Some context. I was, as best as I can remember, in my sixth or seventh year at secondary school and as part of the General Studies A-Level, there was some kind of communications course that included a test in which pupils were asked to give a talk on some subject or other for the class. I think I was volunteered to do it by the teacher and after improvising a title on the spot, went away and slaved for a few nights to produce something on-topic.
Imagine the scene then. I have a forty-minute morning lesson to fill in front of my class mates many of whom hate me, others who I never talked to and a couple of friends. Neither they or the teacher know what I’m going to say and I’m visibly sweating because I’m not sure if I’m going to get through it, especially since I have no confidence in what I’ve written. The teacher asks me to stand, and I step to the front of the class and I begin to speak:
“ ‘TV Fantasies in the perfect world’. Why did I choose that title? OK, I agree. There was an element of being a smart arse in there somewhere. But after I actually sat down and thought about it I realised I could actually come up with some kind of an argument to answer the following question: ‘Are our dreams and aspirations directly influenced by the media?’ And to answer this question, we must first look at my smart arse title - bit by bit - just like any good old GCSE exam question.What was I thinking and what kind of reaction was I expecting? I don’t understand what half of the above means and I wrote it. Some of it is hilarious for all the wrong reasons and I’m not surprised that I remember people laughing at me during the class or chatting enough that they had to be told off by the teacher. I had included a couple of interactive elements (which I’ve clipped) which involved people describing their dreams which didn’t obviously work.
TV, is we can safely say ruling our lives. Everybody’s got one, even the Queen. Ok, so not everyone nowadays is going to sit down with a good book (and even read it) but when you find out that nearly 35 million people are watching television sometimes, is it no wonder that cinema’s dying? I means it not at though there 35 million are watching anything of quality.
According to BARB -- the ratings experts - East Enders on Thursday of last week got 22.5 million viewers. ‘It’s a good drama’ I’ve been told by a friend whose watched it since the beginning. But when you see that the rival programme is either regional current affairs or a regional news programme -- is there any wonder that the thing got 22.5 millions viewers?
Other top shows include: You’ve Been Framed featuring the most popular guy on tv and Big Break with Mr. Ism (racism, sexism, stoutism). More soap than the Radion adverts and Start Trek -- well perhaps the world isn’t exactly dead. OK so we’ve ascertained what TV is, but what about fantasies?
When I first mentioned the title a few weeks ago, you could almost hear your imagination run riot, when I said this little word (smallish - but size isn’t important). When I say fantasy, I don’t mean the sordid little ideas that filter through from the top shelves in newsagents. I’m talking about dreams.
Everybody has them and we can split them into two categories. The one was have when we’re asleep and the ones we have when we’re awake (although since I turned 17, I’m increasingly under the impression that there isn’t that much difference between the two states).
The dreams you have when you’re asleep you ordinarily don’t have much baring on. According to various the dictionaries that are available, dreams have some kind of hidden meaning. Quite what being an urchin in a shopping mall is supposed to be I haven’t a clue.
The dreams we experience when we’re awake are perhaps a little bit easier to explain. They are the girls or guys we love from afar. The holiday we’ve always wanted to go on. The car we want to own. These the are things that give us something to live for. Our Godot I could say.
But what about the last part - our perfect world. This is something we can never attain. OK - so isn’t as idealist as Plato, but it might come close. I don’t even mean global peace or an end to famine. Each person has their own perfect world they’d want to live in.
For years now mine has been to go to school without there being any bullying or taunting. Perhaps this has something to do with people poking fun at my weight’ all of the time or by my ability to ‘pull the birds’ as one neanderthal put it a few weeks ago. I’ll also admit to pulling people’s leg sometimes -- its all part of human nature -- only some of do it with malice in mind. Lack of this throw back from out cave dwelling days would be my perfect world.
But how does all this develop? I say that it all comes from the small box in the corner with the light behind it. I would say your dreams start developing at about the age of five or six. When I was that age, the only thing I thought about -- the only which mattered to be was becoming a zoologist. I used to love animals and the zoo became a great hang out. That dream died when I cried my eyes out when a puppy was put down live on TV at New Year’s Eve a few years later.
Also, at about the same time, I was running through house with a lightsaber vanquishing Darth Teddy and the smurfs from Endor. The Star Wars phase continued until about 1982 when Return of the Jedi comic ended and the A-Team began blowing up the screen. Also at this time, I remember rushing home every night in the time for the quality cartoon Jimbo and the Jet Set. Season 3 of classic Star Trek was getting its second re-run on BBC 2. I became a fan. I was only a small time fan at that time, but you can see how it’s ballooned and so now my other impossible dream is to love in the 24th century - which might even come true.
That’s because of the afterlife theory put forward by Dr. Inkoran Frobisher. He hypthosised that when we die, instead of meeting the great birded dude upstairs or red hot guy downstairs, we enter a permanent dream like state were we actually live out our dreams. Which means that Ensign Stuart Burns would stride onto the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. This would also mean that Christians will indeed go to heaven, and the rocking dudes could live in an eternal heavy metal concert.
OK, let’s get away from the absurd into the real world.
You are an advertising executive. Big office. Large account at the bank. What you say goes. In the true thirtysomething style, two of your employees come to you with radically different proposals for the sale of Venus Beer. Each one has a well drawn storyboard for a TV ad. The first one is straight out of school and this is one of his first assignments.
His idea is to show beer as it is. A trucker spends the night drinking and gets up the next morning with a hangover. Next, a businessperson drinks all night and gets up in the morning with a hangover. The tag line is: ‘If it’s gonna do this to you, shouldn’t it taste good beforehand?’
The second employee has been working for a while and hand in his proposal. This is a stock advert. Hotel bar full of people. Handsome men and beautiful women all sitting around, drinking, talking, doing the kind of thing men and women might do after they’ve bed a few drinks. Bar empties just leaving just the bottles of Venus on the tables. The tagline is: ‘What a time to go off the bottle?’
Which one would you choose?
The exec sits back for second and then points to the second person. He likes it, but sats he must take joint credit with the first one since he thought up the best catch line of the two - which was ‘If it’s gonna do this to you, shouldn’t it taste good beforehand?’
Why number two? It would appeal to the market the beer is aimed at -- upwardly mobile twenty, thirty or fortysomethings. But is could also appeal to upwardly mobile teenagers like ourselves who hope that this is the kind of thing we’ll be doing in adult life.
What I’m trying to suggest is that advertising people, while trying to create adverts are usually unconsciously creating live we would like to live in - I say usually - because we don’t went to have to bomb around a kitchen in a string vest, or breed dogs for a living, but I’m sure that bright futures might be found in the Ariel/Mothercare young executive, or David Yip and these other two selling Proton Cars. OK, so they are the top of the ladder, but sixty percent or so of the people living in jobs within which this is the pinnacle of their career and besides I’d love to be making the kind of money are when I get to their age.
Now, let me take you to the land of the rising sun. In Japan, talent scours tour schools looking for teenagers who have a certain spark -- something which sets them out from their friends. Beauty is usually that spark. These people are then trained for three months in fame, and then turned into media stars. Of course, this is the a dream come true for the girl or boy next door types, who enjoy every minute of it, appearing on everything from the latest TV game shows to walk-on parts in films to advertising on soft-drinks bill boards.
After about six months, new stars appear and the old ones go back to whatever it was they were doing beforehand (unless they’re offered another job in the media), without any questions asked and forgotten. Why Money for the companies. Immoral? Yes and no depending on your point of view. What does all this have to do with dreams?
Think about it. Two different parties can directly effected in a dream kind of sense. The teenagers of course would be dying to be given the chance for a bit of stardom - for no matter how long. But I suppose the most injured party might be teenagers in the 12-15 year old age bracket - and we all know the kind of thing which takes place at time of life.
Now put that into a larger scale. How many kids experience dreams concerning these corporate ‘idols’, and how many times these dreams are dashed. The whole thing stinks. We could sit back and arrogantly say ‘that could never happen here’.
But it is already happening. Right now, such people do need to have some talent, but slowly our screen are being filled with teenagers who are usually here today and gone tomorrow. Media personalities such as Sonia, The Reynolds Girls and multitude of rap and house ‘stars’. Anyone remember Lina Zavaroni? Aled Jones? Ok, so this group aren’t exactly the stuff of every teenager’s fantasies - but it can’t be too long …
But what about the other type of hype mobile? It for now all to easy for people in the media to enter everyone’s dreams and aspirations both unconscious conscious. Let’s take the hype-queen Madonna for example. In 1984. She sang at Live-Aid and the answer to that name would be Who? In 1991, Cannes in France stopped when she went for a job. Why? Popularity. Why? Newspapers and TV seemed to be have fed on her like leech -- so now she’s like a god and as much of a household name.
And why does she hold such a position? Because the masses read and buy newspapers who treat her like royalty - they give the masses what they want. But why do the masses want the info? Because they like the records. Well maybe -- at the beginning but the beginning, now I believe, it’s gone beyond that - could it now also be because people not only desire her, but also her lifestyle. That she has become an idol? OK, so her popularity started from her records, but what about Michaela Strachan?
She was harassed to the point that might have meant her death by a man who believed that when she appeared on TV, she was actually talking to him personally. I know that he must have been strange in the head (perhaps stranger than me) but it does show what might happen if we lose the divide between reality and fantasy. And as the media develops, the smaller this divide will get -- meaning that these situations will develop even further.
Let me take you again into the realms of science fiction. As NASA right now, a new system is being developed called Virtual Reality - or Virtuality for short. The briefest description is that it is a large piece of computer technology built into a headset which also contains two liquid crystal screens at two points which correspond with where the eyes will go. The screens show what you would see in this computer generated world. You may have seen one on Gamesmaster the other week or Tomorrow’s World last Friday the other week.
Simply put, these give a sensory computer generated world which is totally divorced from our ’reality’. I’m probably not explaining it very well, but, hey, I’m no scientist. Say a company is trying to sell kitchens, but does not have enough room for a show room -- or if they design kitchens made to measure, they merely have to programme the computer and the customer can actually walk around this new kitchen and note any changes they would like to make -- without even having to construct it.
Even though this system is pretty crude, designer hope that in the future it will have a built in full sensory net meaning you will feel the touch of the thing you’re touching in the virtuality world. But they also admit this is the next big step in computer entertainment -- which will obviously go light years ahead by the next century.
I’m no scientist, but I predict that virtuality will go beyond pixels and screens, to the extent of actually placing small electrodes on the temples on your forehead and electrical impulses blocking actual reality and creating a new one in your mind. This new blocker reality will be so exacting that you could not only see what is going on, but hear, smell, taste and perhaps touch your environment. It will be a dream world.
To begin with, you would by yourself, but as the system developed, you could take another personae - even to the point of having a memory built around the personae which you have while playing the game. The first of the extra personae games would be just that -- games. Levels of play and no life beyond the adventure. But as it develops, you would no doubt be living the life of your personae. Imagine being Indiana Jones bombing around for artefacts. How about being a fairytale prince or princess? Stranded on a desert island?
This would also of course all have to be heavily regulated. Film like ratings introduced. Games like a Predator or Terminator conversion will no doubt be produced underground for masochists and the dreaded porno game would be written by perverts and that would be the problem - crazies like the one who went after Michaella Strachen would probably become more of a problem, since reality and game-world might be too close. And there is also of course the addiction factor -- the game world becoming so good, would you want the real world? Drugs would seem mild by comparison.
This is of course in the distant future and might never happen. Right now dreams must stay just that - dreams and perhaps it is best they do stay that way. If you could actually touch your dream -- have your dream - what else would you have? Another dream of course. There can never be a dreamless person - except perhaps even the most rich.
‘TV Fantasies in the perfect world’ was my original title and although I have probably gone off on a tanget a few times, I hope that I’ve given you something to think about. It isn’t wrong to ‘Dream the Impossible Dream’. It’s part of what we are -- and the no matter how far away it seems - we can never give up hope.
There are the pop culture references that date it perfectly. I must have been going through a phase of fancying Michaela Strachan, and so stricken by her predicament was I that I mention her stalker more than once. The eye popping sentence that is: “Media personalities such as Sonia, The Reynolds Girls and multitude of rap and house ‘stars’.” Whatever happened to Virtuality? The fictional scientist Dr. Inkoran Frobisher?
But there is also the fairly surprising bit where I confront my bullies (sort of) and although I’ve laboured the point I wasn’t that wrong about the fragility of celebrity. If only I’d quoted Andy Warhol instead of Plato (oh and I’m quoting Plato?). I’ll let you decide if my writing style has improved and whether I’m any less of a square.
So happy birthday weblog, and here's to another six. Thanks to everyone who's been reading for even some of those years, putting up with my mood swings, poor grammar and obscure interests. Some day, I promise, I might start getting this right.
Just be happy that I didn’t inflict on you the fan letter I wrote to Star Trek: The Next Generation instead. Maybe next year.