In a move some might view as “a minor surprise”, we’ve gone with Charlie Brooker’s ‘Wipe of the ‘News’ variety, rather than the more obvious ‘Screen’. For why? Well, as regular viewers of The Daily Show will know, television news is spiralling out of control, and is fast becoming as much of a joke as tabloid newspapers. With the BBC and Sky having 24 hour news channels to fill with any toss available, whether it qualifies as ‘news’ or not, and ITN desperately trying to throw as much into their bulletins as they can in the hope that people will realise they still exist, someone really ought to keep a check on these. In the USA, Jon Stewart and the Daily Show army of researchers are always brilliantly quick to point out the many failings of Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, and the main network news coverage. This was proved brilliantly a few months back, where The Daily Show picked up on Fox’s faking of an anti-Obama demo, any they’re able to do much the same whenever anything that falls out of Glenn Beck’s wrong mouth.
In the UK, with the Saturday/Friday Night Armistices still being trapped in the last century, the closest we’ve had for much of the third millennium was the eternally grand satirical magazine Private Eye, or the bits of Have I Got News For You? when everyone wasn’t laughing at clips from YouTube or Paul Merton pulling a face. Thanks to his rising reputation as Face Of BBC Four, and as creative director of Zeppotron, Charlie Brooker was able to put together a spin-off of his reliably enjoyable telly-show-about-telly Screen Wipe. It was about news, it was called Newswipe, and did something that has been lacking for too long on modern British television, where ‘satire’ now largely involves pointing out that John Prescott probably likes pies.
While the tearing of a new news-hole for the national media was dressed up in comedy studio chatter over Bill O’Reilly’s infamous Inside Edition rant, or poems from the unfairly maligned Tim Key, it wasn’t afraid to tackle Proper Points, such as running a regular feature called "The Week In Bullshit”, highlighting the more desperate follies of our news coverage, such as Sky News’ coverage of the recession, which included “Dermot Mernaghan’s Economic Cycle”, with a newsreader cycling around the country trying to get the recently unemployed to fake angergasms, and a rolling ticker of How Much In The Shit We All Are.
The two pieces from the show that impressed us the most were, firstly, a short film by King of Documentary Adam Curtis on what he called “Oh Dearism”, looking at the changing public reaction to tragedy over the last few decades, and this clip here. This was a brilliant little piece on the hyperbolic coverage of a German serial gun-murderer, intercut with clips of a Newsnight interview with an expert on serial killers, who pointed out that such hyperbolic coverage of similar events throughout recent history has generally encouraged other lunatics to take similarly gruesome action. And we mean going out and shooting people, not conducting frenzied reporting. Cut to the befuddled Gavin Estler, struggling to realise what he’s actually a part of.
Happily, more episodes are promised soon. It might not make much of a difference to news coverage in the UK, but at least it’s nice to know someone on the digital box beneath our telly is prepared to voice an opinion on this. With the odious James Murdoch lobbying heavily with the Conservative Party to relax impartiality laws for television news in the UK, we need as many voices of dissent as possible.
See also: Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe (BBC Four, 2005-Present). But then, you could probably have guessed that.
Almost see also: Gameswipe (BBC Four, 2009). A nice idea, and given Brooker’s past as one of the better videogame journos, this should have been brilliant. Sadly, it fell between two stools (and onto some pixellated spikes, or something), with the one-off programme being pitched towards the sort of person who’d go out and buy GTA4 for their ten year old son, then write angry letters to newspapers when they notice all the “shooting policemen in the face” parts. With that in mind, the purpose of the show was to dispel the lazy myths often chucked at the world of videogaming – which didn’t really go well with people who are already avid gamers, surely those making up the vast majority of the audience. Yes, we already know what a platform game is, thanks. For those who didn’t know their Dreamcasts from their TurboGrafxes, they were probably left wondering why, given Brooker’s insistence at the top of the show that all games weren’t as misanthropic and blood-soaked as the naysayers would have you believe, he then went on to waste a huge chunk of screen-time covering 50 Cent: Blood On The Sand and the most recent Wolfenstein.
Still, despite Brooker’s claims that it was just a one-off, here’s hoping it can become at least an annual fixture. Freed from the shackles of explaining what a pixel is, it could become take a place alongside videoGaiden as the best videogames show in history.