Posts Tagged ‘psychics’

Resisting the decline

datePosted on 17:19, March 3rd, 2010 by Lew

This is art, can you believe it?After some reflection and consideration of the pretty well-made arguments against my last post on Sensing Murder, I now have a bit more understanding of and sympathy for the position of those who are so infuriated and offended (thanks, Tony, Keir, Andrew and others). While I still think the difference between psychics and other sorts of entertainers is one of degree rather than kind, I accept that it’s a pretty big difference of degree, and that matters.

I wonder if there’s a correlation between those who object most strenuously to shows like Sensing Murder and those who generally bemoan the falling standards of entertainment and current affairs, and particularly the rise and proliferation of reality TV formats, and the consequent “realitisation”, if I may coin the term, of other genres. I’m thinking, here, of shows like Lost, which started out basically as a fictional version of Survivor; and 24, which is basically a video game in serialised form; the talking-head rent-a-quote instant-experts which predominate in news and current affairs programming; and the reality-esque coverage of media heroes and antiheroes like Clayton Weatherston and David Bain.

I reckon there would be, and I reckon that no small portion of the reason people hate on Sensing Murder so much is because it represents the most egregious example of this trend toward manufactured verité — in entertainment, in real life, and in how real life is presented to us. In this, it’s just another example of “resisting the decline” of society, which happens to an extent every generation.

I should hasten to add that I think it’s important that the decline be resisted — but by the same token I think it’s important that the reasons for resisting it be clearly stated and understood. But here’s another thing: while there is undeniably a great deal of dreck in the reality TV ouvre, and a significant amount of bland mediocrity, has the move genuinely brought nothing of value? The most venerated examples of the reality genre — Survivor for one; Idol and so on for another — have given zillions of people a great deal of pleasure, and now form a pretty central part of our* culture. I have a particularly soft spot for Survivor since it’s essentially just a big ball o’ political, social and psychological theory implemented in a handy ritualised narrative form.

In case you think I’m a trendy hipster libertine, I do personally disdain a huge amount of pop-culture — but not to the extent that I wish its absence on others who are into that sort of thing. That’s where I draw the line with Sensing Murder: let those who have been duped of money or faith complain to the small claims tribunal, or Fair Go, or the Advertising Standards Board, or the Commerce Commission. Let those who dislike the programme turn it off, and voice their disapproval to TVNZ and the show’s producers. Let those who object to public money being spent on it, and to the Police becoming involved in it make their objections known strongly, but let it all be done in the knowledge that some folk want it anyway and are willing to pay for it, even if it is all faked (and, deep down, they know it).

Last generation’s trash is this generation’s treasure; and vice versa. So it has ever been. This is part of what it is to live in a liberal society. Is it not?

L

* Permit me this generalisation, since I don’t want to write, nor (I am sure) do you want to read, yet another awkward definition of the “self” in this context.

Psychic’s Advocate

datePosted on 14:32, February 28th, 2010 by Lew

Poneke has another post up about Sensing Murder. Just for the record, I agree with the core argument of the post, and its somewhat famous predecessor. It should come as no shock to most of you that I also agree that the worst bit is that some journalists and current affairs directors treat them as newsworthy — but that’s the newsmakers’ failure, not the psychics’.

But here’s a comment from Falafulu Fisi I think could use a little unpacking:

People earn money for a living by being honest and hard work.
Business men are successful by being brilliant in running their businesses.
Paranormal practitioners (psychics etc,…) earn money via people’s stupidities and gullibility’s. They can become rich of course. Put them into the real world to try and earn an honest living they would be the laziest and incompetent wherever they are.

And in response, this from Klytemnestra:

I would have to disagree somewhat with Falafu Fisi. Excluding those cranks who actually believe they can talk to the dead, these ‘psychics’ are really quite successful business people. Getting rich by exploiting niche markets with false services no one really needs; this is a feat worthy of a degree of respect, even if they are repugnant in every other way.

Contra both of them, I’d argue that their “honest living” isn’t as psychics, or necessarily as providers of false services; it’s as entertainers. After all, those who actually use those “services” are a tiny fraction of those who consume the televised or stage-managed product which results. I also don’t accept Poneke’s suggestion that these consumers necessarily believe they have psychic powers — after all, it doesn’t follow that people who watch vampire movies actually believe in vampires. But even if they did, it ultimately doesn’t matter: taking advantage of peoples’ credulity isn’t wrong in and of itself, and for doing it these folk don’t deserve any more — and in general considerably less — criticism than financial advisers, real estate agents and talk radio hosts. They give a great many people who want such things something to watch of an evening, and something to believe in and make them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. In this regard it’s little different from — say — soap operas or romantic comedies. There’s a fair argument that it’s ghoulish, and perhaps hurtful to the real people involved, but in this regard it’s little different from — say — the cheesier end of TV current affairs or other reality programming.

Even if you don’t personally see any value in it, that’s an honest living, wouldn’t you agree?

L