Monday, 9 March 2009

Why I Hate The Big Questions

Like many people, my Sunday mornings are routinely spent trying to shake off the effects of Saturday night’s revelry in a vain attempt to regain some sort of grip on reality. Thing is, in that state you’re not going to make much headway on your own and so, if you’re like me, you turn to TV for a crutch. But I’m too old for the Hollyoaks omnibus and too fat and wheezy to watch the football on ITV, so I usually end up inevitably making the first of many mistakes of the day by switching over to BBC1...

The Big Questions is an absolute joke. It’s like a televised version of one of Plato’s dialogues with Nicky Campbell in place of Socrates. The format’s always the same. The earnest Scotsman poses a panel of clerics, non-fiction authors, highly-strung hack columnists and TV-friendly politicians a few ethical head-scratchers in front a crowd of baying Express readers and sets the philosophical sparks flying.

So far, so good, right? Sounds almost edifying doesn’t it? Don‘t be taken in.

The titular Big Questions are always predictably divisive and posed in such a manner that they head straight for the emotional centres of the brains of all involved, thus nipping the possibility of rational argument squarely in the bud. For crying out loud, here are two recent examples of the kind of topics being discussed: ‘Does love mean never telling your partner a lie?’ and ‘Is torture ever justified?’. I mean, yuck.

Alright, cracking stuff for a sixth-form debate perhaps, but on TV and argued about by a mob of half-educated cranks, these sorts of issues and questions are, frankly, just asking for the inevitable kind of huffing and bellowing usually confined to the letters pages of the Daily Mail. I’m not knocking the practice of thinking about such questions yourself, working out your own position based on a careful, sober weighing of the issues, but these sorts of questions, by their very nature, can never possibly be answered on what is essentially a Jeremy Kyle for people who still have a village hall near their house.

And it’s all so ruddy cheap. Honestly, the Beeb have saved a fortune by axing Heaven and Earth, with its expensive sets and slick production values, and replacing it with this tatty parade. Campbell’s surely the only person involved with the programme who commands a fee and the production crew is very probably comprised of the sort of poor sods who ended up at Thames Valley University on a media course through clearing. It takes place in a different town or city each week and tours the country, I suppose to fulfil some of Auntie’s commitments to regional broadcasting. This is true no-frills telly, TV that makes Cash in the Attic look like a Spielberg epic.

My main beef with The Big Questions is that it’s such a colossal waste of time, not only for the viewer but for everyone involved. Ethical debate is all well and good but seeing as morality’s largely an individual thing, hoping to arrive at a consensus on a moral issue by inviting an imam to quarrel with Anne Widdecombe is startlingly pointless. At least Heaven and Earth gave us Alice Beer to soothe our hangovers. This is cheap-as-chips schedule filler, telly that truly achieves nothing. It’s like Question Time being hosted by Richard Littlejohn discussing gay rights with Garry Bushell and Jim Davidson.

Now Countryfile, the show which follows, is lovely. Stunning. Lots of majestic countryside and very prim and proper people enjoying rambles and discussing nature. Surely, surely the schedule controller could see fit to tethering Nicky Campbell to the Watchdog kennel and moving Countryfile forward a little? Please? With Countryfile filling The Daft Questions’ slot we’d need nothing stronger than will-power to feel better; as it is the nation needs a collective sick-bag every time Campbell and his mob hove into view.

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