Out There: Navel gazing

When print journalists enter a TV studio, most leave their brains in the hospitality room
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I hate watching journalists on TV. It makes my blood boil to see air-time squandered by people with little or no understanding of the medium's true potential. Channel 4's J'Accuse, presented by journalist Jaci Stephen, was a case in point.

The single most pernicious problem facing society, Jaci assured me, is the "New Lad". This latter-day Frankenstein is apparently the invention of Loaded, a morally bankrupt pamphlet that encourages young men to drink beer, spout homophobic insults and leer at young women. Shocking, eh? Why, if it weren't for Loaded, this kind of behaviour would vanish overnight.

Actually, New Lad has been around so long he's going bald, rather like most of the pundits assembled to jeer at him. And worra lorra culture vultures our Jaci had put together! A star-studded team of Lad-haters, featuring the mesmeric ball-juggling skills of Mark Simpson, veteran left-back Arthur Smith, and Miranda Sawyer playing in the hole, were lined up against a single defender, Gavin Hills, editor of England magazine. It was like watching a full-strength Rest of the World X1 versus a lone Carlton Palmer. Even then, Ms Sawyer took a dive, complaining that New Lad verbal left her feeling "bruised". (If you can't take it, Miranda, don't dish it out.)

Jaci Stephen had done her research, so I presume she knew that Arena first ran a feature called "Here Comes The New Lad" in May 1991. But this is television, where everything is topical because... it's on TV!

Yet there are arguments in favour of Laddism. The New Lad may be reprehensible, but cannon fodder must have its bread and circuses. You never know when another Gulf War might break out, and we don't want Our Boys asking too many questions as they pick up their gas masks, do we? Better to keep them drooling over Pamela's mammaries or that Hurley Girly's thing as they queue up for their dog tags.

Honestly, I wanted to believe that genuine outrage motivated this programme, but I couldn't dismiss the sound of snouts vying for the trough, especially when the show's gay contingent complained about Loaded's auto-erotic imagery. "Hey, that's our pitch," they seemed to be saying, "and we're the only ones allowed to queer it." Desperate to undermine Frankenstein's mythic sexuality - where the real terror resides - one critic even related "some really sad stories" about New Lad's inability to get it up: queeny gossip as cultural analysis.

Despite its title, J'Accuse was totally defensive. "Are we taking this too seriously?" demanded Ms Stephen, missing the point entirely. The answer is yes, of course. It's your job to take things too seriously, Jaci. That's what cultural critics do: they "discover" a threat to some ill-defined status quo and attack it. If by negating that threat the journalist enhances his or her TV career prospects, that's mere coincidence, of course.

Channel 4's Bigmouth is hosted by Daily Mirror columnist Tony Parsons. A brilliant writer, passionate and persuasive, Parsons is relentlessly mundane in front of a camera. To be fair, he looked OK when frowning at his shoes on The Late Show while Tom Paulin droned on about sensitive issues. Bigmouth has cretinised him, the slap and designer eyewear transforming truculent Tony P into jocular Uncle Tone, a thigh-fondling scoutmaster with the most ghoulish smile on TV. To see him jollying his guests along made my boiling blood run cold again.

Miranda Sawyer - again - looked suitably embarrassed to be playing Noddy Dog to His Master's Voice. Bigmouth is meant to be a marker buoy in the ocean of consumer crap that is modern life, evaluating an endless succession of products and experiences: bands, shops, books, restaurants, films, even - gorblimey, post-modern reference, guv'nor - yet another TV show. But it was all at sea, unable to fathom the social order that supports it.

Look, I don't consider myself above these things; far from it. My discomfort is one of guilt by association: it is extremely distressing to see good journalists, who can express themselves with clarity and insight, ticking off somebody else's cultural agenda. When print journalists enter a TV studio most leave their brains in the hospitality room, and take their cue from commissioning editors and producers whose aim is to make something mediocre (mustn't rock the boat), cheap (keep to the budget) and vaguely related to the original brief (formulaic to the point of exhaustion).

But I'm not interested in watching Tony or Miranda or Jaci attempting to second-guess the chattering classes, and nor is anyone else (don't take my word; check the viewing figures). No, we want to know about their obsessions, their despair, their private lives, the stuff that really gets them hard and wet. We say: forget the big picture, the balanced view, and start taking things personally. It's not enough to stand wagging your finger over a cultural wall - you've got to get your tits out for the New Lads before you can change the way they think. Everything else is just advertorial, as they say in the trade

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