Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Sunday, July 30, 2006

On the missing narratives, when we say goodbye

Prompted by the UK departures, at least, of Top of The Pops and The West Wing. Neither farewell was particularly sudden, nor tear-jerking, perhaps except around the margins (and the resurections of the DJ dinosaurs of Smashie and Nicey Fab FM provoked tears of a wholly different kind).

We mourn the what might have been for those characters that we have come to love, and we feel jealous and excluded at the unwritten future to come for them (and perhaps angry at the scriptwriters for not doing more). Hence why actually the most exciting moment of the WW departure was the prologue to season 7 opener 'The Ticket', when we jumped forward a few years to the opening of the Bartlett presidential library, and saw CJ and Danny together, plus Toby at Columbia, Josh still about (which meant, no, he couldn't have won?) and so on.

The 'What's next?' that Santos said as he settled behind the desk in the Oval Office suggested that there would have been more than enough steam for the WW to take on the new presidency. But times have changed, and in a sense the show didn't; it never did fully adapt to the Christian conservatism version of Republicanism currently in the White House.

But we also mourn for when TV programmes that we have long-watched don't fully and faithfully reflect back to us the narrative of our lives that we have constructed with it.

The surprise with the long-predicted demise of ToTP was precisely that it had held on for so long. As far back as the 25th anniversary, it was thought that the dance music revolution had put paid to groups and bands and artists. Of course it wasn't the case, but something had broken down, and did so definitively when it was decided that music on TV wasn't a ratings winner in its own right, but instead that the audience could be thrown away in a a 'dead slot' against Coronation Street. Making people choose which aspect of pop culture they want to immerse themselves in is never the best of ideas.

What struck while watching this evening's hastily thrown together recording (and not one artist live - the inert opposite of what a good wake should be... actually what that should read is that not one artist had the good manners to say thank you and goodbye in person [Primal Scream being the hypocritical exceptions the previous week]) was how, in its deaththroes, ToTP had been reclaimed as the outpost of light entertainment that it always actually was.

Those of us steeped in music had always thought it was about something deeper or at least more important (because, y'know, this stuff matters). But as it turned out, we had been wrong: the show was actually about tinsel and glitter and balloons and wigs and embarrassed shuffling and end of the pier jolliness, and the music was a sideshow - at times centre stage - but never really all that important. Evidence? That every decade was afforded a round-up of music and artists, and the narrative of alternative, independent music (of whatever hue or genre) barely made it, until the later years, when of course, the counter-culture no longer existed. Let's put it this way: 'The Birdie Song' made it into the round up; Sham 69 didn't.

More fool me? Well, yes of course. But British pop consumers always knew that ToTP was the yardstick - if your band got on there, it was an illicit thrill, a frisson that somewhere else on the isle were people who liked what you did. Now of course with interweb thingy, you can find those people in a snap. But back then, Ride appearing meant that, gosh, at least 70,000-odd other people liked them too. An unrealised community, linked by lights, and wires.

And the demise of the show doesn't quite ring true. As we were reminded the show and its format has been sold to well over 100 other countries. How come in those far off places music on prime time TV is not in declining health? And if public service broadcasting cannot encompass popular music on terrestrial TV, then maybe the age of PSB is well and truly over.

Anyway, what is next? Well, the teaser promos that More4 ran for Aaron Sorkin's new project, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and the promised appearances of gilded members of his semi-regular repertory company, suggest a new Network or an old Larry Sanders. And while music on prime time is no more, music on TV at every other time is more and more and more. It just won't be a part of everyone's larger narratives as it once was.

Music and grand stories, the bonds that help to hold us all together, lost a little strength this weekend. And so popular culture becomes narrower, and we lose a little more of ourselves and become more atomised.


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