Charlie Brooker – How TV Ruined Your Life

I only caught this today on YouTube because I basically don’t watch television as it’s so full of poisonous s***. Oh my, this is wonderful!

I was the kid who, when children’s show Why Don’t You said we should “turn off the TV set and do something less boring instead” … did. When the “wear sunscreen” rant came out, I ditched my subscription to Marie Claire. I’ve never looked back. Now when I see an airbrushed picture of a model, I don’t think “I want to look like that,” I think she looks artificial and “wrong”. According to a recent study, nobody finds that falseness attractive anyway, but we’re all running around like headless chickens trying to aspire to impossible standards that won’t make us happy even if we attain them. All the bling, all the cars and trappings of wealth, I don’t look at that stuff and think it’s something that I should have, because I don’t get that all the time from watching television.

The television I did watch growing up included The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. In the show, if you worked hard you could aspire to be like Phil, using education and wealth as an agent for social change and to elevate yourself above the dangers of poverty; or you could be like Will, and realise your artistic visions. Either was valid, respected and respectable. The character who was most derided was shallow, vacuous Hilary, who valued wealth and celebrity for its own sake.

Over the past 10 years, it’s this once-ridiculed attitude to which we’ve all been taught to aspire. We’ve created for ourselves a cruel trap that has ensnared every one of us – putting our jobs, homes, health and happiness at risk – for … what?

I’m going to let you into a secret. Because I don’t read beauty magazines or watch much television, I’m not bombarded with messages telling me that I’m ugly and inadequate. When I look in the mirror, I secretly think I’m beautiful. There are things I’d change, sure, but fundamentally I don’t believe, deep down, that I am either ugly or inadequate.

Because I’m not believing those things about me, I don’t believe them about you either. Whether you’re tall, short, skinny, fat, whatever imperfections that you think that you have, I’m not filtering them through a message centre that’s full of a single, homogenous idea of beauty. If I’m not poring over pictures where some celebrity is being criticised for having some teeny-weeny-little-bit of cellulite, I’m not thinking of that when I’m looking at you. You’re OK – beautiful, even. I really believe that. I’m only sad that you don’t.

One of the best things that happened to me was getting made redundant, because it forced me to consider which direction I really wanted to take my life. My friends took higher-paid jobs, working longer hours and taking on more stress. They had to buy expensive outfits and have expensive haircuts to look the part. They had manicurists and personal trainers, and even cleaners because they got home so late at night. They didn’t have much time for hobbies, and would end up so exhausted they’d take expensive foreign holidays to help them unwind.

I don’t blame them for choosing that life, and I can see many aspects of it that would appeal. Sure, a fancier job title might make me feel more respected by other people, and I’d love to visit places abroad, but I resist being made to feel bad that I don’t want to suffer the downside – the long hours, living beyond your means, no free time – in order to experience those things.

What’s more, when I talk to the people I work with, I feel as though I have to justify why I don’t blow my entire paycheque or take on insurmountable debt to fund a celebrity lifestyle that I cannot sustain. Just a few years ago, it was OK to spend a week in Cornwall for your holiday, buy a £2 pot of hair dye from the Camden market and consider a £4 ticket to a local band a really good night out. Five years ago, I found myself trying to explain to my friend why I didn’t want to spend more on attending her hen weekend holiday than I did on my own honeymoon; feeling apologetic for not spending hundreds of pounds on designer clothes, accessories and haircuts; and suffering the pitying expressions when I say I’m going to spend another weekend relaxing at home instead of spending £50 on a concert ticket – and that’s before you factor in beer and transport. It’s all … just … stuff.


As Suite 101 puts it:

How TV Ruined Your Life analyses the effect of Television on the human psyche, and how the perceptions of loyal viewers have been irrevocably altered through the copious watching of certain programming.

Drawing from extensive archives of TV shows, dating all the way back to its origins in the 50’s, Brooker displays numerous examples of how TV has often been responsible for the shaping of the mind, and how viewers have unwittingly succumbed to paranoia, self doubt, and other such negative characteristics as a result of the ideals and fail-safes established on the country’s most observed media format.

Note: each clip includes strong language.

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