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‘Are you just being weird now?’ - Shirley Dent [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Shirley Dent

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‘Are you just being weird now?’ [Jul. 3rd, 2009|07:59 pm]
Shirley Dent
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Watch this youtube video fully comprehend the sheer and utter frustration which drove Brian Cox, research fellow of the Royal Society and professor of particle physics at the University of Manchester, to ask this question of a gormless TV producer.

As is the way in the internet age, this youtube gem has resurfaced recently in pass-it-round fashion on emails and facebook. Brian Cox – dubbed the ‘rock star physicist’ because of his good looks, media friendliness and former life as keyboardist in D:Ream – is a man who knows about physics, cares about physics, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Which is bad news for said hapless TV producer. The youtube outtake comes from the filming of a BBC documentary on gravity. The producer just doesn’t get the idea of what a ‘wave’ is and, with the arrogance of ignorance in full throttle, turns his own cluelessness around and makes it Professor Cox’s problem. I won’t say any more – watch and weep. Clocking-in even higher in the league-of-crass-stupidity-meets-stymied-exasperation is the same producer’s conversation with Professor Cox about whether or not to discuss the ideas that the moon landings were faked in the same documentary.

The problem here is not that Professor Cox is very clever and the producer is very stupid (although, fair enough – there is that too!). The problem is that the producer thinks WE are very stupid and if you are going to make a ‘popular’ programme about a specialist subject like science then god forbid that you would let a scientist just get on with explaining the science.

This is poppycock. What is striking in the youbtube outtake is that when Professor Cox gets a chance to explain what a gravitational wave is, it is mesmerising.

Why is television populated by producers who think the only way to enthuse an audience about difficult, complex and specialist subjects is to dumb-it-down or dress-it-up? The BBC’s recent poetry season felt obliged to pepper the poetry with ‘popular’ figures rather than just let the poets get on with it. Invariably, it was the poets you wanted to listen to rather than the bloke from Peep Show - I defy you not to be enchanted by Simon Armitage retracing the literary journey of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

It wasn’t always this way. If you need an antidote to the insulting idiocy of today’s knowledge-averse TV producers, hunt down a copy of Jacon Bronowski’s phenomenal BBC series, The Ascent of Man, made in the 1970s. A programme that has respect for its subject and its audience at its very heart.

Then, as the Hector in The History Boys would say, pass it on. And if you come across the Brian Cox’s TV producer, perhaps use the BBC box-set of The Ascent of Man to give him a good hard, thwack of sense.