Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Comic Relief - And Counting

The Big One. Just 12 months ago some of us more vinegary types held out hopes that it might be the Last One. But we'd obviously underestimated the sheer indomitability of human goodness, or Comic Relief as the BBC now styles it. It's analoguous (they wish) to the sequence in Yellow Submarine where just the power of music and fuzzball nowhere-man Jeremy commanding flowers to 'bloom! bloom! bloom!' purges Pepperland of the frowning scourge of Blue Meaniedom. All the Babbitty bullcookies, but without the imagistic or narrative imagination.

One of the reasons this annual disgrace, whose chief achievement is to heroically combine the duping of the credulous, emotional manipulation, the denigration of comedy and affronting the intelligence survives is that it has simply stuck its fingers in its ears and yelled 'I can't hear you! I can't hear you!'. One of its many Blairite traits, along with nauseating cod-sincerity, touchy-feeliness and emotional incontinence is its obsession simply to keep going until the cynics run out of ammo, that criticising it is even more vacuous a waste of time and effort than the whole shebang itself. 'They'll get bored and go away,' is the rationale the cheerleaders use to belittle the cynics. Well, some of us are bored shitless, but that doesn't mean we should go away.

And this year, our work might be done for us. This year, the bulldozing never-mind-the-curmudgeons approach is bordering on the hubristic. In an era when the BBC has become a synonym for self-referentiality to the degree that entire news stories are cooked up around forthcoming broadcasts (and not those halfway-important ones that might imply that a new kind of 100%-mortality NSU transmittable by sitting on bus seats is spreading down from Norway or that only pod-grown replicants will be shortlisted as prospective parliamentary candidates), Comic Relief is taking things to Hall of Mirrors levels. Text us about x, on which y from z will appear to tell us how you can contribute by watching BBC2 where a, b, c and d from programme e battle it out with the cast of programme f for the right to appear on a special Comic Relief edition of programme g during a special Comic Relief evening of... infectious, isn't it? And that's not to mention the ad-breaks - come on, let's not dignify them with any other term - which already clog the schedules with self-puffery, even without the addition of a silly red nose.

There have been times in the last few days when I've got a kind of lens into what North Korean telly must be like; totalitarian, monotheistically iconized, so relentless is the nose. It is quite possible that at no time in March has a single second of broadcast air not been occupied by a plug for Comic Relief on either a BBC TV or radio channel. Even Radio 3 have got in on the act - pledge some dosh and choose your music. At least some rational soul had the guts to stick out for a particularly ascetic spoiler in the midst of all this, programming Liszt's solemnly ascetic cycle of piano pieces Via Crucis in the midst of it all.

CBBC in particular has become so obsessed with Comic Relief that were it a human being it would be committed to a secure unit. Most worrying about this is that the CBBC brand has, in common with most brands aimed at the young, become a kind of primer, where future consumers' behaviours are shaped much in the same way that youngsters magazines d'antan helped keep the press fed with appropriately-trained buyers. Two decades ago, if you bought Shoot, for example, you were trained to read football as a series of tabloid headlines ('Chivers Riddle', 'McLintock- I Stay'); to get Jackie meant you bought into an entire life-pattern. Nowt changes. Todat we have (even as phone-in TV reaches its reputational nadir) a buttock-clenchingly horrible daily update on Comic Relief Does Fame Academy (all in a good cause, and on cable again at 7!). Zoe, the blond pouter out of Blue Peter, belts out a torch song... Ray Stubbs massacres Ray Davies's 'Lola'. The overriding message is no longer that this gooid-sport mucking-in is sociallly acceptable behaviour. Nope, it's the only kind of behaviour. That if you don't participate in Comic Relief through these cynically media-manipulated means, then you're no-'count. This from a brand that would normally otherwise pay lip-service to tolerating difference, that normally bashes bullying in all its forms.

There is of course hope; if as many kids today hold much of the targeted BBC output in the same contempt as did my generation, then the Red Nose manufacturers may just be on a hiding to nothing. And, interestingly, despite the fact that Ray Stubbs' karaoke croakery has received as much terrestrial BBC airtime as the most significant vote to reform the House of Lords in, er, 96 years, Comic Relief seems, as yet, conspicuous by its absence in the public domain. My local attracts more than its fair share of hearty and loud inadequates -nature's bucket-shakers and bed-pushers - but The Big One doesn't seem quite Big enough to attract even their attention. Well, there has been one reference to it in the saloon. Now let me see... oh yes. 'Here we fucking go again.'

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