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Foxtrotting

Written by: on January 29, 2010

It is a curious thing being a television writer without a television. A quick note here to all those admirably vigilant TV licensors: I do not want to watch live TV on my laptop, no-one wants to watch live TV on their laptops, you have severely overestimated the general interest of students in live TV on their laptops – we have iPlayer. However, while iPlayer and its slightly flashier cousin, 4oD, are undoubtedly wonderful aspects of modern life (like Facebook and oil geopolitics), the specific choice inherent in ‘on demand’ services makes them vastly different creatures to traditional television.

While, with the former, you never ever have to view Strictly Come Dancing and if you choose to it’s your own damn fault, without the uncertain and heady thrills of channel-hopping we have lost one of the chief joys of TV. There are some programmes which can only be found, which are indeed only actually palatable, while vaguely browsing through the entire output of a digibox. Whether it’s the brash insouciance of _Booze Britain_ or the hypnotic pulse of a full two hours of _Premier League Goals_, shows of undeniable mediocrity become strangely compelling. There is no better example of this phenomenon than the bewildering, infuriating world of Fox News, which once again drew me into its oily clutches over the holiday.

As virtually everyone is aware (apart from 90% of their viewership), Fox News is the official, smirking mouthpiece of all the bigotry, callousness and sheer imbecility of the American populist Right. Its politics (especially on the opinion shows) are frequently and overwhelmingly despicable. However, this isn’t really the essence or appeal of the channel – the motivation for Fox personalities for glorifying the Right wing is almost incidental compared to their focus on glorifying themselves.

By far the most egregious in this respect – and thus the most fun to watch – are Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity, from whom you could form arguably the most obnoxious fishing trip ever. O’Reilly, in particular, is a remarkably hardcore self-promoter, devoting about half his show to either hectoring his various opponents (_The New York Times_, the American Civil Liberties Union, anyone who may have mentioned him that week) for being ‘haters’ or to hawking his memoirs, which presumably read like a fusion between Mein Kampf and Little House on the Prairie. The best segment is ‘Pinheads and Patriots’ (seriously), in which he just reels off a list of those who have pissed him off or pleased him, the contents of which, I’m fairly sure, once included a panda. Make no mistake, this is sophisticated, news-driven analysis.

In contrast to O’Reilly, Hannity generally eschews berating his critics, in favour of presenting himself as some kind of All-American superhero. In order to subtly convey this impression, the set and graphics are decked out in so much red, white and blue that they might as well replace the host with an anthropomorphic American flag, except for the fact that a flag couldn’t toss an NFL football around, as Hannity does before every commercial break purely to illustrate what an incredibly down-to-earth multimillionaire pundit he is. A few months ago, he tarnished this veneer of patriotic manliness somewhat by backing out of a pledge to undergo water-boarding, “for the troops’ families” (in what would have surely resembled the most harrowing comic relief sketch ever). Aside from anything else, there is a surprising degree of self-awareness in Hannity’s admission that drowning himself would be an effective fundraiser.

Crass, ignorant and frighteningly influential these men may be, but nonetheless Fox represents a real high point in broadcast masochism. Overall, probably a net loss to humanity, but if you’re feeling bleak, just watch _Booze Britain_ again and you’ll quickly come round to the idea of an apocalypse. Hooray.

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