How our rigid TV habits reveal we were never cut out for Brexit

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How our rigid TV habits reveal we were never cut out for Brexit

January 17, 2018 - 12:16
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Amid the moronic inferno of a ludicrously polarised mass
debate there is perhaps one thing we can all agree on about Brexit: it has
driven us collectively mad.

Strictly Come Dancing

By Kevin O'Sullivan

Amid the moronic inferno of a ludicrously polarised mass
debate there is perhaps one thing we can all agree on about Brexit: it has
driven us collectively mad.

The raging row over Europe has turned Britain into a
neurotic nation. A disunited kingdom unable to cope with a momentous shock
decision that has propelled us into a frightening universe we struggle to understand.
We are out of our comfort zone and out of control.

But why are we in such a discombobulated state? Why can’t we
handle leaving the EU? Or, if you prefer, why can’t we even deal with trying to
remain? Why has this seismic situation reduced what should be an important
exchange of views to the level of rival soccer supporters screaming abuse at
each other?

Don’t ask the boys and girls in the Westminster bubble.
Neither Theresa’s Tories nor Corbyn’s Labourites have the faintest idea how to
articulate their Brexit vision. Mainly, because they don’t have one. Ever since
the referendum, parliament has become a house full of uncoordinated Euro
dervishes thrashing around in all directions. When we look to our political
leaders what do we see? A ship of squabbling fools adrift in a sea of

It’s not as if Britain has never been divided before. All
elections and referenda are by their very nature divisive. We’ve had many
narrow margins of victory and always accepted the result because in a democracy
that’s the way it goes. But in the EU warzone, even the result is questioned
because – horror of horrors – lies were told during the campaign. Gosh, really?
Whatever next!

And so the intractable argument with no end or compromise
trundles on regardless. Where it’s heading no one knows. The pompous certitude
on both sides of the fence (I’m definitely right, you’re definitely wrong) only
serves to fuel the chronic instability that has sent vast numbers of
increasingly insecure citizens into a tailspin they cannot fathom.

But it’s their own fault. When, for whatever reason, 17.4million
voters put their cross in the Leave box they did something that went against
the grain. They did something uncharacteristically radical in a cautious country
that is innately conservative (with a small c). And thereby plunged themselves
into an unfamiliar world of profound change.

If there are two things Brits can’t stand, unfamiliarity and
change are at the top of the charts. Confirmed creatures of habit, they love
routine and knowing precisely what to expect. Surprise and differentness are
anathemas to them. That’s why they watch the same TV shows at the same time of
year, every year. In their droves. The fact that the likes of Strictly Come
Dancing, I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! and Britain’s Got Talent are
exercises in rigidly formulaic annual repetition is precisely what makes them
so enduringly popular.

As a TV critic who has followed the less-than-exciting entertainment
tastes of a strangely unadventurous nation for way too long, it never ceases to
amaze me how British viewers want nothing more than carbon copies of everything
they’ve seen before. In the safe UK, it’s the intoxicating call of the mild that
reigns supreme. Minor stars doing the Tango for four judges. Since 2004. Minor
stars getting cockroaches tipped on their heads and eating kangaroos’ testicles
in the Australian jungle. Since 2002. End-of-the-pier desperados attempting to
impress Simon Cowell with laughably old-fashioned variety acts. Since 2007.

Meanwhile, end of the peer Alan Sugar and the BBC have been
serving up their comedy business competition for the hopelessly hilarious
“tycoons of tomorrow” for 12 long years. Incompetent contestants specifically
chosen for their amusing uselessness ploughing through the same old tasks
before the same old boardroom mauling by the same old anachronistic Lord of the
realm. And we’re still supposed to take it seriously, even though no one ever

Not forgetting the eternal Big Brother, which has been
locking losers in a compound so that they can unravel on camera since the turn
of the century. Will this ground-breaking reality TV pioneer ever stop? You

Mess with the comfortingly familiar format of any of these
hardy annuals and you will pay the price. Disturbing the equilibrium of TV’s “groundhog
year” calendar will not be tolerated. Once a 15million a week juggernaut, ITV’s
fallen idol The X Factor now can’t even pull in an audience of five million for its grand
finale. Why? Because, laudably in search of improvement, ringmaster Cowell – a
notorious perfectionist - has subjected the punters to too many changes. And up
with that they will not put.

There were howls of dismay and fury when it emerged that The
Great British Bake Off – a breathtakingly unambitious programme devoted entirely
to amateur cake-making in a tent – had been snatched from poor old Aunty Beeb
by “evil” Channel 4 for £75million. Never mind leaving the European Union… this
was the big one!

One glance at the seething social media sites and you’d have
thought no one would ever tune into the Bake Off again. But once the new series
started it swiftly became apparent that here would still be cakes in a tent and
the crucial the monster ratings soon returned. The secret of Channel 4’s
success? Despite several enforced personnel changes after Mel, Sue and Mary
Berry handed in their aprons, the show was the same. Phew.

And that’s the trouble with stressed-out post-Brexit
Britain. It’s not the same. Our broken hearts yearn for the warm embrace of the EU show and we fear we’ll never get it back. We are unsettled,
anxious, nervous and depressed because this time next year Strictly Come Remain
will be waltzing towards the edge of oblivion. The last dance. Almost
accidentally, this normally restrained and careful nation did something wildly
out of character and voted for drastic change. And we are stunned into a kind
of directionless despair by the consequences.

God knows why so many politicians think that calling for
change is the way forward. If Obama had tried his rallying cry on this side of
the Atlantic would it have worked? Can we change? No, we don’t want to! We
still don’t want to. But it looks like we’re stuck with it. And the problem is that,
constitutionally, we’re not cut out for turbulence. We love consistency and
permanence. After 45 years of the long running European soap opera, Brexit took
them away from us.

Written one year after the end of the First World War, W.B.
Yeats’ portentous poem The Second Coming addressed the febrile mood as
traumatised Britain came to terms with the cataclysm of massive social upheaval
and a lost generation of men. Somehow, his powerful words seem acutely relevant
to our current cataclysm: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere
anarchy is loosed upon the world…”

Still uncomfortably relevant to today, Yeats’ timeless
observations on a nonplussed nation in freefall continue: “The best lack all
conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” A thousand postulating
political pundits and babbling MPs pathetically convinced of their own indisputable
correctness spring to mind. In our dysfunctional vortex of Brexit chaos, only the
talkers are thriving. And who, apart from the rolling news channels’ booking bozos,
gives a damn about them?

As for the rest of us - mere mortals who take refuge in the
merciful relief of light and trite telly - it’s roll on the next Strictly,
Apprentice, Britain’s Got Talent, I’m A Celeb and the Bake Off. At least
they’ll never change. Happy New Year.