TV NY, 19 December
Looking through the window on America's soul.
Okay, Christmas on British TV. You know the drill: classic movies during the day, premieres in the evening, Christmas specials of all your family favourites and the odd Victorian costume drama to get you in the mood. If you want any more detail than that, you’ll have to go out and buy the Radio Times, because I am spending Yuletide in Christmas City: New York, New York.
As a serious traveller, however, and not one of those dreadful Christmas tourists, I am taking an interest in the city’s inner life. When I’m not flaneuring the five boroughs and writing poems in Central Park, I’m watching TV, the window to any society’s soul. Hey – this is a TV column. Hello? If you don’t like it, read ‘Offside’: everybody likes that guy. Anyway, I’ve watched like an hour of TV and this is what I’ve got….
First thing Wednesday morning, New York 1’s news coverage was dominated not by Saddam Hussein, Trent Lott, or indeed Santa Claus, but by William Bratton. Bratton made his name as Rudy Giuliani’s police chief in the mid-1990s, when he famously turned New York’s cops on porn touts, public drinkers and fare dodgers. Having fallen foul of Saint Rudolph for uninteresting reasons, Bratton took the same position in Los Angeles, where he has now turned his joykilling attentions on the cops themselves.
LA leads the world in high-speed police car chases, and in resulting casualties and fatalities. Following the recent high-profile dismemberment of a baby caught in such an accident, Bratton has decided that it probably isn’t a good idea for the police to hurtle with such abandon after drivers with broken tail-lights and other similarly trivial infractions. This may be a perfectly sensible policing decision, but think of the consequences for TV.
The helicopter pursuit of OJ Simpson in 1994 is only the most famous example of a genre that has come to define American TV news. And then there are the special programmes made up entirely of this kind of footage. Starsky and Hutch and a million other cop shows and movies have traded on the high-speed car chase. Of course none of this would be a major loss to Western culture. In New York the traffic barely moves – there are no car chases in NYPD Blue. New York lives and breathes public transport.
Now that the threatened transit strike has been averted, New Yorkers are threatened with a hike in fares. I was delighted to learn on NY1 that the spokesman for the ‘Straphangers Campaign’ goes by the name of Gene Russianoff (1). Another snazzily titled New York campaign I learned about on NY1 is Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (2). The City Council Committee on Health has just overwhelmingly approved Mayor Bloomberg’s Giulianier-than-thou ban on smoking in bars.
The ban doesn’t affect the Christmas season, but from next spring, New York’s smokers will have to stay home and watch TV.
Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).
(1) I’m not kidding. And judging from the professionalism of the campaign website, Gene won’t be Russianoff any time soon.
(2) See the CLASH website
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