Friday, 23 September 2011

If I Had To Be Trapped In A Lift With Any Of Them, I'd Pick James May

The woman sitting opposite me in the pub rolls her eyes at the news and groans, 'I might have known you'd pick him' she says, 'he's soooooooo boring'

The fact that this conversation is now coming up to two years old should tell you something about the capacity my brain has to niggle over things long since said, particularly things that irk me or that I wish I could have said more eloquently.

But let us go back slightly and explain for the benefit of those reading this who may be wondering whether the Hungry Pixie hasn't finally lost what few marbles he had.

Back in the 1980s, and even as recently as the 1990's Britain had a motor industry.  In fact there was even a time when we were the leaders of the world when it came to car production.  Back in those halycon days there was a BBC programme by the name of Top Gear.

This programme should not be confused with any current programme of the same name - because they bear about as much relationship towards one another as...well...two entirely disparate things.  The Top Gear of the 80's/90's was a serious motoring programme that actually served as a guide to buying a good car.

Then the British motor trade collapsed, or rather self-imploded spectacularly in the style of an ego-centric Rock star: forever demanding more of a cut of the profits, refusing to record a new single or to tour and finally overdosing in a hotel room after being found in bed with a young pretender.

And as such Top Gear had to change.  In came a new presenting team and a new feel.  Out went fact and in came crazy challenges, controversy and humour.

Three presenters were chosen.  Former journalist and opiniated oaf Jeremy Clarkson, former DJ and all round short angry person Richard Hammond...and finally, the classically educated Degree in music holding James May.

Don't get me wrong - I actually quite enjoy the new-look Top Gear.  It's knockabout humour and endless daft antics of the presenters make for good entertainment, however for various reasons I am unable to watch either of the other two for any length of time when they present programmes alone.  Clarkson takes a certain amount of pride in his boorish and occasionally rude behaviour, Hammond is just a bit too aware of his looks and thus comes over as slightly false.

But what irks me most about the programme, and thus is the reason for me picking May as the one I would chose to be trapped in a lift with: is the way that the programme, and lots of others on TV nowadays, seems to wear its ignorance on its sleeve as something to be proud of.

Whenever May, nicknamed Captain Slow due to his rather cautious and careful driving style, starts spouting facts the camera inevitably pans away and a comment is made about how dull it all is.  When faced with a glorious view of some ancient edifice the crew of the show are only ever able to comment on how fast their cars can go and can find nothing to say of the history or current state of the place they are in.

Exactly when, I would like to know, did it become embarrasing and boring to know things and to be interested in learning new things?  Why are we so keen to encourage ignorance over advancement?  Why are we so afraid that if we show anything on TV that requires the use of our brains - people will immediately switch off.

This is, of course, no new phenomena - since the dawn of time anyone with half a brain has been ridiculed in entertainment.  Science students are shown as being "dorks" hiding behind their glasses, incapable of social intteraction - whilst the dumb quarterback unable to construct a coherent sentence gets all the girls.

It seems then that we, as a society, are forever cautious of people who take the time to learn and be interested in things and would rather ridicule those that have aquired knowledge than take the time and effort to acquire knowledge ourselves.

And meanwhile our TVs and our instant-fame cultures seems to promote that its ok to be an idiot - talent shows like The X Factor tell us every week that you can be a neanderthal throwback with all the intelligence of a can of peas and it doesn't matter - because being famous for being thick and useless is just as good as being famous for achieving something.

Surely it is time to re-evaluate this?  Personally I have a great many friends who have interests in all sorts of things and can quote chapter and verse on aircraft engines, IT protocols - hell even Toastmaster rules and regulations.

I may not always understand their knowledge or passion for their subject - but I hope that I will, at least, always be able to appreciate their drive to advance - to take the time and effort to learn something new...and that maybe, and by association, I may be able to learn something new too.


Argent said...

There is indeed a prevailing air of 'brainy is boring' going about. I'm not sure how we would get this changed. Clearly, we need more programmes and articles showing intelligent people in a more positive light. 'Boffins' are either hopeless geeks or super-villains, it seems.

I agree people should be feted for geniune achievement rather than 'getting them out' on telly or something equally banal.

On the other hand, I have worked with people who are so stereotypically geeky - complete with inability to talk to other humans properly - that it's always going to be a hard one to shake off (and they are fun to mess with!).

I do love the 'new' Top Gear, as a car-related entertainment show, it's great. I'll never have a car so don't care what's good or not.

Nah, just keep learning and enriching yourself, that's the only way to go.

Gorilla Bananas said...

Heinz Wolff was a brainy fellow who was popular with the masses. Patrick Moore too. Being an eccentric with a funny accent seems to help.

The Bug said...

In the U.S. South I grew up in people (especially religious people) were very suspicious of anyone considered to be an intellectual. Why, intellectuals quit believing in God! No no, can't have our young people LEARNING things!

Sadly, I think it's still the same, at least based on some of the ignorance I've seen in southern politicians :)

Titus said...

Oh yes, yes, yes. The number of science and mathematics programmes I've watched in the past five years that could tell me in ten minutes what they actually take an hour to show, due to some bizarre need for mind-blowing graphics and quite insane recapping of what they've just told you every fifteen minutes.

The art ones are quite good at the minute though. I like Waldemar and Andrew Graham Dixon-double-barrelled.

And I thought hamsters only lived for two years. Some hope.

Argent said...

Oh, yes, The Code is a good case in point. An hour-long programme with 15 minutes of content, whst with the re-capping and Marcus du Sautoy moodily staring into space. Was really hoping for something better.

Friko said...

Come come, Pixie, I think you are exaggerating. Perhaps you are watching the wrong channels?

Top Gear is meant to be about three overgrown boys playing with toy cars and having fun. I've only seen it because I was forced to, about 3 x altogether, but that is what it looked like to me.

There are plenty of good programmes about all sorts of sciences, the arts, music, geography, even decent current affairs. And all without having to pay the morons at Sky.

I NEVER watch reality shows or any of the water cooler shows. I'm lucky, I don't need to know about them, I'm old!

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Argent - yes, geeks do exist - but i think its the supposition that a certain type of interest brings inherrant geekiness. Football = cool, sci-fi = geek.

GB - both good examples, can i just counter with the modern day Robert Winston whose programmes tell you precicely nothing

Bug - yes, i think religion can be afraid of us learning things because we might begin to ask questions

Titus - yes they do stretch out ideas beyond the point of breaking

Friko - there are some decent programmes out there - but i think in general there seems to be a downslide in story telling and the information being provided is much more straight forward incase we don't get it.

Top Gear - i watch it all the time and DO like it, but sometimes it does make me want to throw my telly out of the window

Juliette said...

Well I like opinionated oaf's myself. I must admit that Top Gear has a more 'reality TV' feel about it what with all their junkets but it's still worth an hour.

Watch Stephen Fry's planet word instead.

Michael said...

Do you know the Violent Femmes? The song called "Lack of Knowledge?"

You inspired me to listen to it just now.

I believe, ahem, that the really smart people are the ones who work in the background with the puppet strings (i.e., Top Gear's producers) and rake in all the dough from entertaining those who mock the intelligent.

I love all three characters on that show because of the way they act together. It's the proximity and interaction of all of them (Stig too) that makes the show so entertaining.

I won't tell you who my favourite is. :)

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Juliette - Yes Stephen Fry is a bastion of wisdom in a desert of ignorance and I am much looking forward to watching Planet Word

Michael - yes i do agree that the three of them together do have a certain appeal. And not forgetting The Stig either!

Now i'm wondering which one you picked...

Stephen Hayes said...

I just started watching Top Gear and I find it rather enjoyable. I'm not at all interested in cars although my son is an avid car buff. We've finally found a program we can enjoy together. We laughed out loud at the episode where the guys had to ride cheap motorcycles the length of Vietnam. Sure, it's rather scripted, but still great fun. I'm enjoying your blog and looking forward to more.

Lydia said...

Your commentary is excellent and would make a great newspaper article. While you are considering whether or not to submit it, I offer for your viewing astonishment the following:

The Best of Jaywalking (shown on the "final" Jay Leno Tonight show prior to his bumping Conan O'Brian out of the show and himself back in as host), and

more stupid people on Jay Leno.

It is a sad statement on our times and it seems that being dumb is practically epidemic.