Give Yourself the Clap

Have you noticed how in the last few years it has become normal for people on television to applaud themselves? I don’t know how or where this habit started but you are now looked upon as odd if, during a quiz show, you do not applaud wildly when you are introduced, when you get a question right, when you hear the answer to a question you got wrong, and even when you are told your time on the programme is at an end. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a round of applause for the person who is now clapping more enthusiastically than any of you at the marvellous contribution they made to the programme.

I remember it started with the youngsters but soon all the ‘woke’ elders looked at this behaviour and thought ‘ooh, is this a thing? I had better start applauding myself too’. In TV team games it is a bit easier to disguise the self-appreciative element, as when you are one of a team of three being introduced, you can ‘point’ your claps at your two teammates as though you would not dream of pretending that you were in any way garnering admiration for yourself. See ‘Mock The Week’ as an example. Many astute panel show contestants or chat show contributors have now adapted this such that when the host encourages the audience to thank them for their time on the programme, they hold their clapping hands out in front of them and sweep left and right, to indicate that they are thanking the audience for thanking them. Why?? Why not just sit there and look pleased, like you always used to do? What is the point of what you just so awkwardly did?

To me it just seems a slightly witless habit, particularly when you are applauding your own answers. Just watch Pointless and see if you can spot anyone who does not spontaneously applaud when told their answer scored, well, anything. Yaaaay! Well done me! Even if I got it wrong, the correct answer deserves applause, because it is…. er…. correct. Do they therefore applaud every time they read something on Wikipedia? Fortunately there are still some programmes (eg Mastermind) where self-clapping every question answered would look stupid, but in a way doesn’t that prove my point? You wouldn’t do it there, so why do it at all?

It won’t be long before those who don’t applaud themselves will start to be ‘called out’ and shamed on social media for not being inclusive or something (sorry, I always struggle to understand and explain what makes Twitterers angry). Then we will find schoolchildren clapping themselves when they answer a question correctly in class (perhaps they already do). Then when on the BBC news Huw Edwards thanks a correspondent for the report they have just delivered, rather than standing there with a rictus grin waiting for the camera to leave them, they will excitedly applaud themselves. No, actually, the more you think about it, the sillier it is. So everyone, how about we stop doing it?

Feisty Audiences

You won’t need me to tell you that over the last few years the UK has had its fair share of TV debates, brought upon by all the various elections and referendums we insist on having. A constant thread through all of them has been programmes like Question Time, where a panel of worthies answer questions from the audience on political matters.

I have noticed a bit of a worrisome trend emerging over that period, which involves audience participation. It started with Brexit, as so many things have. This subject seemed to generate more heat and fury from the outset than all debates before it, and as a result the audiences in TV debates started becoming less and less able to listen in respectful silence to what the panellists had to say. It started with the odd young person whooping as soon as someone said something they agreed with. Others then joined in, and also began booing when they disagreed. The ‘other side’, not to be outdone, followed suit. As an example, it became ‘a thing’ during the Brexit debates that every time a panellist uttered the magic words ‘second referendum’ or ‘people’s vote’ it became obligatory for a proportion of the audience to whoop and cheer, as though this was the first time they had heard such a proposition. To my ears it seemed to mainly be coming from the younger generation, but that could just be because I am regrettably no longer able to class myself in that category. But it would explain why most of the noise appeared to emanate from the left-leaning side of the argument both for Brexit and also the general election.

So what purpose does it serve? Well, it presumably helps the panellist’s confidence to know that they have some support, but then they probably knew that anyway. I am struggling, however, to come up with anything else positive. For me, having to listen to other people make childish whooping noises in what is a very serious debate is just annoying. So you, a single audience member, agree with something the panellist has said. So what? What is so special about your view? By whooping as though you have got ten A*s in your exams, do you think that is going to persuade me to agree with you? Why can’t you just wait until they have finished talking and clap at the end like everyone else?

It was noticeable that in the last two Leader’s Debates of the general election, the audience had obviously been told to keep their reactive noises to themselves, and as a result there was a far more civilised debate, with less playing to the gallery and more time to hear the arguments. So much better.

So before we turn into America, can TV companies please read the riot act to these excitable look-at-me audience members and tell them to behave properly if they want to participate in an adult debate. Or stay at home, whoop at the TV, and just annoy your neighbours.

Familiarity Fatigue

I have lost track of how many times I have watched Johnny Depp pointlessly drive into the desert, get a shovel out of the boot, and bury a piece of jewellery while his voice-over emotes in a language only understood by perfume advertisement copywriters. That ad has been running for years now and regretfully shows no signs of stopping. And yet despite being forced to watch it so many times, I have no recollection of which particular smell in a bottle he was trying to make me buy, and even if I did, I wouldn’t buy it because of the pretentiousness of the ad. Also, it is bound to be expensive to pay for all that advertising. So why do advertisers think it is effective to throw good money after bad and keep showing the same advert over and over again? Has anyone ever seen an advert for the 451st time and suddenly thought ‘hang on, I see it now – that piece of oak furniture is just what we need after all. Deidre, start the car’.

Some programmes are particularly prone to advert repetition. I always watch the Tour de France highlights on ITV4 every year, and you can guarantee that they will show you the same medley of adverts in almost every break, day after day, for three weeks. Do the advertisers think their audience are so dim that a form of Chinese water torture is the only way to hammer home the message? Has it not occurred to them that by forcing the poor viewer to repeatedly watch two sets of dishes being washed, one with a ‘leading competitor’ and one with new Gnomey Fluid, that it will not be long before we’ll be sick of the sight of their product? It is pretty obvious that the same audience will be tuning in every day.

The TV companies themselves are not much better. The BBC inserts trails for upcoming programmes with gay abandon, seemingly unable to comprehend that most people do not just watch once a week. So in the many weeks before RuPaul’s Drag Race, for example, the same trailer was played over and over and over again, at every available opportunity. Look at us, being so diverse and inclusive! Shout it from the rooftops! Then, they finally broadcast it. Hurray! No more trailers! Wrong. Now the programme is available on catchup, so what a great idea to resume playing the same trailer over and over and over again, but add a bit about catchup on at the end. It might be a great programme, but I refused to watch it on principle.

I do wonder whether the executives involved, when determining how to schedule adverts and trails whether on TV, radio or online (Grammarly on YouTube, anyone?) consider not just the ‘packages’, audience reach, demographics etc, but also put themselves in the viewers  and listeners’ shoes now and again and consider ‘saturation’ and ‘familiarity fatigue’. Me, I usually consider myself saturated after one viewing, especially if it is a perfume commercial.

Coming Up!

“Coming up….!” These are the two words I dread when watching any TV programme these days. Producers seem to think that every programme, whether it be drama, news, documentaries, car shows, holiday programmes, you name it , has to be prefaced with a summary of what you are about to watch so that you can see what you are going to see before you see it.

This never used to happen. You used to be able to settle down in front of the television secure in the knowledge that you could watch a programme from start to finish and enjoy what was to come without having already been told, against your will,  what was about to unfold. But now TV schedulers are so desperate to hang on to their short-attention, flick-switching, phone-fixated audience that they feel they have to lure them in and sprinkle little snippets of enticement into their eyes before the programme has even started. This ruins the surprise element that forms a major part of the enjoyment of most TV viewing. “Coming up, Jeff and Linda love the third house we show them and put in an offer”.  “Coming up, we talk to Mark and learn how his training helped him win the race we haven’t shown you yet”. “Coming up, will the ambulance crew rescue a man from a bridge?” (accompanied by a clip of the man being rescued). “Coming up, TV viewer smashes set in frustration at being told what is coming up”. You get the picture.

Cliff-hangers at the end of each drama series are also ruined when the programme ends with a ‘next week’ teaser segment which shows the heroine has clearly survived falling under the horse because there she is, right as rain, running after a handsome man.

The BBC News hasn’t helped the situation by giving a 5 minute news summary at the beginning of every 30 minute news bulletin, accompanied by the heartbeat theme tune for dramatic effect. But do you really need to hear lengthy preview extracts from interviews and correspondents that you then find yourself watching again almost immediately? Couldn’t the time be better spent with a more in depth news coverage later on?

My theory as to why this has evolved is that it is borne from greater choice. In those golden olden days when you had just three channels, you stuck with a programme without knowing what was ‘coming up’ because you knew that there was nothing better on the other two channels. Nowadays, if the first minute of something you are watching is not tickling your fancy and you have the attention span of a weevil, you have options. You can channel surf until you drown.  So programme makers feel they have to give you a carrot on a stick. The problem is that they have ended up feeding you most of the carrot almost before you have had time to sit down. 

Now, coming up later in this article there won’t be anything because I’ve finished now.