Young heroes know the form, and smash it

You must have a larger-than-life personality that attracts huge audiences, but you must still adhere to the BBC guidelines
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What's the difference between a DJ and a Tory MP? Both of them can shoot their mouths off but only one of them gets fired. Danny Baker joins the ranks of Chris Evans and Chris Morris in being dismissed by their employer for overstepping the lines on taste and decency. Noel Edmonds, Jim Davidson and Eamonn Holmes should also be banned from broadcasting on the grounds of taste. Mine. Unfortunately, my definition of what is truly obnoxious differs from the BBC's whose unwritten laws include not wishing terminal illness on a football club's directors, telling callers to shut up or urging fans to picket the home of a referee. You may, it appears, be controversial and humorous but not insulting. You may rant but not rave. You must have a larger-than-life personality that attracts huge audiences, but you must still adhere to BBC guidelines.

It is not worth shedding any tears for the likes of Evans (Chris) and Baker - they will find other employment and they both boast about how much money they earn. These bad boys are no more than rebels without a clause, a clause in their contracts that guarantees their genius/megalomania free rein. Yet their hiring and firing tells us something abut our deregulated culture, about what happens when the centre no longer holds.

We talk of deregulation often in purely financial rather than cultural terms. This is why the paternalism of the BBC, rooted in a past that at least pretended a consensus around notions of taste and fair play, is simply unable to cope when such a consensus breaks down. For it has broken down. Audiences have fragmented with more choices than ever before. We have not only more channels but more TV sets, more radios; and we don't often watch with mother these days.

The deference of previous generations has been replaced by a healthy irreverence which reveals a fundamental distrust of those in authority. Baker railed against the football establishment with constant swipes at his fellow broadcaster David Mellor, "the sort of bloke who has never paid to watch a game of football in his life". Baker claims his sin is being "too real"; Evans was always slagging off his BBC bosses on air. They flaunt their ordinariness, and their wealth - thus breaking a cardinal rule of celebrity. They are paid for their lack of hypocrisy.

Indeed the likes of Baker and Evans are great demystifiers of the broadcasting media, constantly referring to producers, scriptwriters, cameras, microphones, all the formerly invisible paraphernalia of broadcasting. In the Seventies we would have described what they do as "deconstruction" and insisted that such Brechtian strategies as revealing "the processes of production" were in themselves radical.

Nowadays though you can't move for television eating itself in front of you. Even the disembodied voices of the Channel Four continuity announcers have been revealed as belonging to people sitting in studios with headphones on. The Bob Mills Show demonstrates that what goes on behind the scenes of a chart show is much more interesting than the show itself. Deconstruction for its own sake then, is hardly radical (and least so when done by gobby guys who think themselves far more charming than they actually are) but it has altered what used to be called "the grammar" of broadcasting.

The antics of an Evans or a Baker may take apart the medium but this is not done for any larger purpose than the presenter's ego. Nor should we forget that they are broadcasting to the camcorder generation, to punters who are not scared of what comes out of screens because they know how it goes in, for whom not much is sacred.

What was daring becomes just another style - Zoo TV - and in reaction broadcasters start seeking authored documentaries, in which some authoritative but idiosyncratic presenter strides around as a repository of truth - Andrew Graham-Dixon, Howard Jacobson, Jonathan Meades. Men strangely enough seem to have cornered both the big mouth and the big brain market. Women get The Girlie Show.

The Girlie Show, I'm afraid, is a sad but blatant attempt to appeal to the youth market. Everybody wants some "yoof', everyone in the media wants to make products that young people feel are theirs, which no one else understands. How is this to be done with no swearing, smoking, sex or drugs? Well, it can't be, which is why I find myself having to answer the question "Mummy, what does the F stand for in T.F.I. Fridays?"

Youth culture has actually been going quite a long time, and it must post a continual threat if it to be credible. It is a sign of how conservative rather than how liberal we are that swearing is considered so shocking. Evans has been constantly reprimanded for swearing on air, many stand- up comics rely on getting a laugh just by saying the word "Shag". None of this brings about the collapse of the Western World because much of it relentlessly laddish. It's about having a laugh rather than making a point. It is anti-authority but apolitical. It is about not sucking up to bosses, chiefs, the establishment. It is about being rude not radical.

The BBC cannot buy in this spirited chippiness and then balk when it crosses over the very lines that its target audience does not care about anyway. By sacking Baker and Evans, it turns them into heroic defenders of freedom. The freedom to be what? A mouthy bloke. An ugly bloke with a talent, as Chris Evans might say?

Yet for all the fuss, the only mavericks I've seen on screen recently have been Chris Morris who is some kind of god, Mrs Merton trying to locate "Charlie" for those backstage at the Brit awards and Homer Simpson. The surprise is not how out of control broadcasting is but how so many of the conventions stay intact. Without them of course Morris could not shine. He could not satirise the pomposity of current affairs, the arrogance of the Buerks and Paxmans, he could not discuss morality in terms of "good Aids" and "bad Aids", he could not inform us that Noel Edmonds is a murderer, he could not show businessmen injecting "illegal high drugs" into their groin while discussing a new line of jam. He depends entirely on the media loop.

He constructs programmes about other programmes. He needs to continually overstep the line to show us how meaningless the lines are. If the BBC can't tolerate them, such broadcasters will easily find other homes. If audiences don't like it, they can switch to something more to their taste. That's what a deregulated market means and in such a world loose cannons are not just guns for hire, but the biggest guns of all.