‘No one in this world, so far as I know … has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people’ (H.L. Mencken – journalist/social commentator).
‘There’s a sucker born every minute’ (P.T. Barnum – showman/promoter).
The above famous quotations of two of America’s finest essentially cover a fundamental truth about humanity. For every well-rounded discerning person of intelligence, thoughtfulness and compassion there are hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of others who operate in their daily lives at a level that is depressingly different. For all our best hopes and stirring public comments about the nobility and potential of the human condition, deep down inside we all know – for the bulk of the world’s population, most of the time – life is pretty bleak.
In this context, since time immemorial those who work in television and the media have known that when newspapers and broadcasters come into contact or interact with their readers, viewers or listeners, they are opening a Pandora’s box of potential moronic behaviour, attitudes and prejudice. For the good of society, let alone issues of taste and decency, they have always had to employ ‘filters’ of decency to weed out attitudes that are unacceptably extreme in terms of racism, xenophobia, prejudice, bigotry and just plain straightforward stupidity.
Overnight I came across a small example of that to which I’m referring on Radio Five’s Up All Night, hosted by Dotun Adebayo.
Sometime after 2.00am he began a segment of his programme in which a lady studio guest of considerable literary bent and refinement was to become involved in a radio phone-in discussing (on this occasion) books that the listeners would like to share and recommend as ‘un-put-downable’.
No doubt the producer or editor of the show had the best of intentions in choosing this topic as the theme of the show, hoping or anticipating that those awake at this ungodly hour would come up with a wide range of fascinating, life-enhancing and thought-provoking suggestions for consideration.
However, sadly and inevitably on these occasions, there is always an equivalent chance that what comes in will be disappointing in quality – as happened upon this occasion.
[A separate but parallel issue that often intrigues me when listening to overnight radio is that of whether there is actually anybody out there listening at all and/or, if there are, are they the types who can be bothered to lift a phone and contribute? In prospect there’s nothing more embarrassing for a radio presenter than to invite comment or reaction to a radio phone-in and then get none].
This morning, having conducted a brief introductory discussion with his guest, in which she had listed some of the upmarket novels she had recently read, and then ‘opened the airwaves’ to his listeners, Dotun Adebayo must have been suffering from a sinking feeling after fielding his first three callers.
The first wished to recommend a biography of football manager Brian Clough and (by way of examples of what he found so brilliant about it) told stories about Cloughie releasing an aggressive dog in his players’ changing room at half-time during a match and then – another time – lying, dead drunk, under a hedge.
The second wished to offer a biography of a guard at a Nazi concentration camp.
The third called in to recommend a book that listed items of trivia.
Not, perhaps, quite what the makers of the programme had been hoping for!