Published On: Wed, Jul 4th, 2012

Dear BBC, stop patronising my generation

If you’re young and intelligent, the media isn’t for you

What a guy

Have you watched any ‘young people’ TV lately? BBC3, for example? If you haven’t, I recommend it as a sociological study. It’s an amazing insight into the disconnect between TV land and reality.  You see, television producers seem to view the process of human development as something like this: baby, toddler, child, teenager, 30something.


I’m not just pulling this opinion out of thin air – BBC3′s stated target audience is 16-34 year olds. That’s an 18 year age range. Think about that – at 16 you’re still in school, but over the next 18 years you can go to college, maybe take a gap year, go to university, graduate, get a job, get promoted, get fired, get another job, get promoted again, and end up as a domesticated middle-manager with two kids and a labrador. You can probably even fit in a good few months of ‘character building’ (read: hopelessly bleak and depressing unemployment) at some point, what with the recession and all.

But the BBC don’t think you or your taste in television will develop at all over this period. They think you’ll still be interested in shows like “Snog, Marry, Avoid”, and get your news from 60-second bulletins sandwiched between Family Guy repeats. Even their supposedly adult oriented programming – such as Torchwood, the ‘Doctor Who for Grown-Ups’ – isn’t really for adults. Sure, the characters may swear a lot, get mildly violent and occasionally sleep with one another, but they’re not really adults. They’re a depiction of young adulthood as seen through the eyes of teenager. Wait, scratch that – the eyes of a middle aged executive who is trying to look through the eyes of a teenager.

This doesn’t just apply to BBC3, of course. The Beeb will give you the same treatment if you tune in to Radio 1, where you will slowly have your brain turned to cotton wool by the troglodytic audio sludge that is the Chris Moyles show. You can’t escape the pervasive air of teenaged anti-intellectualism that seems to permeate the entire station. It’s like being back at school, at that age when it’s decidedly uncool to be smart; if you know stuff you’re The Boff*, and must be shunned. Radio 1 DJs seem to be in a permanent state of arrested development, stuck in that mindset.

Outside of the BBC, you’ll find the same attitudes on channels like E4. E4 uses more bright colours and friendly shapes in their marketing than the Tellytubbies, making me think of it as kids TV but with more dick jokes. Then you have MTV, and the whole Viacom UK family (Viva, VH1 etc) – although to be fair, they never pretend to be anything other than the televisual equivalent of gruel (slop for the masses, consumed by those without a choice and those who don’t know any better).

If (in my weaker moments) I were to try and understand what motivates them to be this way, I’d hazard a guess and say that it’s a misguided attempt at establishing a cultural identity. I think Mark Thompson & co see young people as a completely seperate entity to mainstream society, and as such, they have this concept of ‘youth culture’. They see it as something to embrace and cater for, certainly, but they also see it as a definite ‘other’, with a completely different set of interests and motivations. So they allocate us our own special outlets – BBC3 and Radio 1, the kids’ table of broadcasting. Then, in an attempt to make us feel important – a patronising pat on the proverbial head – they assign us our own value system, try to build a culture around their perceptions of us.

If I’m right, and this is the rationale behind the parade of adolescent fuckery that is youth media, then it says a lot about how we are perceived by the higher-ups. None of it is particularly complimentary; the constant themes of tacky overdone edginess, forced pantomime maturity and anti-intellectualism point towards a rather unflattering view of our generation. We’re apparently a nation of shuffling thirteen year olds, looking enviously at the older kids smoking behind the bike sheds, whom we one day hope to emulate.

So what can a ‘thinking’ young person do? Turning to more upmarket media is all well and good, until the subject matter turns to young people or youth culture. Whatever the tone of the discussion, be it positive or negative, the overall attitude of the participants is given away by the pronouns. It’s always ‘them’ and ‘they’, as if they’re talking about a foreign populace or a different species. It’s more evidence of the kids’ table attitude; they talk as if they expect everything to go over your head. You may consume and enjoy the more highbrow media, but it’s impossible to shake the feeling that it’s Not For You.

No, I’m afraid the only thing to do is to stop watching. The great advantage we now have is that we live in the digital age; nobody has to consume whatever content is spoon-fed to them by the TV. Don’t like E4? Couldn’t agree more. Watch Breaking Bad on the internet instead. Hate Radio 1? So do I, but fortunately I have an iPod. The ratings system is as close to democracy as broadcast media gets. Only by refusing to tune in can we send that all important message: we can sit with the adults now.

By John Sheppard

*That’s the term we used ten years ago; I’m sure the kids today have their own thing.

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