As a 10-year-old child, the most exciting thing to happen to me was my parents buying a house with an Anderson shelter in the back garden. Our very own corrugated iron holiday home, and the perfect subterranean getaway should hordes of irradiated cannibals overrun the obliterated, smoldering remains of our cities during the nuclear winter that was almost certainly on the horizon.
Unfortunately the shelter was out of commission when we moved in in 1985 because it had been infilled with pieces of wood and debris by the previous owners. And even after I’d spent many long, hot summer days excavating the interior, it was only ever really deep enough to offer me light protection from a loosely secured Catherine wheel or larger than average bee. Still, it was better than nothing.
It was my sneaky (and ill-advised) late-night viewing of Threads a year earlier that had turned me into a budding survivalist loon. I wanted to survive the impending nuclear conflagration. I was too young to die. Also, I really wanted to see Rocky IV.
However, 27 years on, as the world prepared for the Mayan apocalypse on December 21st, I remained surprisingly calm. It probably helped that I didn’t actually believe that the world would end on that particular day. But the truth is: I was sort of ready to embrace the end if it did come.
I once had a friend who said that if the three-minute warning ever sounded, he’d simply climb up onto his roof and light a cigarette. After all, surviving the apocalypse in an overcrowded bunker environment would be a truly miserable experience. You’d probably spend the first few weeks repeatedly contracting norovirus, feverishly shitting your way through valuable rations and deliriously sprinkling lime powder into a dry toilet like a Masterchef contestant dusting a chocolatey dessert.
But as prepared as I was for the unlikely end of the world, I knew in my heart that there was something far more terrible in store for humanity – a cultural apocalypse. Instead of a nuclear warhead or ‘extinction level’ asteroid snuffing us out in a billion degrees of vaporising heat, our demise is going to be slow and excruciating. We’re going to have the life sucked out of us by television until we’re dumbed down to the point where our brains are only marginally bigger than a hamster’s heart. On the upside we’ll eventually be so stupid that no one will be able to operate the array of computer consoles in missile silos and military command centres across the world, making it impossible to destroy ourselves. But on the downside…fuck me, what are we watching?
Aside from the televisual atrocity that was Channel 4’s Kookyville (which we can only hope died a hideous death at the pilot stage), ITV2 recently launched a panel show called Fake Reaction in which celebrities try to maintain a poker face and earn points for their team while secretly enduring a variety of challenges. For instance, in the opening episode we got to see Joe Swash eat a samosa made of cat food, which made him retch like a man trying to swallow a knitted a scarf. And if you’ve ever scrolled through your television’s EPG and decried that there simply aren’t enough programmes featuring Fazer from N-Dubz staring at a Scotsman’s bare balls – it had that too. And yet, in spite of all that, the programme’s nadir was probably the moment when the studio audience appeared to applaud TOWIE’s Gemma Collins for not knowing what a mammal is. “A woolly mammal? Like in Ice Age?” she said, which led to further excitable mooing from those present at the dumbest start to a New Year in living memory.
Saturday night’s prime-time television bilge came in the form of Splash!, ITV1’s onomatopoeic offering to the Olympic legacy gods. If you missed it, just imagine what the BBC’s Olympic diving coverage would have looked like if Clare Balding had been replaced with Vernon Kay, the Aquatics Centre had the ambience of a Yates’s Wine Lodge, and every competitor had to make their way to the diving board to the sound of a Rihanna track pounding through their skulls. Then picture yourself weeping inconsolably.
I mention this programme because of the involvement of bronze medal Olympian Tom Daley. You see, the cultural apocalypse isn’t just about dumbing down, it’s also about television and the media devaluing our Olympic heroes so that we no longer have anything to believe in and aspire to. Seeing Tom Daley featuring prominently in Splash! generated the same feelings of disappointment that a child must feel when an overweight forty-something man dresses up in an ill-fitting Spider Man costume for a children’s party, before slipping on some jelly and exposing his cavernous bum crack to a roomful of tearful faces. Their superhero is forever tainted by that one memory. He’s not a hero after all, he’s just a man.
Not too long after the Olympics, there were apparently frantic efforts by producers on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! to sign up an Olympian or two for the forthcoming series of the show. Because let’s face it, Team GB’s colossal athletic achievements at London 2012 couldn’t possibly mean anything to us as a nation unless we could later watch an Olympian gnawing through the tough rim of a kangaroo’s anus in a head-to-head Bushtucker Trial against some beefy, orange twat from Geordie Shore. Fortunately, the series went ahead without any Olympians degrading themselves on national television. (Speaking of which, with a heavy heart, I forgot to mention that Olympic gold medal-winning long jumper Greg Rutherford will be appearing in episode two of the aforementioned Fake Reaction.)
The 2013 cultural apocalypse has also seen the return of Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 5, with this year’s big draw being the involvement of The Hills’ Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag (or “Speidi” for those “funts” who are now too far gone to summon the energy required to verbalise two separate names). I won’t be watching, obviously. I could spend an hour staring at a kettle and come away from the viewing experience feeling equally as fulfilled. But enough people will watch and discuss CBB to create the illusion that it actually means something.
This year, we will also have to endure near constant media coverage of Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy. And as no woman has ever given birth before, every agonising second will be incorporated into the multiple reality series that document the minutiae of her family’s cursed existence. Behind her saucer-sized sunglasses there’s probably just a looped cartoon of two anthropomorphic handbags on a seesaw. Convincing the world to watch even one of her long-since elapsed 15 minutes of fame was an impressive trick, but I pray it all ends soon.
Anyway, the conclusion to this exhausting rant is unsurprising and glaringly obvious: television is awful and our lives are filled with meaningless bullshit. Welcome to the cultural apocalypse, enjoy your slow death – or “sleath” if that makes things easier for you.