The Human Yawn

This is the last of my forays into the tube (for now), I don’t want to start repeating myself – there’s enough of that around already.

We’re aware that the ‘appointment to view’ has largely disappeared. TV caters for this with ‘catch-up’ and plus one services as well as repeats scattered around the schedule. A large percentage of us also have our own way of addressing the issue with our PVR/Sky+ type systems.

As much as is possible I avoid watching any programme shown on a commercial channel in real time or live. The reasons for this are not merely to escape the advertising, some of which I like (the new First Direct commercial is great art), but also to skip what I find most annoying about reality or documentary programming – the reminder sections. You’ve all seen these segments, normally occurring immediately after a commercial break, reminding you of what you’ve already seen and the central crux of the programme. Treating us all as if we’ve got attention deficit problems or limited memory functions, perhaps this is so as we clearly forget we shouldn’t bother watching factual programmes on commercial television.

That’s unfair of course but this whole rant was prompted by last night’s new show, The Human Swarm. Its purpose was seemingly noble, to try and analyse human behaviour and explain consumer psychology. As this was clearly considered too cerebral for a prime-time Channel 4 audience they had to reduce it to the most basic level possible and give it an analogy for a title which then seemingly had to be explained on numerous occasions during the broadcast. By the end they’d beaten the analogy to a messy pulp, only death would’ve been better for it – and us.

In case you missed it apparently it’s called the human swarm because it explains how and why we behave en masse rather than individuals. Simple, say it once and we get it. We probably didn’t need the explanation and we certainly didn’t need it repeated five or six times in the hour. When you factor in the repeated explanations and the voiceover/clip repetition of what had already been seen before the ad breaks it was probably possible to edit the programme down to less than 30 minutes, and they wonder why the educated population don’t watch programmes live.

It seems it may be a series, even though I’d abandoned ship by the end of episode one which was about weather and the impact on consumer behaviour/stock control, etc. Imagine this, when the temperature rises our activities alter. These behavioural changes included a greater propensity to buy food (and alcohol) for barbecues. I doubt that anyone was shocked or even enlightened by these revelations.

There were a few gems hidden in the episode (the number of degrees centigrade it has to reach before the meat-processors switch from mince to burger output for example) but they were well buried and even then inadequately explained. One excruciating segment had the presenter making adjustments to a window display – when the sun is out we buy more swimwear (no-brainer) – but using the apparently long duration it takes to change a window-display (it really didn’t seem that exacting) to contrast with the tick-box computer programme that allows the same retailer to alter their online advertising focus – cold = coats, warm = swimwear. I’m actually interested in these things but when someone says that the resultant sales increase was 600% it is frustrating (for me anyway) because I want greater depth – over what period of time did this apply, was the advertising spend and methodology comparable - that kind of thing.

The other question that remained unanswered was why exactly Jimmy Doherty  (him off the farm, Jamie’s mate) was hosting this programme. I can only assume that he tests well as an ‘everyman’ type whose apparent sense of wonder at things we rightfully take for granted seemed valuable. Or perhaps he’s just the kind of bloke who doesn’t mind the fact that it’s scripted for him to remind us of what we’ve already seen every ten minutes. Maybe he has the brain capacity of a goldfish and needs these memory-jolts himself, in which case he was clearly the perfect choice. 


Adam Bowie said…
I didn't see The Human Swarm last night, although intrinsically, I think it's an interesting area. There are books on things like The Wisdom of Crowds.

But then I saw who was presenting it, and immediately rejected out of hand any thought of watching it.

Now that's not because I have any great hatred of Jimmy. Although I must admit that I'm not sure I've ever seen one of his programmes before, generally avoiding food programmes completely.

My problem was that from my limited knowledge of the man, he wasn't likely to be an expert in human psychology. He's not even a generic TV "scientist".

He's just a bloke that Channel 4 have signed up and have on their books.

You just know that once they'd decided what the subject matter was, they pulled out a file a bit like Jim Phelps at the beginning of the old Mission Impossible TV series:

Heston? He's "sciency" but no. Jamie? Busy making "Meals in 2 Minutes." Kirsty? Still getting over Hotel GB. Kevin? On a building site somewhere. Tony? A bit tetchy since we cancelled Time Team.

So Jimmy gets the gig! Because clearly we couldn't just use a voiceover guy, or employ some kind of specialist.