Category Archives: telescreen

Dalrymple spurns the idiot’s lantern

The doctor-writer has not voluntarily so much as glanced at any kind of televisual apparatus since 1968

Dalrymple explains that he has not watched television

for half a century.

Furthermore, he subscribes to no ‘social media’, as the young call it.

People

who are world-famous, and who are so instantly recognisable that they are known on my e-mail server’s home page by their first name alone, or even by a diminutive of their first name,

are completely unknown to Dalrymple. He just doesn’t care

if they divorce one another or check into a rehabilitation clinic to cure them of their promiscuity.

British social policy defined

An idiocy wrapped in a lunacy wrapped in an absurdity, to produce misery and squalor

Dalrymple writes:

A tax on knowledge is a terrible thing, but a tax on ignorance, prejudice, evasion and half-truth is worse. That is what every British household with a television must pay, for the privilege of having the earnest but frivolous lucubrations of the BBC purveyed to it, whether it wants them or not.

This poll tax — or licence fee, as it is known — is the equivalent of nearly $200 per household a year, and is thus worth evading. Unfortunately, it costs nearly three times as much to catch evaders as the licence fees would have raised if paid. One proposal is to halve the licence fee for single mothers. Dalrymple comments:

In other words, we should subsidise a subsidy, in the name of a universal right to misinformation and trashy entertainment (and at the same time confer yet another incentive for single parenthood).

Pop music leaks everywhere like poison gas

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The Hook of Holland

It is impossible to escape it, writes Dalrymple, who is travelling by ferry to Harwich from Hoek van Holland. It is also, he says, hard to avoid

the malign flickering of huge screens, relaying drivel at a volume exactly calculated to make it impossible alike to follow it or ignore it. It is as though the ferry company believes that no passenger can bear to be alone with his thoughts, not for a second. Perhaps it is right; I have noticed that people brought up in an age of continuous entertainment find silence disturbing and even frightening.

Prophylaxis against our own thoughts

Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 08.15.00Dalrymple points out that in many public places, electronic entertainment of a deeply unpleasant kind is compulsory, including

The assumption by the management of these places, he writes, is that rather than being left to our devices, we must have the gap in our minds filled with

  • the weather forecast
  • share prices
  • football results
  • sex scandals
  • scenes of war
  • episodes of soap opera
  • cookery programmes

The stimulation

acts on the mind as a food mixer acts on vegetables.

The secret of the British economic problem

English cuisine

Emetic: English cuisine

A service economy without the service

The British no longer have the faintest idea how to prepare or serve food, either in establishments they are pleased to call restaurants or in their own homes. According to W. Somerset Maugham, the only solution when in England is to eat breakfast three times a day. But the English can no longer manage with minimal competence even to prepare a halfway-decent breakfast.

British eating houses, bar-grills, cafés and other places where dining (of a kind) goes on, from the humblest truck-stop to the most exalted, starred restaurant, are easily the worst in Europe. It is better, for example, to go to bed hungry than to risk an evening meal at, say, an English public house.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 09.59.02

Suburban Tudor

The Moon Under Water it isn’t

Dalrymple is reminded of this when, hungry one evening and with no other dining establishment in the vicinity, he enters a pub (which, like many from the 1920s and 1930s, is built rather pleasingly in the suburban Tudor style), and is greeted by

the flashing lights of fruit machines

and

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 10.45.20numerous large flat screens disposed in such a way that it was impossible to escape them. It was as if one had a duty to watch.

Drivelscreens

At least, he says, they

were all showing the same thing — a football match, football being a 24-hour activity.

Dalrymple dare not complain. British popular culture is

crude, unpleasant and inescapable; if you criticise it, you are taken for an enemy of the people.

The Codfather. Bon appétit!

The Codfather. Bon appétit!

The smell in the pub

was of stale beer and even staler fat in which standard British prolefood had been fried.

He peruses

the grubby menu, a triumph of quantity over quality. The fish dish was called The Codfather, size trumping taste. Everything came with chips, of the frozen variety.

Soupe à l'oignon

Soupe à l’oignon à l’anglaise

The table is

sticky and long unwiped.

Dalrymple orders soup. It is

packet soup which had not been properly dissolved, so that it had little balls in it that if bitten exploded into a kind of salty dust.

He orders steak, and asks for it to be rare. When it comes, it

would have been regarded as incinerated in any other country.

Fried mushrooms: at least their own weight in fat

Fried mushrooms: at least their own weight in fat

The fried mushrooms

contained at least their own weight in fat of some type.

The next morning

I woke with a strange and unpleasant taste in my mouth.

The meal

The flashing lights of fruit machines

The flashing lights of fruit machines

wasn’t even cheap.

This is the vital point. British food is not just atrocious — it is execrable value.

During the meal,

the man who had taken my order came over to my table.

Everything all right?‘ he asked.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 11.02.01‘Yes, very good,’ I replied.

Dalrymple concludes:

The slovenliness, the bad quality, my pusillanimity: voilà the secret of the British economic problem.

The airport hotel: realm of Pure Being

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 07.52.51The monasteries of our time

Dalrymple points to

the dialectic between the frightening disorder of pullulation and the antiseptic order of the airport hotel.

After a date mix-up at the home airport and then the cancellation of a connecting flight at the transit airport, he puts up in airport hotels. He writes:

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There is nothing to be done in that place

I loved my three nights in these utterly impersonal surroundings. What happy hours I spent stretched out on my bed reading detective novels! (I had taken the  precaution of bringing several old-fashioned green and white-covered Penguins.) I had no computer with me and switched off my mobile phone. I was almost as incommunicado as it is possible to be in the modern world: and this in the middle of an airport through which scores of millions of people pass annually!

Spiritual retreats

Dalrymple’s enjoyment is related to

Pure being: Fairmont Vancouver airport hotel

Pure Being: airport hotel, Vancouver

the anonymity of the place, and a release from the need to be somebody or play a part. There was no social pressure whatsoever; there was no need to pretend or to try to please. Airport hotels are the realm of Pure Being. They are places of spiritual refreshment or retreat. They are the monasteries of our time. Guaranteed nothing to do, no one to meet, perfect calm, food bland enough to reduce eating to a physiological function.

Idiot’s lantern

The one thing you must not do, of course, is

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 08.07.59

Impure Being: Las Vegas

turn on the television that is kept in the modern equivalent of the commode, the television cabinet. How easily the heavenly peace of the room can be turned into one of the circles of hell: at the flick of a switch.

To put the guest-monks out of the way of temptation,

perhaps the television could be removed for the duration of their stay; though more advanced souls could have them in their rooms, much as the Mahatma slept with young girls to test his chastity.

 

Loathsome poll-tax-funded purveyor of pap

The idiot's lantern

Moral idiot’s lantern

The corrupt British state broadcaster

The contempt of the upper echelons of the BBC for the intelligence of the British public could not be better illustrated than by its website, writes Dalrymple.

His experience of those working at the lower levels of the organisation

is of intelligent, dedicated and often talented people frustrated in their wish to do a good job by the mandate from the top to produce prolefeed, a pabulum of sport, gossip, celebrity and trivial sensation.

Compared to the BBC’s website, the Daily Mail‘s is

like a work of the deepest and most serious scholarship.

Dalrympian understatement

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 23.01.00Dalrymple writes:

I do not always express myself in emollient fashion.

What might be an instance of Dalrymple expressing himself in a not necessarily emollient fashion? Well, there is his description — wholly accurate, actually — of people who work in the television industry. He is not overly fond of them, if the truth be told. He writes:

People who work for TV broadcasting companies are the most disagreeable people that I have ever encountered. I far preferred the criminals whom I encountered in my work as a prison doctor, who were more honest and upright than TV people. TV people are as lying, insincere, obsequious, unscrupulous, fickle, exploitative, shallow, cynical, untrustworthy, treacherous, dishonest, mercenary, low, and untruthful a group of people as is to be found on the face of this Earth. They make the average Western politician seem like a moral giant. By comparison with them, Mr Madoff was a model of probity and Iago was Othello’s best friend.

Broadcast drivel has the same intonation in all languages

Airport telescreens

Dalrymple watches the weather forecast for Buenos Aires, Rawalpindi, and Brisbane, and other places.

I made (involuntarily) a mental note that it was frightfully cold in Montreal, minus 17 degrees Celsius, whereas in Los Angeles it was 23 degrees Celsius.

The sound, writes Dalrymple, 'is turned on loud enough to be hard to ignore, but too soft to be intelligible. Tthe volume must have been carefully calculated by someone with this in mind). Oddly enough, the intonation always suffices to tell you that what is said is drivel, in the same way that a dog can understand what you say by the tone of your voice'

Compulsory television: the sound of airport TVs, writes Dalrymple, ‘is turned on loud enough to be hard to ignore, but too soft to be intelligible. The volume must have been carefully calculated by someone with this in mind. The intonation always suffices to tell you that what is said is drivel, in the same way that a dog can understand what you say by the tone of your voice’

 

The idiot’s lantern

Dalrymple has not had one since 1973

Dalrymple hasn’t had one since 1973, though he is occasionally able to ‘catch a glimpse’ of cable TV in, for instance, German hotel rooms