#oneaday, Day 241: The Gogglebox

Television is generally a good indication of what to expect from a country’s culture. Of course, it’s not the be-all and end-all of their cultural output. Thank God. But it does give some indication of the values of that country, the things they find entertaining and their general outlook on life.

Tonight I happened to catch a little bit of possibly the most uninspiring quiz show I’ve ever seen. It takes the very essence of England and Englishness—grey boringness; small talk about grey, boring things; reluctance to show any sort of enthusiasm whatsoever—and turns it into a spectacular example of how to get what is a pretty well-established format amazingly wrong.

The show is Eggheads. It appears to pit a team of clever people against a team of “Ha! They’re from the public! They must smell awful!” people. Presumably it’s intended to be some sort of triumphant David and Goliath situation, with, at some point, the team of great unwashed defeating the people with two brain cells to rub together.

There’s one very simple thing this programme gets wrong. Tension. Quiz shows are made by their tension. It can be created in many ways, and for many, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is perhaps the best example, as it uses all of them. Music. Audience reactions. A host who milks the situation for all it’s worth. None of these are things that require lots of money and flashy effects to produce. They simply require a bit of personality. And, crucially, an audience.

Eggheads doesn’t have an audience. This means that even the most spectacular victory scored by the hoi-polloi is greeted by absolute, complete and utter stony silence. And this means the participants have no energy whatsoever. If they won, they’d probably just nod their head sagely and go “oh, thank you.”  It’s the televisual equivalent of when you find yourself sitting outside the headmaster’s office and all you can hear is the ticking of a grandfather clock. Assuming you went to the kind of school that had grandfather clocks in it.

Contrast this with even the most cheap and nasty of American game shows and you’ll see a very different side of things. You’ll see participants whooping, hollering, cheering, jumping around and generally acting like they’re happy to be there. Of course, you have to be in the right mood to find this entertaining, as overzealous enthusiasm can be just as grating as stark boringness if you’re in the wrong frame of mind. But it somehow seems rather more appropriate for the game show format than what I witnessed tonight.

As for Japanese game shows? They do stuff like this. Kind of like The Generation Game. But, you know, good.

#oneaday, Day 226: Crossing the Musical Pond

Being in contact with people from all over the world is cool. You get to learn all sorts of interesting things about other people. Granted, the vast majority of people I know from “other” parts of the world are in the US and Canada. But despite the fact that many people believe the UK and US in particular to have a lot of similarities, one thing often comes up that reminds me that we are, in fact, different. And that’s music.

I was talking to a new friend the other night. She lives in the mountains in Georgia (that’s Georgia, US), a place where she says they didn’t even “discover” rock music until very recently. Up until then, it was country, country, country all the way. I found it strange to contemplate the idea that an area would just be completely without a style of music that I take for granted.

But then it occurred to me. This happens all over the place. She educated me a bit in the ways of country—a style of music she’d only grown to appreciate recently herself—and I realised that over here, barring occasional anomalies like Shania Twain’s brief incursion into the UK charts a few years back, we really don’t “do” country over here. At least, not in any sort of mainstream way. We have other things instead. And we have equivalents for different areas.

Okay, so rural English accordion-based folk music isn’t exactly the same as country. But it’s music from rural areas. The intent is the same, if not the execution. Similarly, urban music in the UK shares some stylistic features with urban music from the US, but comes out rather differently. (I don’t like either of them, which at least is something constant.)

In fact, about the only thing that is the same, as I allude to oh-so-subtly above, is the bland, manufactured pop crap. Some whiny twat with a stool and a spotlight bleating on about “oooh, girl” and probably pronouncing “you” as “joo” because that’s how cool and/or non-white people do it. It’s the same here as in the States.

These musical styles help people form a sense of identity. From the line-dancing country fans up in the mountains to the chavs blasting Dizzee Rascal at 0.5W out of their mobile phones (“blasting” probably wasn’t the right word there…) on a street corner, these pieces of music give people a feeling of “belonging”. They can attach themselves to it, identify themselves by it, bond with other people over it.

I don’t have a particular style of music that I call “my own”. As a musician, I’ve always been pretty fascinated by all styles of music. By exploring them, I’ve developed fairly eclectic tastes. I know what I like, and what I don’t like. I tend to feel more strongly about the things I don’t like than the things that I do like. And I don’t feel particularly pressured into feeling that I “should” or “shouldn’t” like a particular style of music just because of who it is. I’ve listened to Ke$ha’s album, for example, and enjoyed it. (I believe I described it as “what would happen if Kelly Clarkson were forcibly inserted into a NES”, which I think is a compliment in my world) I enjoyed the country that my friend introduced me to the other night (Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” is a lovely song, incidentally). I don’t find myself screaming over R&B and generic-sounding “urban” music because I’ve listened to it analytically and don’t find any appeal elements in there for me personally, though I’m sure it has its uses. In fact, I almost appreciate it in the whole “darkened club” situation, but then if you drink enough you can come to appreciate pretty much anything. Get low, low, low, low.

So in summary, then? Music is good. Listen to whatever the hell you like and damn what other people think of you if they find out.