Magazine article The Spectator

All the World's a TV

Magazine article The Spectator

All the World's a TV

Article excerpt

The public outcry against Deirdre Rachid's sentence for fraud in Coronation Street tells us more about contemporary British mores than the social surveys of the past decade. For the benefit of innocents, a middle-aged woman character in Coronation Street - the mother of all 'soaps' - is given a prison sentence for fraud; the public is outraged and a Labour MP from the north-east has raised the matter with the Home Secretary. Add to this the weight given to football and its millionaire players and the adulation of women boxers, and we see the outlines of our post-Christian society.

Television has become virtual reality. Whereas the newspaper press was descended from the pulpit and preachers, television is descended from the cinema, which in turn descended from the stage. News and current affairs must compete for ratings with drama game shows. Hence they are livened up to match, and become indistinguishable and thus equally true.

All the world was a stage for Shakespeare, but the theatre was finite and coexisted with society. For the watcher in the high street today, television is no surrogate but reality itself. A century ago, the biblical past and the world to come were as real as day-to-day life, and the churchyard was very much part of it. Monarchy, with the Established Church perpetuating the Divine Right of Kings (except over the budget), completed the chain. Earlier, the passion play had embodied the people and satisfied their psychological needs. The continued hunger for this magic glow over shop-soiled life was demonstrated by the public's selfinitiation into the Diana cult, and television has served as its virtual cathedral.

But in this age of mass democracy critical reality must also be demotic. The equality of the television licence must operate on both sides of the screen. Whereas Shakespeare could play Bottom and Quince for laughs, Deirdre Rachid plays for tears. British 'soaps' are enjoined to show their full quota of ethnic and sexual minorities. On American television, political correctness demands a much higher proportion of black judges, professors and police chiefs than outside reality would justify; the blacks' reward is on television as it was once in heaven. By the same token, justice must be seen to be imposed on television. Deirdre is Everywoman. Swords should spring from their scabbards in her defence, as Burke said of Marie Antoinette.

The matter is unlikely to rest there. An opposite reaction may also be expected. Mrs Rachid (aka Barlow) is a female heroine drawing on feminine solidarity. …

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