The Curiously Engaging Mark Steel

Mark Steel Lectures
If you want a vision of light entertainment in a future socialist society, look no further. And a wonderful vision it is. Intelligent, funny, fascinating. Ordinary words for Lord Reith’s Brief.

The challenge for the BBC is to see off those jackals like Murdoch and the rest of the pillagers of our cultural heritage for good and return to us, the British people, some of the family silver which has been pawned over the years.
British TV is in trouble, sliding towards Tennessee trailer trash prolefeed with every line of coke snorted by the contemptuous programmers. The suburban squealers about the licence fee are being conned by the commercial sector not the BBC. Most of the national sporting events, for instance, which I took for granted as a boy are now exclusive delicacies available only to those willing to make Rupert Murdoch richer.
The paltry whingeing about ‘the iniquity of the illegal licence fee… taking the bread out of pensioners mouths..’ and all the rest of it completely fails to address the fact that without the BBC setting some sort of standards in this country, we would have american TV. Anyone who’s ever watched American TV will know. It’s simply not TV as we know it. It is a Kay’s catalogue in comparison with our (flawed) Encyclopaedia Brittanica.
And yet, the people who objected strongly to BBC2 when it was launched are still out there it seems. And always the same whinges: ‘Total waste of the licence fee.’ ‘Trendy left wing nonsense.’ ‘The end of civilisation as we know it.’ Whereas in fact, BBC2 was one of the things which helped save British culture from the sabotage of the Thatcher years, fighting a rearguard action (with channel4) for stimulating, imaginative television in the face of the overwhelming Pap pressure exerted by the Tunbridge Wells Militia who thought their day had come and that Vera Lynn and Fanny Cradock would return to dominate our screens forever and ever. That Mary Whitehouse would be made DG.

Commercial TV is undoubtedly a constant lie. The act of cutting a film – or even a 20 minute masterpiece like The Simpsons – into tripes in order to sell cheap toasters or reconstituted animal fat in its many forms, is an appalling act of Philistinism, and positively harmful to any growing mind. The purveyors of Mary Whitehouse’s ideals should be getting angry at the commercial alienation of children from their parents, prettily euphemised as ‘pester-power’, the squalid exploitation of children’s ability to make their parents lives hell if they want to. They should line up with the Scandinavian countries that have banned children’s advertising as dangerous to young minds. Everything I’ve seen transferred from BBC4 has been a sort of blessed relief from the mindless dross now masquerading as TV.
As for those who complain that comedy is now ‘too political’ – If they don’t like political points, why do they make them? There is no such thing as a ‘politics-free’ lecture. Mark Steels take on Darwin is a case in point.
Darwin’s ideas have to be aired because there are morons out there who will tell you that all science is nonsense, and that the only truth lies between the covers of a much-translated set of fairy tales from the Bronze Age proto-civilisations of the middle east. That’s why it needs someone with the guts of Mark Steel to talk about ideas. But sadly, the right wing only wants the BBC to cndemn ideas it disagrees with. Mainly because. as a political ‘movement’ it is totally devoid of anything which can rightly be called an idea.
What the right has is a back-brain, instincts of the most reptilian kind, which when offended causes them to react violently and blindly. And their idea of ‘freedom’ on TV would be to be bombarded day and night by the two right wing economic ‘ideas’ (1. no taxes. 2. let them eat cake!). Everywhere you look there is glaring propaganda for the consumer society. At every dangerous road junction there are forty foot high posters with naked women to distract us. Every tube station, bus stop, empty shop – virtually every vertical space is filled with the message

‘Obey. Conform. Consume.’

In every dreary soap opera and costume drama and crime melodrama the same drab acceptance of the political status quo. The retarded inability to imagine anything better than what we have. The latest piece of David Starkey Hero-worship masquerading as history is a case in point. And whatsmore, it is anything but ‘free’ as is commonly believed. Advertising on TV still costs a lot of money. And someone has to pay for it. And ultimately, every cost of a product is paid by the customer. But since the cost of everything effects the cost of everything else (inflation) everyone has a share, and everyone gets to pay!


There has never, as far as I remember, been any serious coverage of the General Strike and the remarkable stories of courage and community-building that it generated. Nothing about the self-help systems developed by the trades unions to provide hospitals and libraries for their communities. Nothing about what it was actually like to work down a mine or in the shipyards. Except of course in the darkest recesses of the night on the Open University. The alternative media universe.
In fact, if you look for the working class in the British media all you find is a hole. Apart from the criminals and servant classes, who can be relied upon to be either scary or funny as the case demands. Bill Sykes or Sam Weller. That is the working class spectrum which is palatable to the British public, as far as the programmers are concerned.
Needless to say, conventional, suicidal economic theory gets more than its fair share of sympathetic media exposure. In spite of the fact that this country as we know it was created out of the actions of self-confessed socialists like Aneurin Bevan and (in wartime) Winston Churchill of course – one of the secret saints of socialism.
It’s totally appropriate to honour that heritage, and its consequences for a sustainable future. What would the tories have, the riveting life story of Julian Amery in twelve parts with commemorative plate to hang on the wall? It’s interesting that when socialists are confident or (worse) convincing and entertaining in their beliefs, they are always branded ‘strident’ and ‘boring’ by the right. That is a sure sign that they are doing the job properly.
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