Tom Sutcliffe: Without a plot there can be no revolution

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The Independent Online

It's a mildly startling fact that the first moonwalk is now less distant from the Wall Street Crash than it is from the present day. I take it that this is one reason why I found watching Moonwalk One – Nasa's official "time capsule" film about the Apollo 11 mission – a faintly lowering experience. We naturally flinch from consigning the events of our childhood to book history and yet that is where, inexorably, the first moon landing is headed.

But there was another reason too – and that was the poignant naïvety of the hopes that event generated at the time. Theo Kamecke's film includes a section that dwells on the unprecedented world television audience for the moment that Neil Armstrong stepped down onto the lunar surface, and the feeling – quite widespread then – that this unprecedented sense of global community might mark some kind of turning point in human history.

Well, a lot has happened since then and not a lot. Manned space travel stagnated, and the new "one world" sensibility it was hoped would diminish war and usher in an era of ecological restraint never turned up. Forty years on America is still losing – and killing – men on foreign soil, and the vast task of working out a sustainable way of living on spaceship earth has barely even begun. And watching Moonwalk One I couldn't help but wonder why it was one apparently impossible task had been triumphantly achieved while the others remain so intractable.

One answer would be that getting to the moon wasn't all that difficult, relatively speaking. You didn't have to mobilise the world, after all, just get them to watch while a hugely motivated body of people achieved the task for them. Nasa and the astronauts were the sharp spearhead, American wealth and power was the hilt – and it wasn't entirely unpredictable that the latter would drive the former to its target. But a more significant reason (and one that certainly kept the taxpayers who helped to fund the enterprise on side) was that the moonshot had a compellingly simple narrative.

It took Kennedy just one sentence to lay it out: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth." From that point on everyone knew what the ending of the story should be and how far along in this cliff-hanger we were.

Wars, for all their logistical and historical complexity, often depend on similar narratives... a vast and sometimes chaotic task distilled to a simple plot-line. Reach Berlin, say, or achieve Unconditional Surrender. And when such a narrative is lacking there will always be a problem in sustaining concerted mass effort, one that depends on a population or a crowd rather than just a few individuals.

You could see the lack of a narrative beginning to bite over the weekend in Tehran, the initial simplicity of the protests beginning to falter, not only because the state had stepped up the violence, but because defeated presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi had not crafted a sufficiently compelling and simple plotline to encourage people to confront it.

Too many people, I suspect, are now uncertain about what the desired ending is in that case. And for ecologists the problem is even worse. They have a catastrophic ending to make us fearful, but it's virtually impossible to say what a happy ending would be, or how we would know with any certainty that we had reached it. As a result, we can't even agree what the plotline is yet. What the green movement desperately needs is a moonshot of its own, and a politician with enough sense of drama to commit to it.

Does Silvio need to go to the trouble?

What I can't understand is why Silvio Berlusconi allegedly felt he allegedly needed to pay for it... allegedly. He's not to my taste, and I can see that thick, orange make-up (as, allegedly, worn during his encounter with Patrizia D'Addario) might be off-putting to even the most easy- going party girl.

But surely, even so, a multi-millionaire, television tycoon Prime Minister would only have to cock his little finger to fill his bed with ambitious speakerines, without those troublesome "travel expenses" – so easy for one's enemies to misrepresent.

And, whatever the pious statements made about moral tone and national dignity and family value, I suspect that it is the allegation of payment, rather than what was paid for, which is potentially damaging.

Not because the Italian people are particularly aerated about prostitution, but because the sense of Signor Berlusconi's virility and potency would be subtly undermined by the discovery that he had to get his wallet out before he could exercise it.

Scheduling makes or breaks a TV show

I have some sympathy for the journalist John Ware, whose two-part documentary on social breakdown, The Death of Respect, has finally been given a transmission slot at 11.20pm. Sir Paul Coleridge, a judge who contributed to the programme, publicly criticised this scheduling decision, saying that he'd been told the programmes had been deemed "too dark" for prime time.

It must be disheartening to find that your chances of picking up passing trade have all but been wiped out, and scheduling decisions do send out an important message about a channel's sense of priorities. But arguments about where programmes are placed have surely been changed forever by the arrival of recordings and BBC iPlayer.

Given that no one who really wants to see Death of Respect will have much of an excuse for missing it, insisting it is broadcast earlier in the evening is tantamount to saying "we're going to make people watch this whether they want to or not", an approach that didn't always work when there were just two channels, and certainly wouldn't now.

Even Peter Bowker's excellent three-part drama Occupation dropped 1.2 million viewers on its second episode, despite being one of the best things on television for some months.

Keep an eye on the programme trails though, because if the BBC really do care about The Death of Respect, then they should promote it properly.

I'm not sure that it matters quite as much anymore where the pearls are scattered, so long as they still exist and the BBC don't force you to hunt through an entire pigsty to find them.