The man who said **** to TV

The man who said **** to TV


norman lebrecht

October 13, 2008

My big hero of the financial crash is Marcel Reich-Ranicki who, given an achievement award on German’s second TV channel, ZDF, thrust it back at the presenter and denounced the whole of public television as ‘rubbish’.

Reich-Ranicki, 88, is Germany’s foremost literary critic and, as a result of his hour-long weekly discussion programme on the screen, a national figure. No respecter of reputations, he has fallen out with every leading author from Gunter Grass down when their books fell below his exalted standards. Now he has publicly bitten the hand that fed him – and the result is an attack of rabies panic among German media bosses.

In an effort to mitigate the shock of rejection, the awards show host Thomas Gottschalk offered to stage a televised debate between Reich-Ranicki and the heads of public television – an offer accepted with alacrity by the executives and, after appropriate reflection, by the critic himself. That is going to be one fun show.

The focus of Reich-Ranicki’s attack was on the dumbing down of public broadcasting, the reliance on reality shows, talent contests and talentless celebrities. Gottschalk admitted in a subsequent interview that if television were made to the critic’s rules, he would be unemployed.

Beyond the confines of a German spat, however, this has lessons for all of us who ply a trade in the creative arts. All my writing life, I have accepted persuasion from publishers and career makers to go on TV whenever asked, and on the BBC without a second thought. Now, I hardly ever accept without strict guarantees.

Television has become a dishonest medium, distorting facts to fit the visual image and contorting ideas into cliche. Information programmes, so called, are voyeuristic garbage and even sport has been subsumed by the cult of celebrity.

The time has come for all creative people to join the Reich-Ranicki rally and denounce public television for the rubbish it is – until the dustcarts come along and the act is cleaned up.

Let’s all say No to TV.

Sign below to join the rally.  


  • Thom says:

    It’s easy: I simply don’t own a TV at all.

  • Peet says:

    While Jerry Mander’s “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television” always carries with it a whiff of undergraduate idealism, it’s hard to argue with many of his contentions, one of which is that the medium itself is incapable of being redeemed. The medium itself is biased toward toward the visual, explaining why local news leads with brushfires and car chases and not extended commentary on economic issues. Violence is more visual that serenity, conflict better than accord. The “dumbing down” process is simply the inevitable. I’m surprised that anyone is suprised.

  • Huw Belling says:

    Perhaps just as every age gets the music it deserves, so do we deserve reality television. When will we get beyond the adolescence of social gratification and use the medium to excercise intellectual leadership? Every other media has been a child of ideals. Where is television’s Descartes, its Ode to Joy? Transform the medium into an affirmation of civilization, not a journal of its ablutions.