In My Opinion: Armando Iannucci: We’re all in this together
The MacTaggart Lecture at the 2015 Edinburgh International Television Festival…
STARING nervously out at you all, my future sitting in front of me, my mind goes back 15 years, when I was lassoed into a BBC brainstorming session on the Arts, and I spent the day in a brightly-painted room at the mercy of a team of professional arts brainstormers.
These were experts paid to be spontaneously positive; they had degrees in being upbeat, and had trained with some of the world’s most optimistic people.
“This is a day to let your hair down,” said the leader. “It’s all about having fun. We want to have fun.”
And then she looked straight at us. “If you’re not prepared to have fun, get out now.”
I got out, and resolved the last thing I would ever do is trap a group of talented people in a colourful room and subject them to one-sided opinion masquerading as open debate.
Until now. So, if you’re not prepared to hear why I think politicians have got the British television industry completely wrong because they peer at it through a filter of their own prejudices, and that’s a fact, then get out now.
To those staying, can I start by saying what an honour it is to be asked to give this James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture tonight, and in this its 40th year.
Looking back to 1976, we can see how far the TV landscape has changed. Then, the big classics were Thunderbirds, David Attenborough, and Poldark; let’s congratulate ourselves on how far we’ve come.
We were told television would by now have changed utterly. We were told that by people paid to know. They said viewing would decline and be replaced by mobile and laptop alternatives. And indeed, brash new entities such as Amazon and Netflix have emerged.
Bringing streaming digital pictures, – a telecommunicated sequence of visual data, or tele-vision if you will – which immerse us in dynamic new forms of storytelling, such as the one-hour drama, and provide us with revolutionary new stories, such as House of Cards.
I suppose what this really tells us is that there are eternal verities, even in television, which time will never change. We may alter and innovate how we watch, from set to laptop to tablet and, yes, unbelievably, to a watch, but we still crave to view the same things. Basically, costumes and cakes.
Ah, but wait, the experts told us, our attention span will diminish, and we’ll hop from three-minute clip to six second vine, to nanosecond blap, tiny singularities of entertainment that spell the death of long-form viewing.
Instead, we binge-watch four seasons’ worth of quality box set in one weekend, sitting through what is effectively a 48-hour TV show while our children grow hungry and cold.
So much for experts. Their guess is as good as yours, but more expensive. They proclaimed the death of the book, but did so in best-selling books. Economic experts failed to predict the banking crisis, but still cashed their cheques. Earlier in May, polling experts said there would be a hung parliament: instead of sacking themselves, they carry on like we still think they’re credible; or maybe that’s what their polling is telling them.
The truth is, nobody knows anything. And that’s because we’re all individually full of contradictions. We’re all annoyingly, deliciously, unknowable, beyond algorithmic reach, for now.
In fact, the recent General Election provides a perfect matrix of confused, contradictory information. It was the election in which the public punished the Lib Dems for not stopping the Tories and did so by voting in the Tories.
It was the election in which the party advocating the Living wage decisively lost, to a party now advocating the Living Wage. It was the one in which Nicola Sturgeon became the most popular hated politician in Britain. And it reached its climax with the leader of UKIP resigning and then rapidly unresigning in a new form of statecraft which I can only describe as Bungee Politics.