I find myself unmoved by all the fuss about the “death” of the Malcolm Pointon in Paul Watson’s documentary on Alzheimer’s. OK, probably we should all wait till we have seen the programme (Malcolm and Barbara: love’s farewell) before pontificating. But according to the reports, the programme ends with Malcolm closing his eyes and slipping away. The message is pretty clear: he dies. It is only prurience on the part of the viewer to want to know whether we’ve just watched him falling into a coma or really dying.
I should add that I have never imagined that television phone-in competitions were anything other than “fixed”, at some level. And I’ve always known that premium rate phone numbers were making money for someone who was not me. So I am fairly unmoved by that scandal too. I suppose I was bit taken aback that it went as far as Blue Peter – though, since the revelation that they had done a surreptitious dog-swap in the early 1960s so as not to have to confess to the viewers that “Petra” had actually died, it has been fairly clear that the usual standards apply to them as well.
What I find more surprising is that so many people seem to imagine that television can serve up unmediated “reality”.
As any Media Studies A level student would know (and there’s a good argument here for having more of that much-maligned subject not less) television and radio do not serve up unmediated “reality”. It’s not that they don’t deliver truth, but it’s not – and cant be – the truth of the “real” world.
This is brought home to you pretty strongly if you’ve ever been one of those talking heads on a television documentary. It’s not that you didn’t actually say the things that you are broadcast saying (they are not that clever with the CGI yet) – but you probably didn’t say it in quite that order, or in quite that context.
It often goes a bit like this. You say: “Of course, ancient sexuality was in all kinds of ways more free and laid back than our own, but what you really have to remember is that it was also governed by rules that we don’t have – so that on balance I’d say that the Romans were actually more ‘repressed’ than we are”
What is broadcast? “Of course, ancient sexuality was in all kinds of ways more free and laid back than our own.”
I’m not complaining particularly. After all, most of us go into this with our eyes open – and anyway we should probably learn to speak in snappier sound-bites, so that the key second half of our complicated sentences cant just be cut out.
But no more are you getting the literal truth of what Mary Beard said, than you are getting the actual moment of the death of Malcolm Pointon. The question is whether it’s “truthful” in the representational sense of the word?
My gut feeling is that the Pointon film passes that test. That the Queen being shown apparently stomping out, when she was in fact stomping in, doesn’t.