Category Archives: Television

TV competitions and how to spice them up a bit.

The French are terrible businessmen. There has just been a competition on French channel M6 for the Belgium vs Italy match saying “To win €100,000, answer this question, what is the nickname of the Belgian team?”

The answer is the Red Devils, like Manchester United. That’s not the issue for me. The issue is the question they are asking for the money they are giving away.

See, if they want to know the answer to that question, they don’t need to spend €100,000. They could just Google it.

They’d get a lot more for their money if they were to ask a more complicated question. For instance “For your chance to win €100,000, answer this question: How do we solve world hunger?” Or “What do you think will finish off the human race sooner? A supervolcano, bees, nuclear war or climate change? Text your answer to…”

Just a thought.

Married at first sight: A review (mainly of the concept)

There was a show on Channel 4 recently called “Married at first sight” in which the basic premise was that a group of psychologists, anthropologists, an Anglican vicar, and so on, would discuss and match up two random strangers, who would only meet on the day of the wedding and see how it would pan out.

It was interesting, I’ll give it that but as a Catholic, I think marriage is a serious, eternal commitment. It is binding yourself to someone for the rest of your life and beyond the grave. It shouldn’t be taken lightly. It certainly shouldn’t be done for entertainment purposes. That, to my mind, devalues marriage.

Obviously, a programme like that that lays bare a dystopian view of marriage, and it has to get past the commissioning editors (the people who pick TV shows) and to do that it was framed as an “experiment”. They framed this experiment as, if two people were matched using scientific methods (like all dating sites use but e-harmony makes a point of saying they use it) then if they had an arranged marriage on the basis of this, would it work?

Now, this is only going to attract two sorts of people. It will attract desperate people and opportunists. They may feign curiosity, but no-one makes a life decision as big as marriage, out of curiosity. Nothing is as involving to a person’s core as the person they share a sexual relationship with. That is the Catholic view, but I have a lot of atheist friends and they seem to share that belief when I’ve shared it with them. Given that it involves something so core, it shouldn’t be the subject of a television programme as these are human beings. Inevitably, someone will, as someone did, get deeply hurt and driven to tears. The programme was well produced and presented but watching the inevitable happen was actually rather unpleasant. I think the science of it is interesting, but in a series such as this, to describe it as anything other than entertainment is misleading. It is called an experiment to try and validate the selatious nature of the show.

If dating sites use this logic, how many times daily are these logarithms run and how many potential partners are identified? Of those potential partners, how many result in them actually meeting, or having a relationship, or an intimate relationship? Crucially, how many people, with time and space given, actually end up marrying the person that the dating site says is best? If it doesn’t happen in the real world, why would it work in a controlled environment? Even when they do, are those marriages successful? It is a naive concept to thing that this would work and could be done ethically and it was opportunist of the show’s production team to exploit that curiosity. People generally don’t end up marrying people as a result of what a dating site says because it is generally a bad idea.

One general rebuttal that I’ve heard in response to this is that if the marriage doesn’t work out, there is always divorce. In my opinion, if divorce is something you are considering on your wedding day, you really shouldn’t be getting married. Marriage should be a rest of life commitment and not something done to get viewing figures.

If indeed, it were a genuine experiment and there was a genuine desire not just to make a television show but to see if an arranged marriage based on dating website logic could actually work, then the ethics must be considered. Given the subject matter of the experiment it would be wise not to use human subjects where possible. This is why, if it were an experiment, it wouldn’t actually need to take place. Given the immense human and emotional hurt, and spiritual collateral damage that could be involved in something like this, it would make sense, if the outcome could be theorized or predicted, not to actually use people in the experiment. In this particular case, it can. The idea for this show experiment actually comes from a Danish show experiment that has been exported globally so that there are several international versions of this show experiment. In all of the other versions the outcome is overwhelmingly similar. In the Danish one, the couples are divorced. In the Australian one, all but one of the couples are separated. The American one is the same. Therefore it does not take much of a leap that in the English one, at least one couple would fail and very few couples, the exception rather than the rule, make it past six months, let alone a year. A marriage failing, however dubiously entered into, is always an emotionally draining and stressful experience, as I can personally attest to having witnessed several of them break down.

In summary, this show has a really interesting concept, but it turns extremely dark and very disturbing when it becomes apparent that these people are being drawn into an obviously doomed situation, one that will undoubtedly damage them, and at that point, the show ceases to be a piece of fun entertainment and just becomes depressing.

If we strip away the illogical instruments of reason from this situation, we examine it logically and pragmatically. If we remove subjective elements from this, such as love, emotion, it can be seen to be hugely damaging in ways other than spiritually or soulfully, marriage is contract. It is a hugely complicated legal contract and one that can be enforced through the courts. Radmacher vs Granatino [2010] UKSC 42 is a legal case that declared that pre-nuptial agreements are not legally binding. There is therefore no guaranteed legal protection for anyone from being legally bound to someone they might not want to be bound to. Signing any document, especially one as legally important as a marriage contract, should always be given due diligence and consideration, and to enter into such an arrangement with someone that one doesn’t know could potentially be devastating. I can’t see how they could have factored the UK’s strict marriage laws into the making of the program.

To quote the Simpson’s “You have given a chance for everyone to express love In its most purest form — a binding legal contract.”

Game of Thrones and why I can’t watch it

I have tried to be one of the popular kids. I have tried to get into game of thrones. I have tried and I have tragically failed. Every time I have watched a snippet (I have never been able to watch a full episode without falling asleep or screaming at the television in frustration) I have always been able to disseminate what the story and twist will be as it is usually ripped exactly from Shakespeare. The Sun Newspaper, that bastion, benchmark and guardian of all that is culturally important to England, and in particular English literature, points out, time and again, that Game of Thrones is basically Richard II. Later plot lines have been ripped from Henry IV Part 2 and Richard III. It is pointless watching something when you know how the story will finish. It is no longer thrilling. The fact that I stayed awake during GCSE English basically means that this holds no truc with me. How nobody else seems to be able to see this I don’t know.

On social media, people keep coming on my timeline saying “No Game of Thrones spoilers”. I say this, if you don’t want Game of Thrones spoilers, don’t Google “the Wars of the Roses” because that will give the whole thing away.

I imagine when they were brainstorming for Game of Thrones, that it went something like this:

“Right, I’ve got an idea. Of all the Shakespeare plays, the ones that people have read the least are the ones about historical Kings of England and the Wars of the Roses. Why don’t we rip them off and pass them off as an original creation? I mean, we’ll have to juggle a few things, like instead of saying “Now is the winter of our discontent” we’ll change the metaphor to “Winter is coming” or something like that, but essentially, if we take those books and just change all the proper nouns, we’ll have ourselves a winner. Of course we’ll throw in the exciting things that Shakespeare left out like sex and gore, because you know, we’re selling this to the lowest common denominator and they need stuff like that to stay interested and let’s throw in a dragon or two to thicken out the story a little bit but I think that should work. We just need a title, something like “Game of Thrones” only, y’know, not so lame…”

EDIT: On June 5th, responding to criticism about how a lot of the characters get killed off, George R. R. Martin wrote an open letter in which he said that Game of Thrones is a toned down version of Shakespeare. It’s very interesting. Click here to see it.

The Big Bang Theory: Sheldon’s fascination with Cornwall, Trains and Computers

I absolutely love the Television show “The Big Bang Theory”. The central character in it, Sheldon Cooper, every now and then references Cornwall. He also references his love of trains. He also references his love of computers and technology.

I grew up in the small Cornish town of Torpoint. Torpoint has only ever given the world one famous scientist, John Langdon Down, who was the first person to properly isolate and diagnose “Down’s Syndrome” which is named after him. I do, however, take a great interest in all of Cornish history, not least its scientific history.

Despite Cornwall’s quaint, idyllic and somewhat spiritual nature, it actually has a proud tradition of scientific discovery. Four of the things that defined the twentieth century, the car, wireless telephony, the train and the computer, were either invented in or significantly developed in Cornwall.

Sheldon and trains

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Outside Tyack's Hotel in Camborne. This was the destination for the first ever journey by automated carriage so is thus home to the world's first ever car park.

When I was younger (in the picture above I was 23) I would make a point of expressing my Cornish heritage. There was a £2 coin out at the time that had a steam locomotive on it. It was commemorating Richard Trevithick. Trevithick is a Cornish name so I thought I would read into him a bit more to find out who he was and what he did. Richard Trevithick harnessed the power of steam in the early 19th Century. He attached it to a carriage making the first ever automated carriage (or car) which was powered by steam. The first ever car journey was from Illogan to Camborne. The locals celebrate Trevithick Day every year to commemorate this. In 1803 he put his steam engine on rails and thus the steam railway was born.

How Sheldon Cooper, with his twin fascinations of Cornish history and trains has overlooked this, I don’t know.

Cornwall’s contribution to Physics

Cornwall is the home of Humphrey Davy. Aside from inventing electrolysis, he also isolated several elements on the periodic table, filling in a lot of the blanks. Penzance’s most famous son even has an element named after him.

Davy also had one of the most famous physicians of all time, Michael Faraday, study under him, fostering a deep connection between him and Devon/Cornwall as well.

Guglielmo Marconi, the father of modern telephony and radio communication developed transatlantic wireless communication and the place that he sent the first wireless message  from Europe to North America was from Poldhu in Cornwall.

These scientists aren’t on the periphery of science but in fact are what most of modern physics is based on. The fact that Sheldon references Cornwall without referencing these scientists in the same breath.

Computing

A mere 25 miles from Cornwall is a small town called Totnes. It is a fairly unremarkable place but it is noteworthy for a very good reason. In the 19th Century, mathematician Charles Babbage came up with the difference engine which is the modern forerunner to all computers. He is often referred to as the “Father of computing” and is a proud son of Devon.

Sheldon, history and Cornwall

The fact that these are specifically Sheldon’s interests, I found it odd that he has never told the history behind these things. That would be understandable but history and specifically the history of science is a passion of his. All the more remarkable is that he has referenced Cornwall several times, one might have thought he would have joined the dots.

Of course Sheldon Cooper is a fictional character, played by an actor, an exceptionally accomplished actor, called Jim Parsons. The character is written for Jim Parsons, so while this loose end isn’t picked up by “Sheldon” it probably should be by the production team.

Barnstaple

I have two engagements in the coming week. I have one in Falmouth and another in Barnstaple. I enjoy exploring and adventures and an opportunity has presented itself for me to go to Barnstaple, and I thought, why not?

I think it is key to find out things about a place before visiting. Towns and cities all follow the same general format in terms of their layout and amenities. There will be a (somewhat underused) market place. There will be a street where all the banks are. There will be a church in a prominent location. There is a general format that all towns follow in a similar pattern. In every place though there will be special secrets that not even the locals know about. I love seeking those out. Towns seem very generic if you don’t know about, say, the almshouse ruins in Exeter, the arboretum in Nottingham, the pockets of the city of London or any number of spots in Plymouth that I’m happy to show anyone who is willing to give me the time to show them.

Coursing through the streets is often a history that doesn’t leap out to the plain tourist. I seek that out. I indulge in it. I engage in it. I love it.

Back on topic, there I was, talking to the friend I was going to visit, about what there is to do in Barnstaple, what there is to see, what secrets there are to unearth. They drew a complete blank. My next point of reference, Wikipedia. I didn’t find anything other that a history going back to a pre-medieval settlement and a few beauty spots. Nice though they were, not really what I was looking for. Then I found it, under the notable residents section.

Former England Rugby Union international Phil Vickery, is from Barnstaple. Former Director of Sotheby’s and the presenter of Bargain Hunt and Going for a Song, Tim Wonnacott is also from Barnstaple. Controversial social troll Katie Hopkins is also from Barnstaple. Another notable Barnstaplian is the Thin Lizzy guitarist Snowy White. Here is a full list of notable people from Barnstaple but I couldn’t top it off without a mention for the most notable serial killer ever to come out of Devon, Rose West, who was born in Barnstaple on the 29th of November 1953.

With all of these people, logic states that they must be from somewhere. They must have been born and raised somewhere and generally people don’t give it a second thought. I never thought they’d all be from Barnstaple though. I was in hysterics. I said to my friend “That’s it! Haha! I have to go to Barnstaple. I have to see the town that has spawned all these people.”

After my giggles had died down my friend said “Tim Wonnacott, Phil Vickery, Snowy White, Katie Hopkins and Rose West, what an awesome episode of Bargain Hunt that would be.” Of course, at that point I was gone.

I’m looking forward to it though and if any Barnstaplians want to throw in any tips of what to see, where to go or what to do, please feel free to do so.

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The Castaway Files: What teenage girls did before Social Media – Teen mags of the 90’s

When I was clearing out I discovered this blast from the past. There is a moral panic that occurs these days due to the ease of access that impressionable young girls have to the internet. I refuse to believe that this curiosity is a recent phenomenon and this can be confirmed by one thing that I found when I was clearing out the flat prior to a move.

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Where teenage girls used to go for inappropriate advice before Yahoo answers

The family member to whom these belonged was about 12-13 and an Irish Twin so it doesn’t take much maths to work out who it was, but even in a Catholic family (where you’re made fully aware of the “facts of life” from a very young age) these were hugely top shelf.

In my mum’s day it was playground tittle tattle that opened people up to this, in my and my sister’s day it was magazines like this that stepped in to fill the void between curiosity and fact. Now, I would say that social media and pornography (incorrectly) fill in most of the blanks.

Having given these magazines a thorough review, one can deduce certain facts. Principally, that 3T are “lish” (they were a short lived band made up of three of Michael Jackson’s nephews) as are 911 but the best was Paul Nicholls. These magazines seem to rave about him. You remember who Paul Nicholls was surely? He played Joe Wicks in Eastenders? Suffered from Schizophrenia? Went properly crazy? Eastenders won huge acclaim for his portrayal. He was quite the teenage pin up.

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A closer inspection of what is on the front reveals, far from the moral panic that exploded at the time, these represent what we would describe as tamer influences on a teenage girls life. Sure there is the odd “How to tell if a boy fancies you” but interspersed between that a competition to win one of 300 BT phonecards (remember them? Look at the top of SHOUT magazine) there are stories with sound morals such as “Cocaine messed up my life” and one of these has an exposé on HIV and other diseases to make sure girls know the facts.

I think it shows how vastly contemporary attitudes can change in twenty years. These at the time were seen as horrendously bad influences. Now we would see them as good influences. If I were a parent I would rather my children saw this than half the horrors they’d be exposed to on the internet. I suppose that’s the way the mop flops.

Anastasia, the film, and Rasputin

I caught the film Anastasia on film 4 this afternoon.

This film portrays Rasputin as an evil man who wanted to murder Anastasia Romanova but in reality he tried to secure a truce between Russia and the central powers which would have ended World War One far more quickly. Far from him wanting to murder Anastasia, Anastasia’s brother in law, most likely killed him.

If we add this to the fact that he was Prince Alexei’s main carer and looked after most of the Romanov children. He was a good friend to the children, occasionally, how close he was to them drew concerns, but there was never any malice or bad intentions perceived. He had no part in their death and spent his life trying to keep them safe, so why would he want to kill them?

Questioning the historical accuracy of this film is an easy task, not least because this film was made in 1997, when the historical myth that Anastasia had escaped the Bolshevik secret police somehow and was living in hiding was prevalent to the point of being accepted as fact. This proved untrue when Anastasia’s body was found in woods outside Yekaterinburg in 2011.

What I found of huge significance though was the evident agenda and bias portrayed throughout the film. The film portrays Russia as a land of glory and jewels but the revolution happened because the poor were starving and living lives of hardship and poverty at the expense of the opulent lifestyles of the ruling classes. Battleship Potemkin was a mass propaganda piece and while I don’t seek to glorify or dismiss the social human cost of Leninism or Stalinism in Russia, I feel the status quo at the time in revolutionary Russia was so unequal that it could not be maintained or sustained. This film is made my 20th Century Fox, and promotes and endorses a top heavy society where wealth is hoarded by a few individuals. I find that the best way to find out the opinion of an organization, particularly a media one, is to witness their retelling of a true story and see what perspective they tell it from. Disney often puts a slant on social justice and anti-authoritarianism. I find it funny that as soon as Fox gets their hands on a story about the Russian Revolution, the children’s hippy carer and spiritual leader is an evil murderous psychopath, the orphanage leader is a bitter money hungry woman and the heroes are the servants of the Russian Court. I find it a clear endorsement of capitalist royalism in stark constrast to Disney’s communist values which I find hugely interesting.