To my shame, and against my principles, I have occasionally agreed to appear on television, though even less frequently than I have been asked. I have found those who work for TV broadcasting companies to be the most disagreeable people that I have ever encountered. I far preferred the criminals whom I encountered in my work as a prison doctor, who were more honest and upright than TV people.
In my experience, TV people are as lying, insincere, obsequious, unscrupulous, fickle, exploitative, shallow, cynical, untrustworthy, treacherous, dishonest, mercenary, low, and untruthful a group of people as is to be found on the face of this Earth. They make the average Western politician seem like a moral giant. By comparison with them, Mr. Madoff was a model of probity and Iago was Othello’s best friend. I am prepared to admit that there may be—even are—exceptions, as there are exceptions good or bad in every human group, but there is something about the evil little screen that would sully a saint and sanctify a monster.
Malcolm Muggeridge, novelist, journalist, and TV personality, was among the great cultural contrarians of the 20th century. The son of a working-class Labour Party MP, Muggeridge married into Britain’s Fabian socialist elite and became an editorial writer for the (Manchester) Guardian newspaper. But a stint as a journalist in Stalin’s Russia undermined his faith in the perfectibility of mankind and the feasibility of building a socialist utopia, and he devoted his later years to satirical commentary on liberal leftist ideology and the moral and social havoc it has wrought upon Western civilization.
I heard Muggeridge address the Student Union at the University of British Columbia in the early 70’s, soon after his resignation as Rector of the University of Edinburgh following demands by the student newspaper that he support a campaign for the the distribution of contraceptive pills at the student health center. Muggeridge’s opposition to the pill was anathema to many both at Edinburgh and at UBC, and in his Vancouver talk he was outspoken in his repugnance not only for the pill but for pot, abortion, and euthanasia. The audience was restive, but Muggeridge handled questions and interruptions with such charm and self-deprecating wit that he gained, if not the agreement, at least the grudging respect of a large section of his audience.
Theodore Dalrymple, a former prison doctor with a gift for irony, is perhaps today’s most eloquent cultural contrarian who, in the current issue of Taki’s mag, explains how his view of the world was influenced by Muggeridge, and why, in particular, he came to agree with Muggeridge’s view that television is an evil. But whereas Muggeridge condemned television largely because of his contention that “the camera always lies,” Dalrymple adds, with a psychologist’s insight, a warning of the damage that television does to cognitive ability, not only of the masses, but of the best and the brightest.
Taki’s Mag: Theodore Dalrymple: Television Is an Evil