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As a break, I’m allow­ing myself a ter­ri­bly fran­co­cen­tric TV col­umn, direct­ly from the hole in which I am con­fined, in the mid­dle of ver­dant nature, which, I am told, should pre­serve me from para­noia-induced con­fine­ment.

Don’t imag­ine that I spend my days in front of the TV. There are a thou­sand and one oth­er things to do besides suck­ling the flat screen. How­ev­er…

Tak­ing a look at the screen, in mod­er­a­tion, is also a way of see­ing and hear­ing what mil­lions of peo­ple are receiv­ing in their con­fined liv­ing room, depend­ing on the time of day, and between their time work­ing by com­put­er, check­ing the screen on the phone or their autho­rized time out­side. The neat part: if you missed an install­ment, you can find it again on twit­ter or face­book. Very instruc­tive!

As a gen­er­al state­ment, one can say that, for news sta­tions, Covid-19 is an end­less source for every type of pro­gram­ming. They have all kept their “talk­ing heads”, their cer­ti­fied squat­ters, their detestable over-invit­ed ones, their watch­dogs, but they have added med­ical spe­cial­ists. Each sta­tion fights to have the same ones and you end up ask­ing your­self if this does not con­sti­tute a kind of online work for these “spe­cial­ists”.

Just for fun, let’s give a rough descrip­tion of what this can look like.

First, the offi­cial coro­n­avirus announce­ment, with a dra­mat­ic pre­sen­ta­tion in the style of a “Kid­nap­ping Alert”. It changed a bit between March and April. At first, we were giv­en rec­om­men­da­tions to close all shut­ters and bar­ri­cades. In March, among the rec­om­men­da­tions, there was no trace of the wear­ing of masks. And on the net­works, the gov­ern­men­t’s Sand­wich Bill­board Lady had a good laugh over it, say­ing she did­n’t even know how to wear one. That was the skit for March which is car­naval sea­son, as every­one knows.

Anoth­er skit con­sist­ed of say­ing the mag­ic word every hours, in all the pro­grams. Some talk­ing heads did­n’t man­age it at first: “chloro…quintet, mine, cine…” or “hydroxi chloro… wall­board… mine”. In short, the brag­gart with super pow­ers to slay Covid also had his fif­teen min­utes of glo­ry.

Two con­tro­ver­sial top­ics had the usu­al come­di­ans giv­ing them a try, one at a time, like for those jokes peo­ple share. I won’t men­tion them all but from the TV screen philoso­phers to the lib­er­al left-overs from the myth­i­cal six­ties, through self-pro­claimed night vis­i­tors to Macron, we were treat­ed to the full gamut. They were not tele­work­ing from home, they were work­ing on TV.

As for the cur­rent for­mat. Before men­tion­ing the pres­ence of “spe­cial­ists”.

Because of con­fine­ment, social dis­tanc­ing and secu­ri­ty, the screens were divid­ed into small win­dows in which appeared fea­tures deformed by web­cams set on too wide an angle, poor­ly light­ed and non made-up faces. This is how we dis­cov­ered what cer­tain of French TVs watch­dogs look like before make­up. They had a bit of a “my mug in the mir­ror on wak­ing in the morn­ing”. Botox must be in short sup­ply at the moment.

But you know as well as I do that, when you can’t rely on make­up, you can count on cos­tumes and stage props, even from a dis­tance.

Not one of the lit­tle win­dows opened with­out a sub­ti­tled announce­ment of the appari­tion involved.

What could have looked like a Advent Cal­en­dar in March and April became an arbore­cence in which this one and that one’s head­lines blared out as dur­ing a mil­i­tary parade. The “We are at war” was per­son­i­fied by the “Pres­i­dent of…”, “Respon­si­ble for…”, “Mem­ber of the Acad­e­my of…”, “Co-Admin­is­tra­tor of…”, “Chief of…”… I won’t run them all by you. More men than women of course, there are always the female talk­ing heads on screen to lath­er up the war chiefs.

From time to time, in one of the squares, there appears some­one pulled out of bed with his hair in a mess, being hit with a “what do you think of…” This is demo­c­ra­t­ic. But it’s on an imposed top­ic, not a freestyle improv, or else the com­mu­ni­ca­tion bug and the loss of sig­nal show up quick­ly.

In April, it became nec­es­sary to start prepar­ing for the re-open­ing of schools since the ad hoc Min­is­ter was feel­ing kind of use­less. Not a prob­lem, a “report” land­ed just on sched­ule to sud­den­ly remind us that our cher­ished lit­tle blonde ones were not all that Covid friend­ly and with all risks/benefits care­ful­ly weighed, a return to ben­e­fits involved reliev­ing the par­ents who had to go back to work. Here also, mem­o­rable skits are mak­ing the rounds on social net­works with the usu­al actors men­tioned above and well-known min­is­te­r­i­al fig­urines.

I rec­om­mend the one by the Paris Pre­fect of police, in three episodes in a 30s freestyle genre. We await the new sea­son with great impa­tience.

There is no point in talk­ing about the Min­is­ters with the 7 PM bogey­man spe­cial align­ing its blood-cur­dling fig­ures, nor the high­ly rat­ed inter­ven­tions by the President…further explained by the ped­a­gog­i­cal­ly impaired by Sand­wich Bill­board Lady, in the basence of mask, min­is­ters or under-sec­re­taries.

But in April, instruc­tions are still not to mask your­self with so much as a thread, in May you can do as you so please in the mat­ter. But most of all, don’t for­get to applaud and to wash your hands after­wards.

Nev­er before will we have seen so many “sci­en­tists” in TV stu­dios. Sci­ence Guid­ing the French Broad­cast­ing Scene.
Between those who are there to sup­port Macron’s ter­ri­to­ry, guid­ing the people“with ped­a­gogy” through the twists and turns, and those who have an opin­ion on every con­tro­ver­sy, those who are fas­ci­nat­ing (there are some, luck­i­ly) but who find them­selves assailed with dumb ques­tions and answer nonethe­less, you also find slipped into the mix as if they con­sti­tute a “med­ical reserve” old pen­sioned-off egos who end up have a reserved seat on every TV sta­tion.

Mean­while, when it comes to mask­ing ques­tions rel­a­tive to short­ages, these same TV sta­tions, fol­low­ing on a pres­i­den­tial com­mu­ni­ca­tion, have pulled out good old con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries rel­a­tive to the ori­gin of the virus.

Rough­ly, the com­ments were in the style of “we are not say­ing that… but where there is smoke, there is fire”.

Two days in April were devot­ed to a Chi­nese fart and its odor spread by Trump. I even saw a lady in the British Mar­garet style, pre­sent­ed as “a spe­cial­ist on Chi­na for the young peo­ple’s mag­a­zine Sen­a­to­r­i­al Fran­co-Chi­nese Friend­ships” lec­tur­ing on the rav­ages of the Chi­nese com­mu­nist sys­tem, so sim­i­lar to those in the USSR “but that could become so effi­cient if only entre­pre­neurs take them on.” Old-fash­ioned anti-com­mu­nist gib­ber­ish for a will­ful­ly pro­voked con­tro­ver­sy. It’s TV you want, here it is.

Watch­ing this dai­ly manip­u­la­tion of pub­lic opin­ion, one won­ders if all the jour­nal­ists have joined the san­i­tary reserve corps, leav­ing the stage to the cir­cus of talk­ing heads, by default.

On eco­nom­ic ques­tions, serve up the same ones, put a mask on neolib­er­als and from one pro­gram to anoth­er, have them say that “the debt will be use­ful in order to avoid the crash”, on one day, “we will have to pay”, on the next, and remem­ber that once the “cri­sis” will have abat­ed, they will again take up the cho­rus of the pre­vi­ous cre­do… with­out masks.

Just try rais­ing in the midst of all this some reflec­tion on the rela­tion­ships between emerg­ing virus and the destruc­tion of bio diver­si­ty, Covid and the rev­e­la­tion of the dead­ly con­tra­dic­tions in glob­al­ized cap­i­tal­ism, the fate of migrants stuck some­where or con­fined to the street…All that will be swept away by the phrase: for sure, noth­ing will be as it was before”.

So, when will things change on television?

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges –
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Daniel Fleury
Let­tres mod­ernes à l’Université de Tours. Gros mots poli­tiques… Coups d’oeil politiques…