it sounding a bit like Mrs Doyle, when faced with a tea making machine that "takes the misery out of making the tea"; "Maybe I LIKE the misery!"

But really, most of the time, doing stuff without doing it on purpose is, yes, easier. But so much less fulfilling, possibly less worthwhile.

Now excuse me while I drink the HELL out of this GODDAMN COFFEE.

The truly Bizarre notion of National Events.

In the last few years, noting the proliferation of TV channels, alternative viewing options, timeshifting, YouTube, etc, there have been periodic paeans to the notion of the National Event That Everyone Watched on TV.

The Royal Variety Show. Royal Weddings, Funerals and Bar Mitzvahs. National Football Matches. The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show. The Moon Landing. Live Aid.

The fact that we don't all do the same thing at the same time as a nation is supposed to be a damning indictment of Thatcher's, Blair's, Brown's Cameron's Britain. "How can we have a national identity if some people aren't watching EastEnders," seems to be the implication.

It's all quite silly, and the more you think about it, the sillier it gets.

Widespread TV ownership, say 1960 for argument's sake (enough that getting to see this kind of event TV could be taken for granted).

Widespread fracturing of TV viewership, say 1995 for arguments sake (enough options that the terrestrial stations start to sweat).

So that's what, 35 years of national unity imposed by Big Brother screens?

What did we have before that arbitrary 1960 date? For one thing, tighter local communities, for all the good and bad that implies.

There were national events, sure: Royal weddings, coronations, war and peace, but these were celebrated and felt not as individual households plugged into a massive national identity, but as part of a community that was tangibly celebrating, commiserating, panicking, or protesting within arms length of each other.

(Obligatory sidetrack into mentioning a scion of my mother's side of the family who spent VE parading a sign saying "Churchill Is A Warmongering Bastard". Don't accept myths of national unity of opinion at face value. And remember Winnie lost the post-war election.)

Having conditioned us to interact with the national consciousness via a TV screen, when the viewing is fragmented, so will national identity.

And to an extent, good. That level of implied national unity, even on just a cultural level, is historically speaking downright odd.

And some communities only exist through screens. And if you're reading this, you're part of one of them. Hi.

So yes, I think this sort of national unity is a) bizarre and b) on the way out, and I'd like to think it will at least partly be replaced with a new form of the old community spirit, some of it virtual, some of it of necessity physically local.

In fact, to be frank, in the long term it's the only sustainable way. And it's pretty much been what the evolving brain has created in a feedback loop with other evolving brains over a lot longer than the 35 years of "One nation under TV". We're badly adapted to being in a community of 40 million, never mind eight billion. A couple of hundred (you know, like the average Facebook friends list, or what you can just about fit into a village hall) seems to be the human brains' median social comfort zone.

Which makes me very suspicious of anyone trying to sell the truly bizarre notion of National Events.

Which makes me happier that we've left the digibox behind.

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