On the Box

We’ve long looked down our aquiline noses at television here at New Escapologist.

We’re relatively comfortable with latter-day “prestige television” (Breaking Bad, Glow, Russian Doll) that you can stream or download deliberately and consume relatively mindfully, but even in these cases we advise a degree of caution. Don’t be sucked into thousands of hours of vegetative slumber!

But the literally-endless stream of patronising twaddle–from game shows to lethal-to-the-sanity rolling news, from tepid comedy panel shows to spiteful documentaries about car clamping or bailiffs–is to be shunned.

It is the lowest of the low in terms of earthly experience. It is no hyperbole to say that you’d be better off staring at an unchanging ceiling tile or patch of mildew on your bathroom wall for the same amount of time: at least then your thoughts would be your own.

In our FAQ, we answer the question of “why do you dislike television so much?” with:

Because it advocates popular opinion. Escapologists should seek to build muscles of resistance instead of accepting whatever is popular, fashionable or conventional.

A decade later, we stand by that, and today we learn from Oliver Burkeman that the evidence is in our favour and that we’re no mere snobs:

What if, for example, part of the explanation for the “populist wave” of the last few years – Trump, Brexit, the rise of the European far right – is that voters watched too much crappy TV, and it rotted their brains? It feels obnoxious even to contemplate the thought, given how perfectly it plays into metropolitan prejudice about the other side being stupid.

But a rigorous, data-rich new study makes it harder to dismiss the idea on grounds of queasiness alone. Researchers studied the growth of the Italian broadcaster Mediaset, and found that those heavily exposed as children to its pabulum of cartoons, soap operas and quiz shows were almost 10% more likely to support populists, because poorer cognitive skills left them more susceptible to politicians peddling simplistic arguments.

Burkeman goes on to offer that it’s maybe the time wasted in watching mindless tellypap that leads to the poor cognition described in the study, but he’s being unnecessarily kindly because he’s writing in the Guardian.

How can it not be the case that thousands of hours of Bradley Walsh saying “hey? what about it? eh? eh? hello, missus! oo’er! middle for diddle, is it? hey? c’mon lads, lets get crackin’, oo’er,” on ITV is rotting the amygdalae of swathes?

Maybe the causal effect can be questioned and, in fact, thanks to a sort of democratic natural law of supply-and-demand, we only get the broadcasts that a nation deserves? In which case, we’re looking at the sort of dystopian programming featured in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (in which TV is dominated by a single Replicant comedian called “Mr. Smiley” or something) which is far worse than just saying, “TV makes treats you as a thicko and, as such, makes you thick.”

Post Scriptum! You can do better than television. Read books. Read essays. Subscribe to New Escapologist’s essays through Patreon (or if you’re averse to this platform, send us a monthly £2.55 donation by PayPal).


Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at wringham.co.uk

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