It’s often been said that we are living in the golden age of television – usually by a young white man who has a t-shirt, several box sets and an ignorance of the fact that there was already a golden age of television that happened in the 1950s. One can’t deny, however, that more television is being produced now than ever before, and it’s arguably just as racist. Only there’s more of it, which means there’s also more of what isn’t racist, just in the same officially-regulated ratio: 10%. In turn, this means that there is now so much television that you can comfortably sit down and watch the legislated 10% of non-racist programming in the knowledge that that’s still more of it now than there was programming in total as recently as a decade ago. Though statistically most people don’t. How far we’ve come.
This overabundance of televisual content, much like the overabundance of mostly everything in our society right now except for maybe food and shelter and general life security, has somehow convinced viewers that engaging with anything beyond a year ago is not worth their time. Since the 5th of June 1978 there haven’t been enough hours in the average lifetime to watch all the television produced, and yet that doesn’t stop people from ignoring the rich history of media and instead favouring this week’s episode of that show where people eat things badly for exposure.
Audiences want more content more often: when once upon a time releasing entire seasons before airing them would have been the subject of gross satirical ridicule, it has now become the norm. To further this trend, online services are now planning to put out feeds of shows as they’re being filmed, and in 2021 will live-stream pitch meetings and writers’ rooms so you don’t have to actually watch the finished product because, let’s face it, no one actually has time for that. By 2029, technology will have developed so far that you will be able to watch the ideas in creators’ heads before they’ve even written them down, and this will win an Emmy.
These sorts of advancements and changes in the world of television exploit not only recency biases but the kind of direct engagement we are seeing more and more of. Soon there will be so much content that not only will any one person not be able to watch all available content, but also all the people in the world combined won’t be able to watch everything ever produced – and, eventually, there will be enough content that no one will be watching the same thing as anyone else; not a single piece of content in people’s viewing schedules will overlap. When media reaches this level of saturation, TV will cease to exist as a filmed medium, looping back to acting shows out live, and providing private performances in individual audience members’ lounge rooms, as they’re the only ones who’ll be watching anyway.
Conveniently, that kind of liveness will complement the attempts made by production companies to reignite the spark of collective pleasure that television once had in the form of studio audiences. Previously, as we all know, studio audiences existed solely to harness the intense power of theatre, in order to engender a sort of “communal spirit” for those watching at home. More and more, however, this has been stripped back to focus on the individual. From sitting as a family to watch other people having fun we have now come to lying alone in a bed full of crumbs, crying in the dark. We still have, of course, the occasional programme with canned laughter, but we have long since given up the illusion that these are real people and not drugged robots emitting bleats of appreciation on cue.
To shake this up, and to re-engage with that long-lost sense of belonging, makers of television are planning to feed off the power of hate, rather than enjoyment, and have plans to introduce canned heckles. As early as next year you will now be able to watch The Big Bang Theory with extended moments of silence followed by boos and yells to “fuck off and make a real joke”. It won’t be difficult to produce these either, as most producers know they’re making atrocious content and as a result the scripted comments will be taken straight from how the writers and producers really feel about what they put out. In fact, instead of an audience taken from the public, it will be the writers and producers of these shows themselves who will be sitting in the studio and cathartically expleting at their own soulless cash grabs.
So that, in a nutshell, is the future of television. And, unless the lobbies and petitions are at all successful, exactly 90% of it will still, predictably, be racist - not that you'll be able to watch it all anyway.