Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

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“Driving thousands of simpletons into a frenzy of ecstatic hysteria…”

charliebrooker
Is it just me or could Charlie Brooker’s entire TV career be shot down in five words? Well… why… watch… it… then?

January 26th, 2010.

42 Responses to ““Driving thousands of simpletons into a frenzy of ecstatic hysteria…””

  1. Karl Says:

    If Charlie Brooker wasn’t snide about shit TV, people couldn’t align themselves with him to feel like they get it and are clever.

  2. Eoin Says:

    Wouldn’t it be cleverer though just not to watch these shows in the first place?

  3. Eoin Says:

    P.S. Not talking about his expose of the 24-hour rolling news charade. That was pretty interesting.

    Only those programmes that no sane person was ever going to enjoy in the first place: X Factor, Super Sweet 16 etc.

  4. Karl Says:

    Having considered the risk of coming off like an absolute wanker and decided it’s worth:

    David Foster Wallace made a quite spirited (and long) defence of shit television – or at least the reason why television in general isn’t morphing slowly into high art – here: http://jsomers.net/DFW_TV.pdf

    He also predicts telecomputers, in some ways similar, but in more ways hilariously dissimilar to watching TV on the internet.

  5. El Kid Says:

    What are you on about Butler? Screenwipe is hilarious, one of my favourite things on TV!

  6. Eoin Says:

    @ Karl – Woah, that’s long. Working on singles reviews here, but I’ll read it in the morning.

    Re: crap TV. It’s a free market. People like watching crap, so let them. I’m not interested, so I don’t tune in.

    @ EK – Fixating on stuff you don’t like and calling it crap is not that big or clever or difficult to do. I should know, I spent my late teens/early twenties doing it for The Slate.

  7. Odysseus Bamburger Says:

    why does he watch it?

    i would have thought it was for the same reason you listen to the odd stinker in the music reviews you are currently doing…

  8. Mark Says:

    You’re a journalist, Butler. You know how it works. If The Guardian and The BBC paid you to watch crap TV and be entertaining in your evisceration of it, you’d tune in and you’d like it. But more importantly, he’s a critic whose favoured mode of criticism just happens to be comic outrage. Critics can’t ignore the medium their criticism focuses on. You wouldn’t question James Wood or Michiko Kakutani for reviewing books they didn’t like (or maybe you would, I don’t know).

    The “it’s a free market” argument isn’t an argument at all. This crap, like it or not, is a massive, massive influence on our culture – in a lot of respects, it *is* our culture – so it’s kind of lame to just reduce the issue to ‘if you don’t like it, ignore it’. Brooker is one of the more intelligent (and entertaining) critics of this stuff. And sure, sometimes it’s just hot air, sound and fury – but that’s the nature of journalism and broadcasting, isn’t it? You can’t just say nothing if you’ve got nothing to say. That’s a luxury only afforded to people without weekly columns and/or television programmes.

    And if you can’t see the irony of your deliberately starting a conversation on your blog about a writer you don’t like, and his writing about stuff he doesn’t like, then … you should see that irony. Particularly seeing as you seem to have done it while writing your singles review column.

  9. Eoin Says:

    @ Mark – Sorry bit of a photo-related crisis going on here. Briefly, X Factor isn’t our culture. Well, it’s not my culture anyway. I’ve never seen an episode in my life.

    Second, I turn down much more work than I ever take on – now, obviously, not from the Guardian or the BBC! – and if I had a fundamental problem with a job I wouldn’t do it. Simple as.

    Re: book reviews. I once agreed to review a book called Eat Pray Love (for Newstalk, I think) without knowing what it was. Turned out they’d deliberately gotten me to read a book they knew I’d hate just to see my hilariously curmudgeonly reaction.

    Since then, I’ve always checked out whether or not I’m likely to enjoy a book before agreeing to review it.

    Which isn’t to say bad reviews can’t be an art form in themselves. Clive James’ book reviews for the Observers were masterful and drole. Brooker, however, just goes after everything with a sledgehammer which, as I’ve said, is very, very easy to do.

    He also plays computer games, which unforgivable at any age – let alone 40!

    Re: singles. Come on, I write silly, nonsensical two line track reviews usually based on watching a pop video two or three times on YouTube. And though I might occasionally poke gentle fun at Britney Spears or someone, I’ve never eviscerated anyone.

  10. Mark Says:

    I don’t play computer games or watch X Factor, but I appreciate the fact that he’s able to defend one easily ridiculed form while attacking another.

    Playing computer games is no more unforgivable than watching movies. Some are bad, some are (presumably) good. He’s often, also, pretty eloquent on why games shouldn’t be dismissed as artistically void.

    And saying X Factor isn’t part of “my” culture is a cop-out. The culture is what’s out there, whether it interests you or not. It’s not like he’s writing a column about how shit this or that opera is, or how much he hates Bulgarian cuisine. (That, I agree, would be perverse.) I’ve never watched an episode of X Factor in my life either, but I can’t avoid it, because it’s part of the surround-sound media drone that fills the air.

    My experience of Brooker is that, when he’s good – and I concede he’s by no means always good – it’s because he doesn’t just say things are shit. He engages intelligently and entertainingly with why and how they’re shit.

  11. Eoin Says:

    For the record (stated above), I’m talking only about episodes devoted to shows that no sane person his age was ever going to enjoy in the first place: X Factor, Super Sweet 16 etc.

    I mean, he could do a bingo expose next:

    “Cretinous, incontinent old hags pitifully whiling away what time they have left on this godforsaken planet… Watching a wheezing, red-faced moron reciting jaded number puns in some squalid village hall… Yeah, fingers crossed Granny, but you know the only jackpot awaiting you now is death and oblivion… etc. etc.”

    Re: X Factor, I think you might be surprised the extent to which I can block out things I’m not interested in: golf, celebrity culture, fashion, science fiction, the economy, the Irish music scene. Honestly, it’s just blah blah blah blah blah to me.

  12. Mark Says:

    Shit. I was just going to ask if you wanted to sign up for this sci-fi costume themed celebrity golf pro-am tournament I’m organising to benefit the Irish music scene. I’ll take my business elsewhere, then.

  13. Eoin Says:

    Hey, if there’s booze involved – I’m there!

  14. El Kid Says:

    I think that bingo expose demands to be made Butler and by the sounds of it you’re just the man!

  15. Chris Says:

    I think the reason he watches them (Aside from being paid by the BBC to do so) is for the unintentionally funny moments they provide and the opportunity to rant. Many critics and people I know gain great satisfaction out of complaining about things. Unfortunately there is also a sense of being better or more intelligent than the people who watch them in a non critical way. Personally I enjoy the show and find it to be entertaining but I don’t take it particularly seriously. I think to some degree the over the top outrage is a put on/persona which is used because people find it entertaining.

    X-Factor is an unfortunate part of everyday culture. I have never watched more than a few seconds of an episode (trying to work out what’s on channel flicking) but despite my best efforts I could only escape it by never listening to the radio or watching tv and by seperating myself from several work colleagues and friends. It invades every aspect of my life through various media. It was on RTE news for fecks sake. I can’t even escape it there.

    As for computer games I play them on occasion as an entertaining distraction. I don’t believe them to be an art form but I think some of them (not all as there are, as in everything else, good and bad games) that at least deserve as much merit (if not more) than many of the poor/mediocre films and books that are being rammed into the public consciousness. Would you say that it is unforgivable for someone to spend a lot of time playing cards? What major difference is there? As long as it isn’t the only focus in your life there’s no harm in it.

    Everyone has something that wouldn’t be considered a worthwhile pursuit by someone else. As long as it isn’t hurting anyone and they aren’t trying to force you to partake there is nothing wrong with it. Which is why I still watch tv and talk to my friends, provided I’m not forced to watch/talk about X factor.

  16. bp fallon Says:

    He pretends hes terrified of world events famine and haiti and all this,terrorists,he had doug standhope on the last night at the same crack and a journalist and that poet.But his argument is no same man would be bothered by any of this.thats only acting the dick.
    brookers a guilty pleasure-then again nathan barley-so hes well aware hes a bit of a gobshite,a funny quotable and humane individual,who said one time said smoothies reminded him of a clown’s cum!

  17. Eoin Says:

    @ Chris – “Unfortunately there is also a sense of being better or more intelligent than the people who watch them in a non critical way…”

    This is exactly my point. Nothing wrong with comic outrage if its vented at worthwhile targets – a la Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. But more often than not, Brooker picks the softest, easiest targets.

    “Everyone has something that wouldn’t be considered a worthwhile pursuit by someone else…”

    Absolutely. I know I took a potshot at computer games there (also inadvertantly shooting my own argument in the foot in the process!) but my point from the outset has been live and let live.

  18. Colin Says:

    Take the philosophical view:

    Now, the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum. What might be right for you, may not be right for some. A man is born, he’s a man of means. Then along come two, they got nothing but their jeans.

    Everybody’s got a special kind of story
    Everybody finds a way to shine. It don’t matter that you got, not alot, so what.
    They’ll have theirs, and you’ll have yours, and I’ll have mine. And together we’ll be fine.

    Diff’rent Strokes to move the world, Willis.

    It’s why there’s more than one station on the tv.

  19. Eoin Says:

    Haha… Oh thank God that’s a song. I was afraid you’d finally flipped the lid, Colin… Anyway agreed!

  20. octave Says:

    hes a cultural commentator,he has to watch telly,even if the telly in question is not relevant to you.peopel who watch x-factor will watch brookers show too and get a good laugh,there are websites that sneer at conan o,brien (Seeing him on television five nights a week is a comforting reminder of community to the white people who still have televisions.)
    and the daily show and sarah silverman and mad men and the onion and peter singer.the onion,jesus.

  21. albinicus Says:

    i’ve never even heard of him..is he a part of our culture?

  22. Eoin Says:

    Well he’s on some channel like BBC27 or something so I don’t think he quite fits into the catagory of *being* our culture, like it or not. He’s also got a very popular Guardian column with frowning mugshot (the better to illustrate how that day’s episode of Eastenders has displeased him.) He’s actually a really good writer and when he’s turned his attention to any worthwhile subject matter I’ve always enjoyed hearing what he has to say.

  23. Pluck Says:

    hes not always a curmudgeon-his piece on the death of oliver postgate is bloody lovely

  24. Darragh Says:

    While I concede his channel 4 chat show was smug crap and his Guardian columns have gone a bit flabby as of late, I will always revere the man for this
    http://www.tvgohome.com/
    Quite simply, the funniest thing I’ve found on the internet.

  25. Eoin Says:

    Just to restate the terms of reference for my beef with Charlie Brooker: they pertain only to those episodes of Screenwipe in which he goes after patently obviously stupid programmes like X Factor, Super Sweet Sixteen, Andrew Lloyd Weber musical thingy, Britain’s Hardest etc. etc.

    When you watch X Factor closely enough to notice that they use the same clip of Dannii Minogue laughing twice, well… Who’s the real loser, eh?

  26. Eoin Says:

    P.S Cheers Darragh, watching reading TV Go Home as we speak

  27. albinicus Says:

    the culture reference was bit tongue in cheek..i would have used an emoticon such as this but i’m too scabby to pay €1.99

    http://mashable.com/2010/01/15/sarcmark/

    have read his column before but never saw his tv shows owing to only having the irish channels and for some reason itv scotland with subtitles and bbc2

  28. Eoin Says:

    Thing I don’t get about the sarcmark is why I should buy it, when I could just wait for someone else to use it online and copy and paste from there?

  29. Odysseus Bamburger Says:

    that whole sarcmark story is a ruse.
    The whole point and momentary genius of emoticons was that they used existing punctuation marks. it will never be included in fonts any time soon, i still cant figure out how to get the Euro friggin symbol up. alt gr my ass

  30. Eoin Says:

    Euro symbol (on this keyboard anyway) is Control-Alt-4

    €€€€€€€€bitchez…

  31. Odysseus Bamburger Says:


    cut and paste sucka

  32. gueuleton Says:

    @ Mark – “And if you can’t see the irony of your deliberately starting a conversation on your blog about a writer you don’t like, and his writing about stuff he doesn’t like, then … you should see that irony…”

    Agreed. If you don’t like Charlie Brookers show don’t watch it.

  33. Eoin Says:

    That’s horseshit. He spents hundreds of hours watching patently crap television series in order to confirm what any reasonably intelligent person could have deduced in five seconds: that they’re crap.

    Then he makes a TV series about it.

    On the other hand, I spent about 20-25 min on YouTube in all watching a programme which, considering the pedigree of the guy making it, I could reasonably have expected to enjoy.

    I didn’t and I expressed my reservations in five words on the internet.

    No comparison.

  34. Will Says:

    *sigh* I think you are missing the point Eoin.

    By watching such shows,Charlie Brooker is hilariously heaping scorn and derision upon them because is holding up a mirror to society and mocking *us* for liking them, not the shows per-se.

    I have been an avid fan of Charlie Brooker since his TVGoHome project came up on my radar. sure, I remember that Nathan Barley was somewhat of a disappointment(and it was a collaboration with Chris Morris) however Screenwipe,Newswiper and Gameswipe are just hysterical. Full on,laugh out loud hysteria. Genuinely clever, funny and they break new ground. Kudos to him for doing it.

    His scathing, mordant and caustic articles in The Guardian always suggest that he has his finger on the cultural pulse, precisely because he bothers to watch the cultural vomit that the TV companies promiscuously spew into our living rooms, vomit which is greedily lapped up by docile people in their millions.
    By drudging through the dross and spinning his perceptive comments, Brooker is doing both sociological and humanitarian work whilst drenching our legs in urine as we piss our selves laughing :-)

    His Screenwipe review of 2009 was a complete triumph – not least because of how shocked, appalled and indignant he was over the mock trial and execution of Gary Glitter.

    His article about the odious Janet Moir in the once openly fascist Daily Mail about Stephen Gatley was crucial in cultivating momentum in having her and the Daily Mail rebuked for printing such offensive, homophobic nonsense.

    Charlie Brooker should be celebrated and applauded not least because, as this song says, Charlie Brooker is Right About Everything.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCvbFRoDBCg

    PS – I just found out Eoin that you used to write in The Slate ? wow, I am impressed as it was one of the cleverest and funniest things ever so hey, you score brownie points for that. Take a bow.

    PPS – Actually, I think I may have interviewed you when you graduated from Trinity?You were redolent of Issey Mayake or Hugo Boss, can’t remember which……………

  35. otto an tiomanai bus Says:

    I honestly cannot make head nor tail of whats going on here,i remember being stoned one time and thinking i heard my hotmail password being namechecked as it were,but i rolled with the punches.well i have had to apply that same psychotic thinking to this yoke and still i can’t see it notamind logic not a mind ollie higgis a treatise of human nature.why watch it then so,whats the point of watching it?he was on again last night my dad had the remote after wallander or rebus of one of these boys was over so the man he took it upon himself to turn on prime time,went into the kitchen did the dishwasher.he was back in again and the mother,chastened says why dont you have the remote im not watching anything.he had another flick around and after a while landed on bbc4,mom was gone upstairs to do jobs..jobs?the job of not having the remote.(this is dan’s man)he had him on 5mins and off again the mother was gone only to come down stairs saying theres a thing on about scartaglin.something about the news being only another tv show the haughty prick.nobody understands you eb only the bould lucas martino above.poor brooker
    .this blog is gone to pot-two fools lying on a bed i did a tineye search on it http://www.tineye.com/search/d64261cc73023b98de98760b7b4b6bdb7eda3456 save your blushes lads.
    christopher shooting herion (sic) appropos of nothing and more religoius stuff-are you doing an ma on atheism or something,youve gone mad with it.let this be the last word on the brooker fiasco.

  36. Eoin Says:

    Okay, for starters Will, that *sigh* makes me want to punch you in the face. I’m sorry, but it does.

    As I have clarified about a million times above, my issue is not with Charlie Brooker personally, but only with the Screenwipe programme. (Incidentally, I’m pretty sure it was the Daily Mirror, rather than the Daily Mail, that was once openly fascist.)

    I actually basically agree with you on who he’s mocking. He’s mocking the viewing public for not being as intelligent as he is. Unlike you, however, I don’t see anything particularly laudable about that. A large part of popular culture is banal and stupid. That has always been the case and will always be the case.

    But crap television is an irritation only to those who chose to watch. Between multichannel television, DVDs, the internet, books, magazines and newspapers, there are always plenty of alternatives.

  37. Steve Says:

    Actually the bloke you want to punch in the face is right and you’re wrong. Sucks when that happens mate. Daily Mail openly supported Hitler, Mussolini + Mosely in the 30s. Its co-founder Lord Rothermere was an enthusiastic supporter of European fascism and actually a friend of Hitler -this was reflected in the papers editorial stance. Whereas the Mirror was explicitly left wing in its politics, championed the working class + labour causes and virulently opposed appeasement. Bet Charlie Brooker wouldn’t get something so well known that wrong.

  38. Eoin Says:

    @ Steve – by the looks of it we’re both kinda right. From Wikipedia:

    Rothermere used the Mirror for his own political purposes, just as he used the Mail[citation needed]. Both papers were an integral part of his joint campaign with Beaverbrook for “Empire Free Trade” in 1929–32, and the Mirror, like the Mail, gave enthusiastic support to Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists in 1933–34 – support that Rothermere hastily withdrew after middle-class readers recoiled at the BUF’s violence at a rally at Olympia.

    Feck it, that point was of peripheral importance either way.

  39. Seán Says:

    I enjoy Screenwipe because firstly, pummeling shoddy tv is a useful vehicle for the curmudgeonly Brooker character he’s got going. Secondly, the fact that the crap he’s reviewing often gets huge ratings makes it worth hearing about. Its interesting to learn about middlebrow culture.

  40. Will Says:

    Hey Eoin,

    yeah, I deserved to be punched – hit me baby :-)

    Ok….with that out of the way.

    Steve is quiet correct,in that the Daily Mail is traditionally viewed as a fascist paper as it *was* openly fascist in the 1930s and that odious ideology still permeates at the paper, albeit in a diluted fashion. You only have to look at the hysterical, xenophobic, right-wing headlines to see this.
    Ken Livingstone alluded to the Daily Mail’s fascist past recently amidst a storm of controversy.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Livingstone#Oliver_Finegold_controversy

    In contrast the Daily Mail has always positioned itself as a left wing, pro-labour paper. This tradition continued up to the present day, when it was very vociferous in it’s staunch opposition to the Iraq war which ultimately led to the dismissal of its editor and John Pilger.
    How To Silence an Awkward Newspaper by John Pilger.
    http://www.lewrockwell.com/pilger/pilger12.html

  41. Eoin Says:

    *sigh* You said Daily Mail both times *sigh* *sigh* *sigh* *sigh* *sigh* *sigh* *sigh* *sigh* *sigh*

  42. Will Says:

    whoops – of course I meant the Daily Mirror!

    *sigh*

    PS- here Butler, why don’t you sort out a RSS feed for your blog?
    It is actually pretty cool – not to massage your ego or anything.
    Fair balls.

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