Monday 12 May 2014

C'mon everybody, it's time for Peppa Pig!

I have started watching a children's show on the ABC called Peppa Pig.
So what's lead to this latest manifestation of my lunacy?
Well, as usual it started with one of my inchoate rages against commercial TV, in this case, channel- f$%$ing-Ten.
Channel Ten realized that they had the legal means, and the lack of shame, to put promos in the corner of the screen full-time during their shows.
The show that is most germane to this argument is Modern Family.
This brilliantly written American sitcom, describes the lives of three generations of the Pritchett family of Los Angeles, and includes their partners.
It shows the modern pressures on the regular family well, and is as far from the seventies version, The Brady Bunch, as Earth is from Alpha Centaurus.
I love the show and have done ever since one of my trusted advisers on what to watch, Evo, told me about it.
I enjoyed each episode when new, and here's the rub, also when the repeats came on, as they are now on Ten at 6 in the evening.
I don't think that watching repeats eternally is an overly good thing to do, but I have only seen the ModFam eps two or three times, contrast with The Simpsons, some episodes of which I have seen possibly ten times.
Anyway, I like repeat episodes because they bring no surprises, most notably for instance, horrendously violent shows can often set off the complex machinery of dysfunction inside my head and lead to a bout of depression.
However Modern Family fits the bill perfectly, cleverly written shows like this, can often provide extra entertainment as you notice something you didn't see the first time around.
But mainly, shows I have seen before provide me with a comforting background level of audio, so I can relax and tend the perennially ship-on-a-stormy-sea state of the inside of my head.


Enter the promos.

But then one night recently I was watching ModFam and a promo for Masterchef came on in the corner of the screen.
Normally, or at least hitherto, these promos would dissolve after a minute and I could return to uninterrupted viewing.
However, this night, the promo stayed on the screen for the whole segment of the show.
The we went to an ad break, and upon return to the show, the promo reappeared, and likewise stayed on screen for the entirety of Modern Family.
To say I was enraged barely hints at the scale of my fury.
Even if it had been a promo for a show I do like, say The Simpsons, I would still have
disagreed with this practise.
However, because it was Masterchef, a show I loathe and detest, my rage knew no bounds.
I tried a workaround.
I used the pause-play-info function of my set top box to cover the promo, as shown in the pics, but in the end, I was just too frustrated for words.
Then a Facebook contact replied to one of my furious comments on the channel ten FB page, and said "Lachlan, I think you'll just have to stop watching it."
At first I argued, but then realised that he was right, and I had to lodge the only form of protest viable to me, not watching.
It was a wrench, and my friend Clint confirmed this in conversation, saying, "Yeah, but if you like the show, it's a drag not to be able to watch it."
Which is all too true.
Now previous to this current lash at Ten I was part of a Net voice that gained some traction with the network by complaining loudly about these promos, and last time they listened.
But this time our complaints fell on deaf ears.
Channel Ten are on the verge of bankruptcy, and Masterchef was their last gasp at survival.
So their logic seemed to be, 'let's promote MC all out.
Cam sorted me out quick smart
Even if we piss off all our other viewers, it will be worth it to save the network.'
However, in my fury I did try a few things on Ten's Facebook page.
I went to the Ratings website, got the figures for Masterchef, and posted them on Ten's Facebook page, showing, to my unholy glee, that no one is watching Masterchef.
However, it did no good, and the promos stayed infuriatingly on the screen.
However in the end I was able to stage a protest that allowed me to watch Modern Family without promos.
I went down to my friendly local DVD store, Late Nite Video and saw Cam, the very knowledgeable counter staffer and rented a copy of Modern Family.
Now each evening at six I press play and for 80c an episode, I get to see my program free of interruptions.
In closing, I would just add that I continue mystified by Ten's attitude.
They are pissing off their viewers by infiltrating other shows with these promos, leading to viewer dissatisfaction, and ultimately desertion of the network.
And I might add, I made my protest in legal form, by getting a DVD available legally at my local store, but many that I know, don't even do this.
They simply download the show in question illegally from the Internet.
This was best shown by the recent controversy over Game of Thrones, as this story at Mumbrella attests.
The problem here was that most viewers felt that Foxtel were charging infinitely too much for the show.
So rather than buy a whole Foxtel premium package, many just downloaded it illegally.
A genuine case of pricing yourself out of the market.
And Ten don't seem to understand that they can't just do what they like.
Previously there were no alternatives for viewers to watch a show that was owned exclusively by one network.
But as this story shows, many like me, unhappy with the treatment they are receiving from Ten will just get their show from the net and watch it without paying, and, (Ten please note), without any of the ads that the network wants us to see.
So Ten are indulging in the ultimate case of shooting themselves in the damn foot from point blank range.

Peppa and her appeal

Anyway, enough of Ten, how did a small pink cartoon pig oink her way into my heart?
Well, while I was on the ratings website, looking with undisguised glee at the Masterchef viewers dropping away, my eye ran down the page, and I noticed an entry that at first I thought said 2 million viewers.
I looked closer, and realised it wasn't two mill, but two hundred thousand, but that's still a high rating show.
You can see from the confused jumble of figures within the page how I made my initial error.
Anyway, I don't know why, but Peppa, fifth in the children's section, jumped out at me.
I think because I had seen her entry on the program guide when checking for what to watch.
Anyway, I then noticed that this small porcine cutey was on twice a day, and garnered a quarter of a million viewers per episode, nearly half a million viewers on each diurnal cycle.
To put that in context, Peppa and family are therefore, if the two shows figures are combined, 16th on the daily viewing figures for all shows.
So I decided to add to my protest of Ten by watching Peppa Pig.
She comes on at about twenty to six in the evening, and not that Ten gave a rat's arse what I watch, but it gives me a certain innate pleasure to be watching Peppa, rather than suffering the damn promos.
And I'm happy to say I am thoroughly enjoying the antics of Peppa and her family.
In last night's episode, Peppa's father has forgotten to mow the lawn, and so when Peppa and her family go down to the garden to play with a ball, the cry of "lost ball" so redolent of my memories of street cricket, went up after thirty seconds.
So the Pig family have a conference and they decide Daddy Pig had better mow the lawn.
Daddy pig gets out his mower, but it has not been serviced for a while, and falls apart almost immediately.
That resonated with me straight away, as the state of my gardening equipment is similar.
"Man," I said, "Where can I get one of those!!"
But with now a defunct mower, the family have another conference and decide to call Grandpa Pig, and he agrees to come over and mow the lawn, and gets aboard his ride-on mower.
And here the story really grabbed my gardener's heart.
For Grandpa Pig's mower looked like the sort of ordnance that the yanks used to blast Falugia back to the stone age.
I thought to myself that if I had a mower like Grandpa Pig's, then I could have my whole fortnightly gardening round done in a morning.
So Grandpa Pig comes over and lays waste to the Pig family's grass in seconds, and even finds the lost ball in the process.
Then the episode ends with the whole extended Pig family falling down laughing, which according to my friend Michael, is the standard ending.
So why do I like it?
I felt from the start that Peppa and family provided me with the ultimate in stress free viewing.
Also, now that I think about it, it shows a family life that was sadly stolen from me as a boy.
The Pig family talk with each other.
Daddy pig isn't sitting on the couch watching TV and working his way through a slab of beer.
Mommy Pig isn't chained in the kitchen, involved in an endless round of housework, with no time for the kids.
It's unrealistic of course, no family behave like this, but I found it immensely comforting, and felt that at least it showed a family life that if not representative of the wider community, was one worth aspiring to.
Anyway, after the Grass Cutting episode I hied me round to Ongmac Rural Machinery dealership and asked if they could get me a mower like Grandpa Pig's.
Needless to say they couldn't help me, and all moved in the general direction of away.

Workplace stress

Also, the watching of Peppa reminded me of an incident that occurred when working for Greenpeace in the early nineties.
Greenpeace was my first "real" or "proper" job.
And like all proper jobs, it involved stress.
For the first time in my life, I knew what workplace stress was all about.
To background that, I began work for Greenpeace in Vancouver, Canada, in 1989.
I initially worked in the Vancouver office as Canvass Director.
This meant I was responsible for those annoying people who come to your door while you're eating your evening meal and ask for money.
Sorry, for all those who were disturbed.
Anyway, after a year or so at Vancouver, I was shipped out to run the office in Victoria, on Vancouver Island, off the coast of British Columbia.
Victoria is one of the few places that puts even Vancouver in the shade for beauty.
Victoria, on the shores of the Georgia Strait, it doesn't get much better than this.
After six months there, it was time for me to return home, and I returned to Sydney to take over the canvass office for Greenpeace NSW.
Now while I had been in Canada, Greenpeace had undergone a major corporitzation process.
The logic being that since we are fighting major, slickly-publicized corporate machines, then we need to be one ourselves.
This caused a lot of friction with the older, mung-bean munching hippy-types, many of whom had founded the organisation, but in my opinion, it was a good thing.
The year I last worked for Greenpeace in north America, we raised somewhere a round fifty million dollars door-to-door, to fight for the environment.
So my arrival at Greenpeace Sydney, situated as it was in a cockroach infested third floor, laughably titled "office", in a building near central station came as a severe corporate shock for me.
Seated on the macramé rug smoking bongs at ten am was the canvass department, all six of them.
[Sidebar: Actually, they weren't smoking bongs when I arrived, but to borrow slightly from P.G.Wodehouse, "If not actually smoking bongs, they gave every sign that if you turned your back for a second, they would start".]
This canvass team were driven out to the suburbs each night in two vans looked like they had come "out" of the wrecker's yard.
In one of these vehicles you could see the drive train spinning between the driver and passenger seats.
I took one look at this lot, and like Napoleon contemplating the map of Europe at the start of the nineteenth century, said, "This will never do".
So as an arrogant young man, I set out to shake things up a bit.
It needed to be done, but I was hopelessly naive about workplace politics.
I trampled all over every finger and mental toe that got in my way.
Heedless of people's feelings I reorganised the canvass department, and by the end of my first year was employing fifty summer staff, and we had raised a million dollars, as opposed to two hundred thousand the year before I arrived.
But, in my mad stampede to improve things, I hurt a lot of people's feelings, and this eventually led to me being sacked.
At the same time that I came to work there, Greenpeace Australia also had a new CEO, an American named Steve McDowell.
He likewise had the remit to professionalise Greenpeace Australia, but was a much more canny corporate operator.
He knew you had to negotiate with other staff members, not just order them about.
I got on very well with Steve, and used to go down to the main office once a week to keep him updated on what was going on at the canvass department.
One afternoon, when the stress was optimal for me, I asked Steve, "what do you do to relieve stress?", and he answered, "I interact with my children. I make time when I get home to play with them with their blocks and dolls."
Steve was a family man, and I didn't get the point at the time, but I think my watching of Peppa taps into this sentiment he advocates.
Even with all the stresses that went with running a national quasi-political organisation like Greenpeace Australia, he made it a point to go home and make some time to interact with his children.
Playing with them with their toys on the living room floor.
Again, I didn't understand back then as of course the lessons of my own childhood were that parents only interact with kids to scream with rage at them.
So to hear this from Steve was major change in thinking.
I think that's why I didn't understand how this could "reduce" stress.
But then I was still a few years from learning that not all childhoods are alike.
My friend Mike for instance, with two children, one seven and one aged three, pointed out to me at lunch, that when it's your own kids, there is massive reward involved.
To background that: I was talking with him in that instance of my time as a teacher, a process that only brought me to loathe and detest children, of course, they were other people's children.
So Mike has his busy life, but gains the reward from interacting with his own children.
Steve found that playing on the floor with blocks helped him focus on what was really important.
And in the end, I feel I am getting some of this same benefit by proxy from the antics of a small oinking cartoon pig.
So C'mon everybody, sit down, it's time for Peppa Pig!

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