A friendly young tv crew came to our flat in London today, and filmed me delivering this provocation to Channel 4 - solicited by my comrade Mark Earls, who's helping them think about the purpose of television over the next few decades. The question asked was:
Which - in your opinion - is the change in the world around us to which Channel 4 needs to pay most attention? And why?
And what - if any - are the implications for Channel 4?
Here was my answer (I'll post the video version when they send me it).
Pat Kane's provocation to Channel 4
The biggest issue exercising me at the moment is the clash between our hyperconsumerist selves and objective environmental limits.
At the moment it seems like a car crash between opposites:
- There's a top down establishment consensus of scientists, environmentalists and politicians which sets scary targets for carbon levels in the atmosphere that we cannot surpass, or disaster looms...
- ... And this message rains down on a populace which has had its every niche desire answered by flexible capitalism, powerful marketing and endless credit for the last few decades, and is understandably resistant, losing themselves in escapist media.
A very pessimistic argument about human nature could be drawn from this process - that we cannot truly transform our attitudes, we can only be "nudged" or guided into good behaviour. Homer Simpson needing to be taken in hand by The Wise Elites.
I'd prefer that we focus on that part of human nature that joyfully responds to adaptive challenges - our playful nature.
If we move beyond our consumerist identities, what are the opportunities for ingenuity, for learning new skills, for developing new lifestyles, for finding pleasure in other people in new ways?
To me, that's the territory that a national media entity like Channel 4 completely occupies - the shaping cultural space between exhortation and desire. You have an opportunity and responsibility to draw out the joyful adaptor in people - offering them semiotic resources (scripts, tools, scenarios, images and networks) which can make the low-carbon society seem creative, fulfilling, absorbing and meaningful.
My direct question to you is: can that be done while your business model depends on super-fantastic car ads and sofa promotions between the shows, stoking up exactly the same kinds of escapism-through-positional-goods that caused the problem in the first place? Or in concert with the industry, will you have to also start rethinking entirely the very function and purpose of advertising itself? What kind of information about products and services should people have in a post-consumerist society?
And the last point would be: is sit-back television-watching really the medium that will support this new active, green citizenry? Or do you need to redouble your online efforts, to make the best of the collective action and engagement techniques that the internet provides?