notes on mainstream TV hell

Please go to John Robb’s new blog Louder Than War, this blog you are on is now closed…

Wake Up! You’re Already Dead!

Saturday night TV is flickering in the background with its avalanche of nothing, the boring bright lights of heavily edited emotional blips and desperation numbing the soul and crushing the spirit.
Comfortably numb as someone once sung.
Nothing making you feel anything. Like a blur of cathode ray heroin doping the soul.
Of course it’s harmless fun but your mind begins to wander.
Jack Kerouac once wrote that
‘The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”…’
Of course it’s romantic but it’s true.
As you get older you feel every minute click away and every minute has got to burn. It has to burn with creativity or getting fired up by brilliance. The kind of dark hearted executives who sit there dreaming up the tightly scripted extravaganzas hate you but want your attention.
Like most people who read this stuff we didn’t get into this culture war to end up comfortably numb. There was a tear in the fabric and everyone jumped through. But what for?
Is Saturday night TV any different from listening to music, what’s the difference between Bruce Forsyth and Crass? Is there any difference? Are we deluding ourselves? Is any one branch of showbiz and deeper or more affecting than another?
Rule one of punk was questioning everything and I’m questioning the basic fundamentals that have been a big part of my life and I don’t find them wanting.
But was all that youthful idealism in vain? Is everyone slumped in front of the TV or doped out in the pub pissed and bitter? Where once was passion and excitement has turned into broken spirit. A shuffling semi life of slumbering. Grunting disapproval at Dermot O Leary as he fakes excitement to the latest caterwauling dullards.
Is there any alternative to the machine?
Is this why we are still all out there playing or watching? Are we still seeking? Or just escaping? Is there any point?
The TV avalanche continues- titillation, manufactured emotion, ‘celebs’ you don’t give a toss about ballroom dancing- followed by X Factor hell.
Cowell’s shameless bullying of the hopeless to boost judges careers and bank balances- a swift education into everything bad about the music biz. Before X Factor the icons were the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Kate Bush, Johnny Rotten, John Lennon- an endless list of great musicians who burned bright and lit the sky with their burning madness and who made you feel alive- now we get offered Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh- smug and in control and their bleating co judges, the hopeless Cheryl Cole and the pointless Minogue sister.
They clog up the TV with their scripted emotions, their crocodile tears and their manufactured rows. Music reduced to background, an auto tuned filler before the judgement from people who love money before music.
Where’s the sex, style and subversion? Where’s their fucking X Factor? Is something as magic as music and pop culture reduced to this?
Why should I care?
I just want my share.
They get 99 per cent of the music coverage on TV.
There is no time for anyone else. Pushed out to the fringes- no space to mass communicate. No space to inspire or create. That leaves us comfortably numb. Warriors sat in arm chairs, suckered by the bright lights, slumped into a semi comatose oblivion. Once we ruled the plains now we are sacks of potatoes, stoned by the entertainment machine. Bored and sleep walking to oblivion.
It’s not enough.
Let them have their circus. I need inspiration.
I need soul power.
I don’t need this mad parade.

29 Responses to notes on mainstream TV hell

  1. GrimmyHendrix says:


  2. David Greenall says:

    Never thought I see Bruce Forsyth and Crass mentioned in the same sentence ! Watching TV is a passive activity most of the time; your emotions can be manipulated if you wish to be drawn in. Even good film making is a form of manipulation, the question is to what ends ? It can be more than just entertainment. As for live events, what percentage of the crowd at recent Steve Ignorant gigs felt galvanised to go out and do something useful and what percentage just found it comforting (care in the punk community?) Nostalgia for more talented idols is still just comfort thinking unless you feel inspired to do something positive !

  3. “When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.”

    –Steve Jobs (1996)

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kerry McCarthy, john robb, john robb, Joanna Simpson, Moscow Radio and others. Moscow Radio said: RT @johnrobb77: new blog! notes on mainstream TV hell! #xfactor […]

  5. Lewis Andrews says:

    Excellent points and I totally agree with the sentiment.

    Ironic that the google advert under the piece is for the X Factor; it even manages to infiltrate here!

  6. A rallying call. I love it.

  7. […] you’re seeing it now? [You could say the same thing about the x-factorisation of music; see John Robb's brilliant rant […]

  8. KilburnMat says:

    Talent shows existed in the past as well

  9. Nick says:

    The x factor is genuine entertainment. I enjoy watching it yet still follow the fundamentals of diy punk rock. Also, aside from the boring boogie woogie, the jules holland show brings the mainsteam some great music.

    • johnrobb77 says:

      I personally can’t stand it but at no point demand it’s culling! Just want more variation of music and music cultures on TV

  10. Stu says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Why the fuck can’t they just put cameras in venues and show us actual proper live no music. None of that cleanned up later with Jools holland bullshit.

    But I felt to youge and to smart for tv ten years ago and stopped tuning in. Im scared to think what it’s like now.

    And don’t you remember when Cilla pissing Black was the highest payed woman on tv cos’ of blind date? Honestly who in their right fucking mind would choose to watch that show.

  11. Ken Foster says:

    ‘Frequent mutilation, transmits over the air’ – sung by Ari Up over 30 years ago. Never more true today.
    The conditions that spawned punk are as valid now as the seventies. Only difference is that now we can escape the tv and interact with the world on the net.

  12. Micky the Dip says:

    Remember seeing G’BLade in Donny a few years ago and feeling alive again. Think I may have even given you a pissed up hug in The Leopard car park and saying thankyou for helping me to remember. I am now more akin to that fat old bloke who the cameras always homed in on, on that punk band telly show on a Friday night in the 70’s (can’t for the life of me remember what it was called – but at the time I thought it was full of posers – unlike me of course – what a wanker!!

    But what I know is that for all the shit that was around – including the band i was in – there was a meeting of musical and cultural creativity that didn’t judge. I wasn’t racist or homophobic or genderist because it never occurred to me, we were all wankers and fucked up together that’s what people never got.

  13. Judith Roberts says:

    I’ve seen a few X-Factors in my time and each time shouted at the telly for its lack of ‘edge’. I’ve witnessed ballard, after ballard, after watered-down ‘rock’ number and wanted to weep. However since last year I haven’t had the stomach for it at all – in fact I now find it totally repugnant. Having seen bands such as Buzzcocks, Freebass and this week the spellbinding Psychedelic Furs and experienced the energy, the connection, the dynamic between band members and audience you know there’s no comparison and realise exactly what’s wrong with X-Factor. Music isn’t about shoving performers into moulds of a single unimaginative notion of how it should be – it’s about allowing people to do what they believe in, and what inspires them personally – that way it can be transmitted to others and touch their souls.

  14. Micky the Dip says:

    Wow…punk utopia!!! but you’re right…I hope that this old fart can pass on some of this richness to his kids..without trying to stop them having the fun of finding it out for themselves. Cheers mate thanks for taking the time to reply.

  15. Judith Roberts says:

    *ballad (can’t believe my spelling at times!)

  16. Hello John – Excellent blog, but IMO you miss the point of TV.
    The point is to SELL PRODUCTS VIA TV ADVERTS.So if a programme is good, alot of people watch it and they stay around for the TV commercials.
    The definition of “Good” is the shlock you mention, to those in control. “Good” equals non-questioning. Pretty.Puts the viewer in a good mood etc.
    None of this excuses the non-commercial stations.
    As for passion. The first punk novel was “Mary Barton” by Mrs Gaskell, circa 1844. Held up in Parliament as a book likely to bring anarchy to the streets, and the end of society. A TV version of it would be “pretty” and “nostalia-glowing” becuase this is what sells that “exceedingly good cake” TV adverts.
    As for the celebration of cruelty that passes for comedy on TV..don’t as me what that “sells” No idea.

  17. Jeanne says:

    I turned off my TV from mainstream broadcasting in 2008, covered up my aerial socket and got a refund on my licence. I’ve had TV licensing round once – I let them in with a smile, showed them what I’d done and they were cool.
    I read more, I knit, I perform and go to see stand-up comedy, I go out walking the dog at night. Yes I play Xbox games and go on Facebook and the Internet.
    I do watch BBC iPlayer for films and stuff like Sherlock Holmes, Geting ON and Harry and Paul. But mostly I rent or but DVDs.
    Adverts freak me out too. It was the best thing I ever did.

  18. johnn says:

    good read that was,after watching the scenes at Millbank yesterday maybe theres a bit of spirit coming back?

  19. […] […]

  20. Jaz says:

    “Who needs lobotomy when we’ve got the ITV?”

    As true a sentiment now as when Crass first sang it in 1982 🙂

  21. bateman says:

    hey, if you don’t like bruce forsyth or dermot 0’leary, switch them off. they’re on tv cos that’s what the majority of people want.

    you know, people who do jobs like drive trucks and work in shops. these people don’t give a fuck about some bullshit romanticized view of punk.

    as far as i can see it was about a few middle class haircuts. over in a few months.

    mohawks aren’t shocking anymore.

    don’t fool yourself that you’re better than anyone else just because you listen to crass. it’s a different soundtrack, that’s all.

    and don’t think that you choose to listen to wilfully obscure music means you are intellectually superior either.

    i bet you wouldn’t have complained if ‘kiss ass godhead’ had sold 9 million copies. surely nobody sets out to sell 9000.

    when you die, someone will take your precious record collection and put it in the bin, and nobody will give a monkeys if you liked the right bands.

    • johnrobb77 says:

      Thanks for the comment.
      A few good points there.
      Don’t totally disagree with what you have to say but there’s a few things I’d like to put straight…

      1. The blog doesn’t say get rid of X Factor…it says can we have some space for everything else that goes on in music instead of the endless PR deluge of X Factor.
      2. All the truck drivers I know hate X factor far more than Ido.
      3. I don’t just listen to wilfully obscure music- I love a lot of pop music as well.
      4. i wish kiss ass godhead had sold 9 million but it only sold 20 000. But we made a record that we really loved. And still love now. It wasn’t meant to be ‘obscure’ that’s exactly the record I wanted to make at the time.
      5. I don’t care about ‘right bands’> I just like the music I like. I’ve never been interested in what’s trendy. Most of my records are already in the bin. I prefer mp3’s my flat’s too small for a big record collection.

      Thanks again for your comment.

  22. bateman says:

    touche, mr. robb.

    but do we really need to slag off x-factor? everyone knows it’s shite. but so is the so called ‘indie’ culture now, with the likes of pete doherty as its poster children, and the weeklies barely more than fanzine quality. where are the mark e smiths? even the stone roses are starting to look interesting, although that’s because i am now so senile i have managed to disassociate them with images of boro lads kick-dancing in light blue flares.

    save your venom for more worthy targets than dermot o’leary…how about the man who’s starting to make thatcher look like santa claus?

    speaking of santa…hope you and yours have a merry christmas.

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