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Hold the Uptrend Visiconk: Viceroy Blair succumbs to LFS

wibbly woo wibbly woo wibbly woo…

At last the great Y2K38 panic has subsided, thanks to patient years of upgrades and an unexpected asteroid in the bagging area. And now comes news long-expected: from Labour’s Space Transport House at the recently polished Aneurin Bevan Coca-Cola Moonbase (a subsidiary of Lunar Disney, incorporated in the state of Tranquility), a solemn announcement over the visiconks.

“Hashtag all,” it begins, in the new vernacular. “It is with great hashtag sadness that we omnipish the 1/5” … “following announcement. Please hold. 2/5” Then a blipvert, and then: “Viceroy Blair succumbed at last to Lunar Flange Syndrome 3/5” … “at Fanta O’Clock LMT this earthsolprebrunch. 4/5” … “Hashtag thoughts and prayers, etc in luvmems of the People’s Princessoriser. Coke is it. 5/5”

Meanwhile, deep beneath the lunar regolith at the Margaret Thatcher Pizza Hut Lunar Mining Corporation Space-Tory HQ — the “Thatch Hatch” — tributes are paid, lolspeeches are droned, but in the Homepods and the gated satellite exclusocaves there is but one refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice at that news!

A row bubbles and bursts over the spacewaves. “You disrespect a dear former leader, an old man.” “Viceroy Blair was divisive.” “He rid the world of dictators.” “He brought ruin to the land, before it became ruined.” And so on. The ancient arguments nursed again into dangerous and bitter flame beneath the pressurised twatdomes.

But as the Interplanetary Labour Party hold the balance of power, albeit in conjunction with the Lunar Independence Party, their will prevails. Many megacredits are instazapped to pay for the funeral, even though this means some go without basic necessities such as Coca-Cola. It’s not a state funeral, oh no, they insist: the Anima-Queen’s eyes buzzed red when the idea was suggested. And so it proves: the laser light extravacremanza is a slightly lighter shade of mauve, thus identifying it unambiguously as merely a ceremonial funeral. The supergun carriage travels via Tube Olive not Tube Potato, entirely different. The entrance to St Ronald’s Cathedral is lined with Chelsea Cyborgs, not the active servicedroids currently engaged in the war against Lunar Eurasia.

It is by no means a political funeral. The guest list for the service merely includes all party donors and surviving members of Blair’s cabinet, with Supreme General Overlord Omicron Mandelson telespazzing in from the Outer Worlds, and Gordon Brown sending a miniclone. Although invited in accordance with the War Crimes (Ignore Ignore) Act 2020, the Immortal Empty Soul of Henry Kissinger sends his apologies, secured as he is behind the impenetrable borders of the People’s Republic of Lunar America. By special arrangement Robodiana, sponsored by the Daily App, hovers above the plastipews scattering underage upskirt images of celebrity children as part of its immoral crusade.

In accordance with no tradition, Big Space Ben is placed in Silent Mode for the duration of the funeral service, and the Tubes are lined with the Boys in Black to facilitate appropriate mourning behaviour. Space Onions are available for an optional mandatory fee from every Coca-Cola dispenser.

These precautions do not entirely stop unauthorised rebellions, including lowered visors and retransmissions of “unbalanced” material such as the F*rty-f*ve M*n*tes speech (name obfuscated to trick the Ultra-Effectivo™ Lunar Unlimited Virgin Omnifilter). A campaign led from the deepest lava tubes of the Northern Line to propel Things Can Only Get Better to hashpos 0000001 in the bongotrends causes controversy when the LBBC decides to broadsmit only every alternate bar, intercutting with footage of Space Pope Colin II humming halluciprayers and rattling a tin from a balcony of St Peter’s Bank of Silica.

And now at last into the cathedral come the senior guests, led by the recently televoted PM Romeo Beckham and the winners of Lunar Britain’s Got Cabinet, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Maximilian Plantagenet Idaho Binge Squabbler, known to his owners as Polly T Parrot. And finally the Anima-Queen and her brood, cleansing the St Ronald’s lino of choking regolith for the ceremonial entrance of the most honoured guest, Eternal Emperor Cameron, and his little dog Gove.

Pray silence, now, for His Grace the Lord Archbishop of Tranquility, Professor Brian Cox.

…wibbly woo wibbly woo wibbly woo

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Embracing the obsessives

Broadly, a subject has three types of audience: uninterested, interested, and obsessive. There are probably nuances here and Gartner would undoubtedly conjure up a four-quadrant chart and charge you several grand for it, but humans like things in threes so that’s where I’m going.

Each of us occupies one of these roles for a subject (the role might change over time). I count hate as interested: you have an opinion. I’m uninterested in Eastenders; I’m interested in X Factor (I want to kill it with fire); I’m obsessed with the Olympics.

Where this gets interesting is how these partitions are considered by content producers.

In almost all cases, newspapers and TV news programmes aim at the interested, ignoring obsessives and uninteresteds.

Consider TV news coverage of football. It assumes you follow the game — it never explains offside, or the league format (unless it changes), so it’s not for the uninterested. It doesn’t have three people arguing over the merits of a free kick, so it’s not obsessive either.

It’s similar with economics: if you don’t understand what GDP actually means (as opposed to the acronym’s expansion), you’re out of luck. But I bet economists regularly scream “it’s not as simple as that!” at the screen. The uninterested and the obsessive aren’t the targets.

The exceptions in news programming seem to be with science and to a lesser extent technology. With coverage of space exploration and physics, the target seems to be the uninterested almost exclusively. Mars is described as the fourth rock from the sun, cold, etc, almost every time, and Higgs is “the so-called God particle”.

Imagine if BBC News said: “Today in the Premier League, which is the richest and most important football league in England, the Liverpool FC club, which plays at a large stadium called Anfield…”

Producers might argue their coverage is as deep as the audience’s knowledge, and the audience knows more about football than about Mars. True, up to a point: but I think the audience knows far less about economics (and politics) than correspondents assume.

With science, it seems the interested and obsessive audiences are deliberately left adrift. The recent coverage of Neil Armstrong’s death was mostly lightweight, and the BBC’s online obituary leads with this excruciating paragraph:

In 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the Moon and arguably the most famous man in the Universe.

As Wikipedia would say: citation needed.

Even a specialist, nominally interested-aimed show like Horizon often fails: there’s too much enforced drama, and the target appears to be someone who progressed only recently from uninterested. I can’t help but think this reflects the status of the production team.

The obsessive science audience is today not considered at all on TV, with the possible exception of The Sky At Night. I think this is very much down to its longevity and to Patrick Moore, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, once he leaves us, the show is quietly shelved as “coming to a natural end”.

Earlier in the year Professor Brian Cox gave a televised lecture on quantum theory. At last, I thought: targeting the high-end interested and the obsessive. And yet, amidst the actual science, there had to be celebrity involvement — Jonathan Ross doing maths, etc. I can picture the production meetings, where confused barely interested TV bods desperately tried to drag the target towards them.

A journalist I follow on Twitter was nevertheless confused by the lack of footage of Cox silhouetted by sunsets and wondered in a tweet whether he had now jumped the shark. I gave her the 140-character version of this post. She didn’t reply.

Irritatingly TV can cater for obsessives. The Big Brother auxiliary shows (such as Big Brother’s Little Brother and its Desmondesque successor on Channel 5) and similar spin-offs are targeted at hard-core fans. And for this year’s Olympics the BBC provided, for no additional cost, up to twenty-four channels of uninterrupted sport. If you wanted fencing prelims, you could watch them (and you still can, until January). BBC1 and BBC3 dipped around, catering for the interested with blanket coverage. (The uninterested had the even-numbered channels.)

The medium that has embraced the obsessives like no other is the internet, of course. (There are obsessive magazines too, like Maximum Carp and Carpology and so on, but the net out-obsesses these comfortably.)

Which brings me back to to Mars.

The seven minutes of terror before Curiosity’s touchdown were just before 6.30am UK time. The interested might’ve watched BBC News in the hope of some coverage. I’m an obsessive and watched NASA TV online, which showed the action from the control room live. Even this, annoyingly, cut away later to clumsy interviews, when all I wanted to do was listen to the mission control loop. (That was available on the net, Roger told me later. He’s a hardcore obsessive.)

But NASA’s usually great at cultivating obsessives. I can watch and listen in to Curiosity briefings and teleconferences live, uninterrupted by a journalist talking over the science. The Curiosity team also took part in a Reddit AMA that produced a bunch of intelligent, occasionally high-end obsessive questions.

Does it matter that mainstream TV doesn’t cater for science obsessives? I don’t know. I’d like to think it matters. The BBC argues that BBC1 and BBC2 have a general remit, and then dedicates sixteen days of BBC1 6am-1am to sport for the Olympics. Is it too much to ask for an hour of proper, obsessive science a week? A month?

But then, I’d probably have read it on the internet already.

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