Visions of a world shrouded in techno-tosh
Apart from one moment of excitement, when the camera panned over a pensioner's telly, revealing the credit sequence for an Alexander Korda movie ("At last, something worth watching," I thought), everything is studiously soporific - warm and milky and bland. This is a world in which people still use tea-chests when they move house, where doctors still make house calls and where ambitious young Conservatives unhesitatingly place principle before personal advantage. Actually, that wasn't sufficiently fantastic for them: "It's good to be hauled over the coals once in a while," chuckled Patrick Hargreaves, local businessman and king-pin in the Conservative Club, after being publicly accused of poisoning his lodgers for profit. There's a place for you in theparty, he said to nice doctor Preston, who had done the hauling. This may be a subtle dig about the current state of the party, but I don't think so.
It's also possible that Peak Practice serves as a virtual village for all those who don't live in a real one, something to sate our notional hunger for communitarian values. Visions of Heaven and Hell, Channel 4's current series on the information revolution, would almost certainly have something to say about this, the only trouble being that you couldn't guarantee that you would be able to understand it. The title gives you fair warning of what you're in for but even so the narration makes your eyes water a bit, laying a veil of foggy poesy over the most routine remarks. "Information has one yearning - a yearning to be released," intones Tilda Swinton, in her best Priestess of Tosh tones, while time-lapse photography does its familiar trick of making traffic look menacing.
The principal rhetorical technique here is to harness large abstractions to concrete images: "Power rarely falls like gentle rain, equally on all below", for example, or "New technology seems sharp enough to prick the blandness of the future". It's easy once you know how - "paradox is the mushroom that will lift the paving slab of your mind", that sort of thing.
Fortunately the sobriety of the programme's construction is at odds with the dope-head swooning of the narration. While Tilda is trying to get you stoned on technological change the contributors are keeping each other in check. Douglas Adams was even allowed to preface last night's episode with a sort of health warning, holding up a 1967 magazine special on the world in 1990 - a piece of future-gazing which contained no mention of the environment or computers. "Although we've got all the ingredients," Adams warned, "we don't know what we're cooking." Later too, after some excitable reveries about how technology was going to atomise society a slightly glum teleworker appeared, complaining that he missed going to the pub at lunchtime. "What is going to hold society together?" asked a Mr Chicken Little - the answer to which is pretty much what it has been for the last 3,000 years: the ordinary appetites of a social primate.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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