This being Tuesday, you may very well be looking forward to episode 2 of Lynda La Plante's Killer Net on Channel 4 this evening. If so I pay tribute to your stamina. I gave up at the first interval in last week's opening part.
You may be in a position to help me with questions that remain unanswered.
The main one, or so I expected before I began to watch, would concern the place of IT in popular culture. As the plot started to take shape, however, more urgent problems presented themselves. For example: how do students afford cars like that? Do they spend their infamous loans on them? I thought they had to moonlight to dine on stale bread and water.
Further questions arose from what I took to be the central encounter of the episode. Was the strangely androgynous sultry temptress the result of a sex-change operation? Not to mention the oddly epicene leading man, come to that? And his flat-mates? Is there something in the air in Brighton?
The truth, I expect, is that Sandra Bullock has become necessary to a generation of males for any drama allegedly related to the Internet to be worth watching. This is very odd. The Internet can be addictive, or so we are assured by concerned specialists often attached to obscure North American colleges. If the technology were so compelling you would think it could make the trip to drama without the aid of crutches. You might expect it to feature regularly in the background, like drinking or smoking, or occasionally in the foreground, like Trainspotting. You might, in short, expect it to be something the protagonists took for granted. Instead, programme makers seem to want to make too much of it. That is probably a commercial judgement. They probably refer to the Internet as "Sexy".
So technology on the screen usually gets a starring role. To justify such prominence it has to bear too much of the weight of the plot. The TV series a while ago starring Douglas Hodge and a disappearing East Anglian village springs to mind. Technology there was represented by a piece of software with an embedded time-bomb, from which many absurdities of the plot sprang. Or there is the latest Robson Green vehicle, Touching Evil, in which a couple of weeks ago evil transmitted by Email proved so much more puzzling - paralysingly so - than any more familiar kind. The subject seems to defy the sureness of touch programme makers display so effortlessly in other areas. When IT is treated in a non-fiction context, the breathless spirit of Tomorrow's World infects much of television's output. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, someone's idea of yoof culture gives us spotty herberts in front of exploding graphics in 10-second chunks of gibberish.
Perhaps it is all a misunderstanding based on perspectives of technology's appeal. IT is often called "exciting". People who form a relationship with technology are excited by it. But people who make television programmes appear to find it insufficiently exciting in any terms other than those applying to paint drying or grass growing. Perhaps they see only vanilla boxes and sad sociopaths frittering away their time. Whatever, they feel the need to tart the subject up. Their representations, as a result, lose a certain amount of credibility.
In the end, it probably doesn't matter. PCs still seem to sell quite well, despite the inability of television to promote them. Could you say the same for the Teletubbies?
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