Feeds

Maddy: TV torture for the ADD generation

'This is awful. I can't stop watching'

Security for virtualized datacentres

Column Following the first Gulf War of 1991, the French social theorist Jean Baudrillard made the famous statement that "the Gulf War did not take place". It was seized on by academics, journalists, and pub intellectuals in the English-speaking world as a prime example of the absurdity and irresponsibility of French philosophy. When he died earlier this year, it was this bizarre comment of his that the obituary-writers fixated on. What did Baudrillard mean by it?

The point Baudrillard was trying to convey was that the broadcasted images of the war had become a separate, autonomous entity, bearing no relation to what might or might not have been happening in a desert thousands of miles away. Media content had taken on a life of its own. What we were shown via CNN was like a stage play.

In the same spirit, we might now say that "Madeleine McCann's disappearance did not take place". The media has been the principal actor in the drama right from the outset.

The press conferences, the videos broadcast at sporting events, Gerry McCann's weblog, and - above all - the drama and speculation whipped up by the tabloid press, all amount to a festival of inter-linking content. Add to this the fact that there is a murder mystery at the centre of it (or is there?) and the whole question of what has really taken place becomes fundamentally unanswerable.

There are a number of things to notice about this. Firstly, the frenzied interest in the Madeleine story is fuelled by the lack of hard reality, rather than quelled by it. Once again, "the medium has become the message", but this in itself is not necessarily a new thing. One might say the same thing about the Gospels - where the leading character has grown in reputation, thanks to the shortage of hard empirical evidence about him. But the unfolding of the McCann story also tells us something much more contemporary about our media consumption, which flies in the face of contemporary wisdom about the digital, on-demand age.

We, the media?

We are familiar with the notion that consumers are now active participants in the media. The "people formerly known as the audience" produce their own content, decide when and how to watch television, and entertain themselves by spying on acquaintances via social networking sites.

We are also familiar with the idea of reality television. Big Brother allows us to watch real people doing real things, while prime time television in the UK is now dedicated mainly to factual programming - at least inasmuch as it is a "fact" that the relevant couple were captured on camera painting their own kitchen.

What is so irresistible about the McCann drama is that it gives us neither of these things. We are not viewing something that has been produced or manipulated for our entertainment or convenience. The story is (still) happening in real time.

Consider the pace at which the story unfolds. Nobody is in control of it, which means it occasionally gets quite dull. We can't fast forward or time-switch. We're not invited to phone in and vote for which suspect we would like to see arrested. Key scenes and pieces of information are kept from us in a way that would defeat the point of a show like Big Brother. But we find this all the more compelling.

The one nod to conventional broadcasting principles is that the ratings have mattered right from the beginning. When there was a risk that they might slump, David Beckham was drafted in to speak on the matter, thus giving the story a new boost.

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Next page: TV torture

More from The Register

next story
The 'fun-nification' of computer education – good idea?
Compulsory code schools, luvvies love it, but what about Maths and Physics?
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Yes, yes, Steve Jobs. Look what I'VE done for you lately – Tim Cook
New iPhone biz baron points to Apple's (his) greatest successes
Lords take revenge on REVENGE PORN publishers
Jilted Johns and Jennies with busy fingers face two years inside
Sysadmin with EBOLA? Gartner's issued advice to debug your biz
Start hoarding cleaning supplies, analyst firm says, and assume your team will scatter
Doctor Who's Flatline: Cool monsters, yes, but utterly limp subplots
We know what the Doctor does, stop going on about it already
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.