Category Archives: television

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.

Dialogue of the Dalrymples

Dalrymple and his wife, also a doctor, have put up at an hotel. It is one of those hotels

in which television is a compulsory accompaniment to breakfast: not a boiled egg without an interview with a gormless footballer or a report on the weather 2,000 miles away relayed with fatuous facetiousness.

He asks the waitress at least to turn the sound off, which she does. However, Dr (Mme) Dalrymple says that Dalrymple

should not have asked, for two reasons.

One, he ought, especially at his age, to accept the world as it is; and two,

perhaps there are others in the room who want to listen to the state-sponsored drivel (it is the BBC).

But Dalrymple argues that his right to silence

exceeds anyone’s right to listen to (or hear) drivel. If they want drivel, they should listen to it in privacy and not impose it on others.

He suggests

a law in which any form of electronically relayed noise is illegal in the presence of any person who does not want to hear it.

Dr (Mme) Dalrymple’s response to this proposal is not recorded.

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).

How the English rear their young

British children, writes Dalrymple,

are regularly found to be the most miserable in Europe. This is because a large proportion of parents fear or hate their children, and by the time they have finished bringing them up are right to do so: which does not, of course, absolve them of their responsibility.

The preferred English method of child-rearing is

neglect by indulgence, with or without a little violence and emotional abuse thrown in. By the end of childhood, a British child is considerably more likely to have a television in its room than a father living at home.

The cretin’s lantern

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-10-26-55Television promised much but disappointed greatly, emerging as an inherently vacuous, trivialising medium. Dalrymple goes further and describes it as

a terrible social evil.

There are few more frustrating experiences, he says,

than trying to discuss a serious subject on television. Discussion programmes are soundbite programmes, from which that person emerges triumphant who says something striking in the very few seconds allocated to him. The content of what he says is unimportant: it is the form and feeling-tone that count.

There are, he notes,

many erroneous statements whose erroneousness cannot be exposed in a single sentence, however brilliantly compressed. Concision is a virtue unless it come at the expense of truth, whereupon it be not only a vice, but a public danger.

Inside the mind of a Belgian suicide bomber

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 09.11.50Watching some Swiss television

for the first and possibly last time,

Dalrymple views a report on Muriel Degauque, the first white European suicide bomber. Born and raised in Charleroi, she was a child of ordinary working-class parents.

The television underlined this with lengthy shots of her dreary childhood neighbourhood. Even a few seconds looking at it on a screen was almost enough to provoke an existential crisis.

Her life was unremarkable, said the television report.

She was average at school, then worked in a bakery. People who knew her emphasised that she was an ordinary person—the last kind of person to act in such an outrageous way. There was nothing in her life out of the usual. True, she went through a period of sexual promiscuity and drug-taking, but when she converted to Islam—cut to a Muslim area of Brussels—she gave up drugs and was faithful to her Moroccan husband. So really, the commentary concluded, the whole episode was mysterious and inexplicable.

But only, writes Dalrymple,

in the sense that all human conduct is, in the last analysis, mysterious. Actually, the suicide bomber reminded me of the lost and bewildered young whom various Christian sects would look for as they scoured our streets, trawling for recruits into their all-embracing communities. These communities happened to make lots of money for their founders but really did rescue some young people from the gutter.

The television commentary

made no connection between Degauque’s promiscuity and drug abuse on the one hand and her subsequent conversion to a murderously puritanical form of Islam on the other (she wore the most extreme of veils).

Yet it requires little imagination, says Dalrymple, to make such a connection,

for one interpretation of her former life was that she sought to fill a void, a lack of purpose or interest, with sensation. Once the self-defeating nature of this was obvious to her—and nothing suggests that she lacked intelligence, despite her mediocre academic background—she became vulnerable to a ‘complete’ answer to life’s problems. Her death demonstrated, to herself and to others, how deeply (or desperately) she believed in it.

Her problem—a lack of meaning in her life—is

far from unique. Millions of people are in the same or similar position. That is why Europe cannot afford to be complacent about it.

Muggeridge was right — about Russia and about TV

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 08.49.24Malcolm Muggeridge, Dalrymple explains, was a correspondent for the (then-Manchester) Guardian in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, but

far from finding the paradise he had expected, he found a kind of hell. During the Ukrainian famine he sent back truthful reports to the Guardian, which published only some of them. He was outraged by the Western intellectuals who took starvation for plenty and tyranny for freedom, and satirised them mercilessly in his book Winter in Moscow.

For Muggeridge,

the most encouraging thing about the Soviet régime was its failure. If it had succeeded…I would have known that there were no limits to the extent to which human beings could be terrorised and enslaved.

Later in life, Dalrymple notes,

Muggeridge became a fervent and somewhat unctuous Christian, by no means a popular thing to do in the 1960s. Perhaps he did so because it was his temperament to swim against the tide. He denounced television from his pulpit—which was, of course, television. He denounced it with all the fervour of a temperance preacher denouncing gin or of a modern public health official denouncing tobacco. At first I laughed at him, but then I saw that he was quite right. Television is an evil.

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:

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 07.55.48

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.