Last month: A Bit na Ta reminds us of forgotten links to PNG
Those PNG kiaps – small in number, big in nation-building

Inside commercial television – a grumpy old man tells


Ugly Head
Television Viewer

TUMBY BAY - I’ve hit a bit of a log jam with the current book I’m writing and I thought it best to leave it alone for a week while it sorts itself out in the backwaters of my mind.

Unfortunately it’s been hot outside so I haven’t been able to work in my vegie garden or go for a long walk. Anyway, the beach here is currently lousy with out-of-towners frolicking around in the water and making a terrible noise.

Not much I wanted to read either, so I thought I’d have a squizz at daytime television and see what’s currently occupying the synapses of the great unwashed out there in television land.

Understand, this is not something I ordinarily do. Though my wife has a few favourite programs, so there must be some sort of attraction.

She gave me a queer look when I sat down beside her. Normally I just shuffle past making snide comments about inanity.

Anyway, I stuck it out for about 2½ hours. After that, heat or no heat, I headed for the beach.

What I can report is that television confirms my deepest suspicions. Commercial TV during the day is utter crap. Even worse than the garbage they churn out at night.

In the couple of hours before I cracked, I saw a collection of past quiz kings on a chat show discussing their momentous contributions to mankind. I didn’t recognise any of them.

I couldn’t hear them either - the unrecognisable old crocks were too busy talking at once and laughing at each other. The stuff I did hear went entirely over my head anyway.

In between this profusion of irrelevance were inserted segments that may or may not have been advertisements urging me to buy all sorts of rubbish.

Potions and unguents that will make me look 100 years younger, health insurance for my cat, this week’s Easter specials at the supermarkets, Tim Tam-flavoured Coca-Cola and other indigestible garbage that some people apparently live on.

Then some sanctimonious clot called Dr Phil (no relation) showed up to dissect the love lives of a bunch of pathetic individuals who had been instructed to cry on cue.

Next a nasty little lady called Judge Judy verbally eviscerated another collection of fawning supplicants hell bent on sueing the bejesus out of each other.

These last two gems were imports from America. The victims seemed to be mainly what were once called White Trash, Latinos and Blacks – maybe they still are, it’s America after all.

It’s what’s making America great again, I understand.

Even so, I couldn’t help wondering what drove these poor buggers to demean and humiliate themselves in such a way. Money, presumably.

I’ve been depressing myself writing about politicians lately, describing how they sit around watching the world go to hell in a handbasket because of climate change and other man-made ills.

Let me tell you, the politicians are pillars of sanity and integrity compared to commercial daytime television.

If this is what ordinary people watch, day in and day out, we are truly doomed.

Forget about opium for the masses. This stuff is toxic sludge for the masses. Anyone who watched it for a week would emerge brain dead. No doubt about it.

Yet my good wife seems to survive. She watches Dr Phil and Nazi Judy and can carry on a sane conversation afterwards. Maybe it’s a female thing, they do put up with men after all.

I was thinking this when I realised that it’s not only the Yanks who export this stuff. Australia does it too.

I remember sitting in a donga in Mendi once, watching some Aussie culture while waiting for our chopper to be serviced. I also recall seeing it in hotel rooms in Moresby.

It seems that, for a while, one of the Australian commercial stations had the government contract to broadcast into the Asia-Pacific region.

I think it was John Howard’s doing. He replaced all the news, documentary and current affairs with some dickhead called Kochie on a program called Sunrise, a soapie called Neighbours, a bunch of masochists on Big Brother and whining teenagers on a palpable lie entitled Australia’s Got Talent.

There must be many thousands of people in the Asia-Pacific who saw this rubbish and think this is what Australians are like.

You know what I think? After banging on about the end of mankind through climate change, insane national leaders and meteor strikes, I wonder whether humanity is worth saving.

If climate change means the end of Dr Phil, Nazi Judy and Dickhead Kochie, then bring it on.


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Peter Kranz

Harry - you will like this. A Christian pastor in Florida is selling resurrection seeds for a mere $1,144. And you also get special prayer cloths that can produce miracles.

Worshippers who streamed into the doors of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Florida, got the surprise of their lives when their senior pastor offered them an opportunity to cheat death, the Christian Post reports.

For a little over a thousand dollars, folks could purchase a “resurrection seed” she told them was sent by God. Like the “resurrection stone” out of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this seed would presumably resurrect anyone who died.

She told the audience that she doesn’t generally get so specific about money, but it was God that gave her specific instructions on the dollar amount.

“There’s someone that God is speaking to, to click on that donation button by minimizing the screen. And when you do to sow $1,144,” she told the crowd. “It’s not often I ask very specifically but God has instructed me and I want you to hear. "

Then like an infomercial proclaiming “but wait! There’s more!” White promised those buying the “resurrection seed” that they would also get some special prayer cloths that might cause “miracles, signs and wonders.”

There's one born every minute.

Philip Fitzpatrick

This is what Wikipedia says about the Irishman, Fitzgerald, and his conjecture:

“FitzGerald is known for his conjecture in his short letter to the editor of "Science" titled 'The Ether and the Earth's Atmosphere' (1889) that if all moving objects were foreshortened in the direction of their motion, it would account for the curious null-results of the Michelson–Morley experiment
FitzGerald based this idea in part on the way electromagnetic forces were known to be affected by motion. In particular, FitzGerald used some equations that had been derived a short time before by his friend the electrical engineer Oliver Heaviside.

The Dutch physicist Hendrik Lorentz hit on a very similar idea in 1892 and developed it more fully into Lorentz transformations, in connection with his theory of electrons.

The Lorentz–FitzGerald contraction (or FitzGerald–Lorentz contraction) hypothesis became an essential part of the Special Theory of Relativity, as Albert Einstein published it in 1905. He demonstrated the kinematic nature of this effect, by deriving it from the principle of relativity and the constancy of the speed of light.”

I'm in total agreement with him. It also explains a lot about Donald Trump and why he was elected. Foreshortening Trump in his forward motion to nullify him seems an eminently good idea.

Chris Overland

Phil, I have to confess that I had never heard of the Fitzgerald Conjecture myself until I inadvertently wrote it instead of Fitzpatrick Conjecture, meaning to honour your contribution to the social sciences in relation to the pernicious effects of commercial TV on our collective intelligence quotient.

So I apologise to you, our esteemed editor and George Francis Fitzgerald for the unintended effects of my error.

Does this mean I join the incredibly short list of people who are described as a stable genius?

To be the second on that list after the US President is a very high honour indeed. MSGGA! - KJ

Harry Topham

Good one Phil - Again your mischievous and somewhat acerbic wit tickled my fancy. Must be something to do with my eccentric character, as after all I was a kiap in a previous life.

I would have to agree with your observations on the sad state of TV these days. It did not take the mad men of advertising long to realise how to target the demographics of their audience to then tailor their ads according.

Even when frustrated in watching the same old hackneyed ads repeated ad nauseum the old trick of channel surfing no longer works as the programmers have worked the system so that all ads run concurrently on all commercial channels.

Crap on most channels forces to oldies to tune into the alternative commercial channels to find something that reflects their generational needs only to find themselves bombarded with ads convincing them through guilt to take out funeral insurance.

However even these gurus of social engineering revert to their true idiots status and often shoot themselves in the foot as one ad in particular shows – Scenario- an old dude driving onto his driveway in an old restored MGB before espousing the benefits of a pre paid funeral.

Now the last time I looked those old jalopies, in reasonable condition still were fetching over $30k. Enough I would have thought to have a really good sendoff.

Talking to my old crony compatriots the message coming through is loud and clear. Stuff the kids and their inheritance aspirations. Up the chimney then into the garden you go and if any money is left over have a wake.

On a more serious note. Whilst channel surfing I inadvertently found another free channel. The first thing I found was good old rousing foot stamping gospel music and I soon realized that I had landed at Jimmy Swaggart’s Life Broadcasting Network.

What a slick operation this was I thought – highly professional singers backed by highly professional musicians. As I watched further I be came intrigued about the psychology lying behind the brainwashing techniques used to reinforce the so-called Christian dogma espoused.

Doing the old Google thing I found that the leader of the flock had in an earlier life been a minister in the Assembly of God network but after having been defrocked for committing some sexual peccadillo’s struck out on his own and founded his own ministry.

Although old Jimmy at 82 still manages top belt out a good thumping out a strong tune on the ivory keys he seems to now leave the fire and brimstone teachings to his apostle ministers.

His talent on the keyboard must have something to do with his genes, as after all he is the cousin of another old rocker - Jerry Lee Lewis.

It is interesting to note that Jimmy when asked how he managed to hold the attention of his audience stated that the secret of success lay in what he called the soft and loud approach.

Departing this channel quickly when the leading pastor hit the stage with bible raised high in the air, ranting and raving against the sins of mankind, that is their interpretation of such, I came to the realization that the whole modus operandi of this mob was about brainwashing and control.

Get your audience suitably intoxicated on the music with key phrases of their hymns continually repeated then when the gray cells are suitably fired up with endorphins ram the message home.

I also realized that these type of people are not only deranged but more concerning quite dangerous and the whole empire they had created was more to do with business rather than Christian teachings as evidenced by their continual flogging of their associated so called religious products and that for a mere $5,000 one can purchase their teachings on video and perhaps become a pastor in their ministry.

During all this exposure to these charlatans I did not hear the word Christian forgiveness uttered once and that they objected to any other religion that did not fit within the mindset of their narrow minded bigotry as evidenced by their publications exposing for example titles such as “ The truth behind, Jehovah Witnesses or the Truth behind the Masons” plus many more of similar ilk,

It poses the question - For goodness sake why are people so gullible?

Em tasol.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Never heard of the 'Fitzgerald Conjecture' Chris - what is that about?

I've got a sneaking suspicion that what got Trump into the White House was his status as a reality show host on television. If you take that a step further you could say that he was elected by the people who watch commercial television.

That sounds outlandishly stupid but when you think about it our own politicians are now largely assessed on their television performances, be it their 30 second sound bites or their stage managed debates.

Trump is now fighting a rear guard action over a book that claims he is basically a twit. In his defence he says he (a) went to a good college, (b) made a lot of money and (c) was a reality show star. To me this equates to (a) privilege, (b) greed and (c) vanity,i.e. a rich greedy egomaniac.

I think he has referred to the book as 'fake'.

This whole thing about 'fake news' is a thinly disguised attack on the freedom of the press.

We will now take a short commercial break.

More about Fitzgerald and his conjecture here -

Richard Jones

You can't dismiss Kochie of your beloved Port Adelaide footy club so harshly Phil.

Kochie is the president, the head honcho, of the AFL's Port Power.

As I understand it he came from a quite humble background but now earns squillions from his morning show.

As a former journo on a morning paper --- where you still have to be anchored behind your news screen at 11.30 or midnight or so ---- I've never seen early morning TeeV. Where Kochie holds court.

But I've seen a lot of late night stuff (midnight and beyond) and some of it is hardly riveting. Especially the series about air crashes, hearty chaps and chappettes up off-shoots of the Amazon, Mekong or Nile rivers looking for exotic species and the like.

Thank goodness for Fox Classic channel's late night movie masterpieces.

Bernard Corden

The greatest argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter - Winston Churchill

The most terrifying aspect about air transport is not the threat of terrorism but the fact that most passengers are allowed to vote.

Chris Overland

While I admire Peter Kranz's optimism, the political scoreboard suggests my pessimism is well founded.

Exhibit one is that fact that despite monumentally mismanaging the government and the broader PNG economy, the O'Neill regime remains firmly entrenched in power.

At least PNG has the excuse of having a tame media and basically unsophisticated electorate.

Meanwhile, in the USA, home of the brave and land of the free, despite a virulently hostile media and with a supposedly highly sophisticated electorate, 60 million people were somehow induced to vote for Donald Trump as President.

How obtuse and willfully blind do you have to be to not understand that this was a bad plan?

Similarly, David Cameron and his supposedly sophisticated remainer mates, blundered into a political death valley due to wildly misreading public sentiment about the EU.

In this latter case, while I actually agree with those who wish to leave the EU I can still see how it was emotion charged proselytizing that got the leave vote out more than the very respectable underlying argument for leaving a profoundly anti-democratic political structure.

So, I think that the evidence supports the hypothesis that widely available access to large amounts of information has not only not helped make voters better informed but may have actually had the reverse result.

This suggests that far too many of our fellow citizens are ill equipped whether by intelligence or education or even temperament to make balanced judgements based upon the facts, even when those facts are presented to them.

Worse still, the political elites (and their Spin Doctors) know this and have become skilled in presenting ideology as fact and inconvenient facts as mere fiction. With so many of their audience being incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction, why wouldn't this work?

So, I think that what we might call the Fitzgerald Conjecture about the pernicious effect of commercial TV and media holds up pretty well.

And that's a fact!

Bernard Corden

Dear Chris,

The greatest manipulator of the media and orator was undoubtedly Adolf Hitler with the invaluable assistance of Leni Riefensthal, who both understood the power of semiotics/semiosis.

Bernard Corden

One of the necessary accompaniments of capitalism in a democracy is political corruption - Upton Sinclair

I also quite like the newspaper titles in Robert Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists:

Chloroform and The Daily Obscurer

Peter Kranz

Maybe there is hope for humanity yet. Here's a list of the least and most trusted news sources in the US.

Least - Fox, Trump, social media and Breitbart .

Most - PBS, BBC, Reuters, Guardian and The Economist.

Maybe having a British accent helps (but don't tell Boris Johnson).

Chris Overland

My views very closely accord with Phil's when it comes to commercial television and media more broadly. I regard much of what is presented as entertainment as questionable if not contemptible, but I guess that it is a matter of taste really.

The larger issue for me is that a significant minority of the population derive almost their entire world view not only from people like Dr Phil and Judge Judy (the world's richest jurist incidentally) but from sources that present "news" as entertainment.

I am thinking of organisations like the News and Daily Mail here in Adelaide, which feature prominently the doings of so-called celebrities, breathless accounts of unpleasant crimes or scandals and many pictures of scantily clad women doing yoga or disporting themselves on a beach.

These days, in addition to the traditional print media, there are a wide range of on-line sites that purport to be providers of news content.

These can range from the respectable and serious Huffington Post through to sites like Reddit. The latter claims to be "the front page of the internet" and its content ranges from the seriously newsworthy through amusing to downright bizarre.

There are, of course, serious news reporting organisations. These tend to present a world view that accords pretty closely with that of their ownership, but at least there is an attempt to inform readers about what is happening in the world, as well as analyse what it might all mean.

A powerful effect of what might be called "the popular media" is, I think, to relentlessly erode the overall capacity of a supposedly informed citizenship to make sensible and balanced socio-political judgements.

As a consequence, we are now in a world where people can live in personal "echo chambers", where they only accept news from sources that cater to their pre-existing views.

This has, in turn, led to the relentless dumbing down of public discourse on a range of very complex and difficult issues.

Worse still, the internet has given the ratbag fringe elements in our society an electronic megaphone through which to blast their views out to a not necessarily very erudite or discerning public.

This helps explain how someone like Donald Trump can, despite having no relevant knowledge or experience, mount a successful insurgency to first take over the Republican Party and then become President.

Basically, too many voters were too easily mislead, too ill informed and too credulous to discern that Trump stood for nothing other than his own self interest.

By repeatedly and loudly declaiming the prejudices and beliefs of his target audience, Trump deftly managed to garner the support of people, many of whose objective best interests clearly lay in electing his opponent.

This analysis may seem a long way removed from Phil's lament about day time TV, but I would contend that it is all part of a spectrum of behaviours that reinforce the idea that there a clear and simple solutions to immensely complex and difficult problems.

Day time TV has, by its nature, to present packages of entertainment within tight time constraints. So, Dr Phil "solves" peoples personal problems in an hour, while Judge Judy dispenses her version of justice within the same time frame.

Contrast this with the reality of how serious personal problems are solved, which almost always involves a long and frequently difficult period of reflection and conscious effort to change established patterns of thinking and behaviour.

Similarly, no serious crime which can be investigated, analysed, turned into a brief of evidence and then prosecuted within the space of an hour.

Daytime TV presents unreality masquerading as reality and, sadly, many viewers unconsciously absorb the idea that what is presents reflects what can and should be our experience of life.

Of course, I could be over analysing this and I do start with a healthy prejudice against so-called reality shows. Despite this, I think that what I am saying would be widely shared amongst those who, like Phil, actually think about these things.

In a way, I think that the popular media has replaced religion as what Marx called "the opiate of the masses". Its semi-anaesthetising effects are well understood as is its capacity to distort perceptions about what is real.

This is why Vladimir Putin regularly gets himself on TV patting nervous carnivores, or shooting harmless mammals or fishing sans shirt. He and those who advise him know the power of such images in a world where, increasingly, image is everything.

So, I think that Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin's concerns about young Papua New Guineans are not misplaced. I am sure that those who advise the PNG government on media matters will regard the use of misinformation and distraction as perfectly legitimate tools by which to manipulate public opinion.

Whether inadvertently or not, the popular media assists this process by their relentless focus upon entertainment with little or no regard to their potentially very important role in publishing things that actually matter.

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

Phil - EMTV, TVWAN and the FM stations in PNG with pseudo-white presenters/announcers, who are shallow on content. are an opium to the younger generation too.

Sometimes, I think they were on marijane before being in the studio.

All the ads have no logic or ethics. They are all pathos (emotion) and the younger generation is terrible at sieving out the rubbish they come into contact every day. Awful.

Peter Kranz

Mind you, I'd quite like to see the leaders of our current political parties hauled up before Judge Judy. That would be worth watching.

But you didn't mention the shopping shows and the televangelists! Surely the highlight of any couch potato's viewing week.

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