Inside Television: What's the point of a TV boycott of the Winter Olympics?


Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Will you be boycotting the Winter Olympics on human rights grounds? And would anyone notice if you did? People would certainly notice a Clare Balding boycott. She’s one of the BBC’s most popular personalities and one of the country’s most visible gay women, yet, as you read this, she’ll already be in Russia, preparing to lead BBC2’s coverage all the way through to the closing ceremony on February 23rd.

Last year, following a boycott call from Balding’s fellow national treasure, Stephen Fry, she released a short statement explaining her decision to attend. “I will do so because I am a sports presenter who happens to be gay,” she wrote. “I think the best way of enlightening societies that are not as open-minded as our own is not to be cowed into submission.” For Balding and other notables with a Sochi invite this has clearly been a difficult decision to come to. For the rest of us, taking a stand in support of the international LGBT community could be as easy as switching channels.

Or that’s the theory, at least. The attraction of the TV boycott is that it allows viewers to vote with their remote on issues they feel passionate about. Last month fans of the massively popular American reality TV show Duck Dynasty had an opportunity to demonstrate that power. Network A&E had suspended Duck Dynasty’s patriarch Phil Robertson ‘indefinitely’ in response to remarks he made calling homosexuality a sin and suggesting that African Americans were happier before the Civil Rights movement. Within nine days he’d been reinstated, after a Facebook page calling for a boycott received over a million ‘likes’. The celebrations from Phil’s supporters were cut short, however. His first show back saw a ratings drop of 33 per cent among adults aged 18-44.

So does that mean viewers object to Robertson’s bigotry? Or that they support it? Or did everyone just forget what they were boycotting? Who knows. What it does show is that this powerful weapon is also a blunt and unwieldy one, since any even slightly nuanced political is liable to get lost in the data. How will the BBC distinguish between those taking a principled stand against Putin’s law prohibiting “gay propaganda” and those who just find Bargain Hunt re-runs more entertaining than the four-man bobsleigh? 

That doesn’t mean armchair activist should sink into a state of (even deeper) apathy just yet. Viewer boycotts might be next to useless at bringing about change in the real world, but there is a particular sort of televised evil for which they are ideally suited. Her name is Katie Hopkins and as we learned this week from Channel 5’s ratings-bait The Big Benefits Row, reasoned debate is futile against her. So if you’re sick of the kind of TV that exists purely to generate ratings, there is one practical solution: Stop watching it.

A Happyish way to remember Philip Seymour Hoffman

The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman has saddened many who never met him. You don’t have to have known the man personally to appreciate the value of his work in films like The Master and Synecdoche, New York and to regret that there will be no more such performances to look forward to. What’s more, perhaps his most intriguing career move to date, was just on the horizon.

Hoffman had just been cast in his first TV lead, as “successful but self-loathing” advertising exec Thom Payne in the new Showtime series Happyish, but had only completed filming the pilot when he died last Sunday. When similar situations have arisen in the past, the series has been either re-shot with a new actor or discarded altogether. Let’s hope Showtime can see a way to share some of Hoffman’s precious last work with as wide an audience as possible. 


Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,

Seinfeld fans don’t like to be trifled with, unless said trifling is done by the Soup Nazi, in which case we’ll meekly accept it. After much exciting speculation about a Seinfeld reunion, this week we saw the deeply disappointing reality; a lacklustre two-minute Superbowl ad. Give that a miss and watch a full episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s current project, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, instead. I recommend the one with Louis C.K.

Births, Deaths and Marriages, ITV Player

There was some obligatory swooning over the Royal Baby in this excellent two-part documentary about Westminster registry office, but the most interesting moments concerned mere commoners. This celebration of the extraordinary moments of ordinary lives was surprisingly touching.

Dispatches: Hunted, 4oD

Officially, Russia is welcoming gay athletes for the Sochi olympics, as long as, in Putin’s words they “leave the children in peace”. This documentary explores the reality of life for the gay men and women live in Putin’s Russia all year round. The climate us so intense, they’ve taken to calling it “hunting season”.


If you do decide to boycott Sochi - or simply had no idea it was on - here’s a great alternative. Episode 3 of HBO’s dramedy set on the San Francisco gay community features a well-cast cameo from His & Her’s Russell Tovey. He plays Patrick’s new boss and potential love interest Kevin - but is Kevin actually gay