Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Breakfast Of Champions It Ain't

Consider it flagellation, but we tend to watch BBC's Breakfast while preparing to head out in the morning. It's an infuriating show, but there isn't much else on at that time in the morning. This morning, after nearly bursting into angerflames while watching it, I ended up turning over and catching a customarily piss-poor episode of Smallville (guest-starring Ian Somerhalder), having missed the start of The Naked City on Sky Movies Classic and not feeling up to watching multiple installments of Takeshi's Castle or Ironside. Even though there is nothing else on, I still debate having it on at all, giving up only because it features London travel news, or as it should be called, "What Percentage Of Your Tube Journey Will Be Cancelled At The Last Minute, Stranding You Underground And Unable to Contact Your Boss To Beg Him Or Her Not To Fire Your Ass For Being Late Every Day?"

Why the hatred? It is just breakfast news, which is never going to be Newsnight, and I'd be a fool to expect anything more than fluffy nonsense and light chatter. What I would expect is at least a baseline level of competence, which we do not get. We only watch about twenty minutes of it on average, and in that small section of the show we always, always, get at least one mis-cued link, one sound error, or one wrong film clip. Oftentimes it's far worse than that.

I once mentioned this to a colleague of mine, and he immediately leapt to the defence of the show, saying it was no easy thing to make a live TV show, and yes, I'll grant that, but many live shows either come off without a hitch or with only the occasional error. In a small subsection of the show (which runs for 195 minutes) we get at least one screw up every day. Extrapolate that out to the full length of the show and we're talking about ten head-in-hands-level mistakes a day at the least. It's sad and hilarious viewing at the same time.

Those technical difficulties aren't the worst things about it, though. Not by a longshot. As I said before, I don't expect Newsnight or Channel Four News, and so it's churlish to complain about the presenters not being Paxman and Kearney or Snow and Hilsum, but my god, even by the usual standards of early morning TV presenters (in the UK and the US), regular hosts Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams are just appalling. Watching them struggle to comprehend even the most simple of subjects is hard on my teeth, as they tend to grind together every time Bill says something inane, or Sian misunderstands what their guests are trying to say. They're so bad they make me nostalgic for Dermot Murnagurnah and the fragrant yet icy Kate Silverton. Yes, that bad.

I've considered writing something about this godawful show for some time now, momentarily inspired by various car-crash interview gaffes, such as the morning Bill asked Simon Pegg about drinking eggs a grand total of four times, obviously because that was the only bit from the Run, Fatboy, Run trailer that penetrated his braincasing, or yesterday's debacle when Joanna Lumley tried to get up from her seat in the middle of a link to local news which panicked Bill so much he practically rugby tackled her back down. There are many more examples, but those are the ones that spring to mind.

However, my ire was finally raised to blogging point by a segment about the release of Grand Theft Auto IV which, as expected, was used to say nothing more than, "Video games are destroying civilisation by turning your children into murderers." I could tell because Bill and Sian's faces were set not to Puff Piece Perky, but to Serious Story Stern. After a quick nod to the success of the franchise, this little factoid was used as proof of the game's insidious hold over the nation's children, as various non-statistics about the violent nature of the game led us into an interview between Team BS and two gamers, one casual, one working for the BBC. Surprisingly the "debate" wasn't held between the gamers (which is the usual course when news items are discussed in the studio), but between them and Bill and Sian, who pointed out time and time again that games are for kids and are violent and therefore are bad for kids and hence everyone is doomed.

It was already heading downhill by the time the first question was asked, which followed on from an email sent in from someone who thinks GTA IV was "symptomatic of the degenerating society", and that it allows people to live out a "fantasy of evil," leading Bill to ask the gamer if he has a fantasy of evil of his own. Sadly the guy didn't tell him to shut up, instead arguing for the game by saying it allows people to get rid of their pent-up aggression, which led Sian to ask the BBC gamer if that was the same for him, and to add, "I'm not suggesting you're violent in any way or give in to violent urges." By then it was obvious the game has been framed as only appealing to people who are drawn to violent things exclusively. Later Bill asked if the game has any redeeming qualities, if the characters give to charity or help people. Seriously, if Bill and Sian were a TV show, they'd be Monarch of the Glen. If they were a book, they'd be The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Where their brain should be, there is merely a tombola, used to raffle off a set of china teapots commemorating the coronation of King George VI.

When it was pointed out by the BBC gamer that GTA IV isn't on sale to children, Sian batted that away with the argument that kids would want to play it anyway. Of course they do. They're curious. When I was young I wanted to watch anything that was forbidden, and not even the exciting stuff. I remember staying up to watch some of the Red Triangle films shown on C4 late at night, though sadly the one or two rather earnest European art movies I caught have faded from memory compared to the proper innocence-destroying stuff (early viewings of The Thing, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Videodrome). So what does she suggest? Infantilising ourselves and censoring all art and culture just in case some children stumble across something that might do some harm? (And I emphasise might as there are conflicting reports about the corrupting influence gaming has on young minds.) I say this all the time in real life, and I'm introducing it to the blog now; it's the 21st Century, you fuckers. KEEP UP!!!

Even for BBC Breakfast, the whole thing was offensively facile. The Beeb gamer tried to draw attention to the huge success of the franchise and how great it was that it was developed by Rockstar Edinburgh, but that was ignored by the presenters who were utterly incapable of seeing the release as anything other than another nail in the coffin of humanity. Another emailer, your archetypal concerned mother, accepted that the game wasn't for kids, but stated even eighteen year-olds don't have the emotional maturity to deal with the themes presented by the games (and then said why not celebrate the nice things in life, for crying out loud). Why stop there? Maybe eighteen year-olds don't have the emotional maturity to deal with anything. Let's take the vote away from them, stop them joining the army, stop them driving. And what age are you ready to handle any of this? Twenty? Thirty? Life begins at forty, so let's make that the default age.

It ended with Sian commenting that kids should be playing "that tennis on the computer that just went 'bip!' and 'bip!". Fine, Sian, if it makes you happy, we'll throw out years of programming progress just for you. Thanks for contributing nothing to the debate other than to continually turn it around so that game designers and gamers have to prove a negative instead of pundits and panicky parents having to prove games are corrupting on something a little stronger than conjecture and fear of the unknown. Now that you've done that, can the adults do what they want now? Please? The despicable Mail bitches that the BBC has a left-wing bias and rails against it every day, but this kind of insulting, alarmist, blinkered, ill-informed, paranoid, Luddite idiocy is just the sort of thing it loves. The Mail and Breakfast should get married and have stunted babies who can't feed themselves, are terrified of the modern world, and can only talk in racist, homophobic code phrases.

Wow. I feel like Will Graham up in this bitch. In the scheme of things, yes, the shoddiness of Breakfast is nothing to write home about, but this is a subject I get very annoyed about. I guess I should be grateful that they didn't trot out the "proof" so often used by lazy churnalists that another Rockstar game, Manhunt, warped one kid's mind so much he murdered his friend, even though he didn't own it, may have never played it, and any link between the murderer and the game was disputed by the police who investigated and the judge presiding over the case. Instead we got a lot of emotive nonsense about protecting kids from amoral culture intended solely for adult usage, none of which can be considered journalism or news. It's comment, and poorly thought through as well.

And what came up after that? Talking to Robert Webb and Ella Smith about the current West End run of Neil LaBute's Fat Pig, which could have been the starting point for an interesting debate about size fascism and peer pressure, or even a discussion about what the fuck LaBute's problem with women is, but instead turned into Sian asking if the play was like Shallow Hal, Bill asking if they keep laughing at all of LaBute's high-larious jokes while performing, and whether Robert Webb was filming another series of That Mitchell and Webb Thing. I guess it's good to see their momentary contact with the depravity of gaming hasn't changed them, if you enjoy cringing, that is.

ETA: Just after I finished this post, I read this article in the Times, telling of a horrible knife attack in Croydon while waiting for the midnight opening of Gamestation. It's terrible that someone was assaulted in that manner, but the article continues to draw parallels between the game and violence that don't hold up. The perp obviously has rage issues, but is that because of playing the GTA games? Or was he already like that? There's no causal link established there, merely a confluence of events, unless the guy suddenly screams, "It was the games wot made me do it!".

Even more annoying is that some poor guy got mugged yesterday, and his copy of GTA IV was stolen, which is reported in that article as if it is further proof of the corrupting influence of the game. That's not the fault of the game. It's a desirable object. Tragically, people get mugged for their desirable objects all the time. Should we ban iPods and mobile phones? No matter how often bad journalists try to link gaming with crime, it just won't wash. I expect to read more of this nonsense over the next few months.

ETA again: According to Florida attorney Jack Thompson, "Grand Theft Auto IV is the gravest assault upon children in this country since polio." He also says, "indictments should be handed down against Wal-Mart, Best Buy, GameStop, and all other retailers distributing this game to minors at their retail stores, openly, to kids who are only seventeen." Of course. They would be breaking the law, after all. However, he also says, "indictment should also be against Sony and Microsoft which are making this pornographic game available to minors, and openly so, on their PS3 and Xbox systems." What, just for making the game and making machines to play the game on? This argument only works if you assume games consoles are exclusively used by kids who are not legally being sold the game. Gamers are not just kids, you cretin. Now go find something important to rail against instead of playing to the worst instincts of the voter. Oh God, I'm getting this annoyed about it all and I don't even like the GTA games. I realise that they're great, but I've never spent enough time with them to get as obsessed as millions of other people have. I need to move on before I really do burst into flame.

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