Friday, January 23, 2009

I Want My TV

Today Frost/Nixon premieres in Finnish cinemas. Just yesterday the film was nominated for an Academy Award for best direction, best actor in a leading role and best picture. I have been waiting for this film with an eagerness I have seldom experienced. There are a number of reasons why.

Some years back I was visiting London for work and met up with a friend of mine, a British playwright of Indian descent. The British media had only one issue on that day and neither us or anyone else could avoid the topic: Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 4 showing how nonsense celebrity Jade Goody and a number of other contenders were bullying Indian actress Shilpa Shetty in a racist manner seldom seen on primetime television. The white English women were according to my interpretation intimidated by the successful and beautiful Indian superstar and decided to gang up on her revealing all their prejudices on the Indians.

A large portion of the British quality media took a unified stand: the fuss around the programme was exaggerated. However, during our drink on that London afternoon I got another look into the issue. I still remember her telling me:"I am born in this country and so are my children. My children have been glued to the television during Celebrity Big Brother as they see on screen remarks they hear daily in school. As Shetty, they are told to go back to their own country. What country is that for a 10-year-old child with both parents born in the UK and one of them having Indian parents?"

That personal take showed me a part of the media often forgotten in academic media analysis and journalistic critique. The way the media validates and presents everyday situations and in that way acknowledges that these things do happen. By the media covering them, they are also submitted to a list of subjects suitable for private discussions. This has been the power of telenovelas in South America covering HIV-AIDS or As The World Turns showing a gay kiss.

After our drink she rushed to the theatre to see the "IT" play of the moment: Frost/Nixon. I tried to get tickets to it without success on the last moment.

I ran into Frost again two years ago when visiting the Museum of Television and Radio in Los Angeles and watching clips of his most famous interviews - including the Nixon one. Using the same strategy as he got Nixon to talk, his soft, direct but polite style brought into the surface some of the deepest thoughts of Muhammad Ali on black supremacy or Robert Kennedy opening up in his ideals. As one can see also in this clip from an interview with Thatcher, his background research forces people to answer directly without having to take refuge in hostility towards the guest.

I love television. I really do. In the work of David Frost as well as in the fuss around Big Brother, television has the power to reveal truths of ourselves and our societies - in more and less idealistic manners. It can facilitate people opening up sensitive discussions using commenting of a television programme as the cover up.

I never understood the people who take pride from not watching TV. How would it sound like if I would state at a fancy dinner party that I categorically don´t read printed material as I just don´t have the time?

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