Last January, I bought my first television set in 15 years. I don’t mean a new, updated version; I mean, for 15 years prior to that, I was TV-free.
If you sit down to watch TV on a regular basis, you may find this surprising. So many people would ask in astonishment, ‘You don’t have a TV!’ as if they couldn’t imagine what I might otherwise do with my life.
Well, I’ll tell you what I did with my life: I read a lot; played board games with my children; hung out with friends; wrote scripts and short stories; listened to a myriad of music that uplifted, inspired or relaxed me – and I danced. And when I ‘needed’ to watch something, I had Catch Up on my computer, although I mostly only found Homeland worth watching to be honest.
After the New Year of 2015, I withdrew from a close friend and in so doing, decided to buy a TV. I also felt that if, as an actor, I was going to be cast in television productions or commercials, it would help me research: I was so excited.
I chose a large branch of Curry’s electrical stores and spent time checking each television set: I spent a lot of time checking each television set.
There were some magnificent designs with curved screens and ones so large they looked as if they’d take up a whole wall.
After finally finding and persuading a staff member that I actually needed help, I chose a modest but very beautiful slim affair with a top box.
My daughter set it up. I hadn’t realised it would be so elaborate, but then we had action. And it was truly exciting.
I watched this and I watched that. I laughed my head off at commercials I’d never seen and I discovered television presenters I’d never heard of.
I gorged on television for three months, but then something happened. I became aware of its faults: the inanity of reality shows; the lack of diversity within programmes for actors of other races, the disabled and women seemingly over 30 – and how TV is being utilised as a tool of manipulation.
I can understand that advertisers want to market their product, for instance. They require us to think that we ‘need’ their brand so that our house can be clean; our face can be flawless and so on simply to boost sales.
I like realism and may be a slight purist, but I can not take an advertiser seriously when the dirty item they are washing for a laundry detergent is a mere spatter, just as I question, if they genuinely believe in their skin wash that clears spots, why they don’t cast someone with spots; use it on them over a period of time and film the before and after. Or would that simply spoil the illusion of perfection?
Have you also noticed that every actor in an advert has a particular look; a commercial look? The complexion is smooth; the clothes are just so and it all feels a little contrived; unreal.
We have charities who proffer helpless doe-eyed children and urge us to contribute to their urgent need for food or water, whilst knowing that there is already enough food to feed the entire world and that the only way we can truly change the situation is by being hands-on and empowering those in need. (For more on this, please read The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist.)
They choose their scheduling time wisely in order to catch us out when we’re full of sleep first thing in the morning or tired and emotional late at night.
Then there are the pariahs who ask, why be poor when you can be even poorer by borrowing a small lump sum at an overly-exorbitant interest rate? How many read the small print that lets you know the Annual Percentage Rate (1575% with Satsuma)?
Few and far between are the brilliant dramas or British made for TV films that were prevalent in decades gone by - and even less north of the border since Creative Scotland cut funding. In are the mind-numbing reality shows of Big Brother and Take Me Out.
I mean, I’m all for entertainment, but can we please learn something along the way? The Undateables is one of the better examples of a reality show that encourages us to look beyond our judgement and see the person behind the disability. At once, I find it sweet and fun as well as educational and empowering and I would love life’s ethos to be empowerment.
I would love our adverts to display products that we could use, whilst detailing genuinely why they work or why they’re good for you yet being honest in advising that the sugar that might be in a ‘health’ drink, for example, may well delete any health benefits. I would love our payday loans to say that they are on offer at a huge APR, whilst asking us if we genuinely need the very thing we want to take a loan for.
I would love our dramas, soap operas and adverts to be diverse and include all races and abilities. I want to see individuals in roles who are in a wheelchair or with Down’s Syndrome, or anything: I want them to be real.
I want plastic surgery for reconstruction purposes only because I want us to feel good enough just the way we are and I want castings to be widely open in general.
This morning, casting directory Spotlight detailed a casting breakdown for a fast food commercial. It is a good and fun ad along the lines of a presenter. They were looking for males aged 35-45 or indeed females. That’s nice. Only the females were only allowed to be 25-35.
You know what? I want to feel good enough way beyond 35. I want to feel as if I can still conquer all my dreams and ambitions knowing I still have 60% productivity or more within me (for more on this, read Never Too Late To Be Great by Tom Butler-Bowdon); therefore I need examples of this on screen. We all do. And the limits we see on screen are not consumer-led, else I wouldn’t be chatted up by much younger guys on a regular basis. Passion and zest and appeal are not exclusive to those aged 35 and below.
So, a year on, I have begun listening to music again. I am in the process of gutting my house and once my studio is completed, I’ll be dancing again because I miss that with my very soul. Two nights ago, I played Scrabble with my 16-year old daughter and, if I base myself on today’s effort, I’ll be writing more too.
I do need to use a television for research purposes as an actor, but as a consumer and viewer, I’m going to be pressing the off button a lot more.