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How You’re Ruining Your Life

March 29, 2011

In the grandest tradition of philosophy, dating back at least to Socrates, Charlie Brooker (whom you might remember from his lovely satire “How to Report the News“) is attempting to point to truths that would subvert the established and accepted order.  His new series, “How TV Ruined Your Life” is probably best example of some good old fashioned public philosophizing I’ve seen in a while, and it’s all available on YouTube:

In addition to the obvious humor in Brooker’s satire is a real criticism that one hopes is not overlooked by the show’s audience.  Obviously, Brooker’s intended audience is more well-off than Brooker’s portrayed/proverbial rat-roaster, but that bourgeois audience is being urged/forced to resolve some cognitive dissonance.  Even if the audience hasn’t, Brooker has certainly read his Rousseau.  The episode above is a highly faithful rendition of Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality; Rousseau’s thesis essentially states that by convening in civil society, man generates new and insatiable goals and appetites by observing others who may be more well-off. Even though civil society can generate a greater amount of material satisfaction on an absolute level, our genetic imperative to compare ourselves to one another creates the angst of insufficiency.  Brooker is more subtle about the fact that civil society has obvious advantages, given that he is in a polemical frame of discourse, but it’s there.

It is both poetic and ironic that this indictment of television was originally produced for, and aired on, television.  What’s interesting is that this well-produced diatribe was the product of the BBC, a corporation that has always had the “public interest” as a core component of its mission.  And as such, the BBC sponsored and freed the sort of dialogue that suggests that its product is complicit in the destruction of human contentment and satisfaction.  At bottom, Brooker is portraying “the way life is” on television, all the while indicting television’s portrayal of “the way life is.”  And he does so in a very entertaining and almost hypnotic way.

It’s downright Hegelian that the medium can serve as its own dialectical counterpoint, even if that point is not made in as didactic a manner as the rest of Brooker’s diatribe.  But that should serve as some inspiration: within the fact of a zeitgeist altering medium lies the potential for the cunning of reason to work its way out.  The historical question is whether the audience will search for the remote to flip to that channel.

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