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Monday 10 December 2018

2017: The News Neverending

  • Television review: 2017 News (All Channels)

Catriona Perry attracts the attention of Donald Trump
Catriona Perry attracts the attention of Donald Trump
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

I watched a lot of things on TV in 2017, but as I look back, the main thing that comes to mind is the News. Not the News on any particular night or any particular channel, but the News neverending, the psychodrama in America and Britain which has enveloped us all.

They are still making TV drama in the old sense, whereby a fictional world is constructed over several episodes, with professional actors and directors and writers doing their best to purge the heart with pity and terror and all that.

I got through one of them before Christmas, the French series Witnesses: A Frozen Death, shown on BBC4, and quite engaging in its French way. There was a serial killer of course, driven by some devil-worshipping notions which persuaded him to murder large numbers of men and to place their frozen corpses sitting in a bus - just like passengers in their seats, except not alive.

He was your standard issue serial killer, putting in the hard yards in terms of pseudo-mystical twaddle, pursued mainly by a charismatic policewoman who eventually gets to him, ahead of every other police officer in Normandy.

Just your mainstream entertainment really, the sort of thing we watch these days for a bit of diversion before building up to the main event which is usually taking place on Newsnight or Prime Time or just the News, any News.

The fact is that two of the great powers of our civilisation, America and Britain, are going through a kind of existential torment. And it is by no means certain that they will come out of this darkness, indeed there is a chance that they will lose themselves altogether in this nationalism which is sweeping through many countries, this epidemic of the most dangerous eejitry.

Against this, the creators of ordinary TV programmes about mass murderers and the like, are struggling. Even your most compelling series will last about 10 episodes, you can be done with it over the weekend. But Trump is out there most nights of the week, every week, and Brexit is running incessantly.

Brexit brought Ireland into the story for a few weeks, with foreign news channels sending their top people to Dublin to stand outside Leinster House, wondering what Paddy was going to do next. There were many anxious moments.

And I don't believe that television is just "covering" these phenomena, in the usual journalistic sense whereby an event happens and the reporters are sent out to describe it. Television makes it happen too, it is the place where Trump lives, it is even the thing that he watches most of the time before he goes there himself.

Without our desperate craving for TV entertainment, these monstrosities could not have grown to their current magnitude. Trump is enormously entertaining, a delinquent out of control who is unique among out-of-control TV delinquents in that his actions can have real-world consequences. There has never been anything like it before.

And he knows it too. He's always talking about "the ratings" as the ultimate measure of the worth of anything, and not just because of his own need for affirmation. It is the response of the TV professional that he is to the core of his being.

There was a recent feature in The New York Times which maintained that Trump told his aides that they should treat each day like it was a TV drama in which, at the end, he vanquishes his rivals. Which is obviously accurate except that each day is not "like" a TV drama, it is a TV drama, with this astonishing ingredient that none of the rest of them ever had - the main man can bring all human life to an end, at any time.

Likewise his Brexit buddy Nigel Farage is a TV character who somehow won a referendum and then just walked away from the consequences of his actions. He, too, has realised that any time spent in the "real world" is time wasted: he just wants to be on the telly.

From this all else flows.

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