The home of Critic, Writer and Film-maker: Liam Walters

Screen Daze – The Power Of Television

The Power of Television – Written By: Liam Walters

Whether you think it or not, television has a lot of influence in your life. Whether its from an advert making you want to buy a certain product, a news piece informing you on something that you know little about, or a documentary changing the way you feel about a certain subject, television has a massive power of impact.

What I’ll be looking at today, though, is something not as straight forward. I’ll be looking at an example of the power television can have, despite the outcome of the example actually being an accident. A televisual blunder if you will. To accurately portray this though, I will step back about 70 years or so…

America – October 30th 1938, H.G.Wells’ War of The Worlds is broadcasted live over the radio, narrated by Orson Welles. As some of you may know, a lot of the listeners weren’t in on the fact tha it was a story, especially as the first two thirds of the reading were done in as news segments. Due to this, there was mass panic and hysteria, as a large number of listeners believed that an alien invasion was in fact happening.

Now of course, you’re probably thinking, ‘That was so long ago, and they only heard it as a news segment on the radio. Of course they would believe it’ and, at least to some degree, it would be true. This was 1938, and with only a voice on a radio telling you what’s happening, it would be hard to differentiate between fact and fiction, especially if the fiction was presented as facts, like a news piece.

But don’t go thinking that television isn’t able to do it’s bit, because as you will soon discover, even fictional TV can be mistaken for fact, as we jump forward 54 years, 1 day, and several thousand miles.

England – October 31st 1992, The BBC show a certain drama called ‘Ghostwatch’. Ghostwatch was a piece of dramatised television fiction, set out as a live broadcast (save from opening and closing titles) and starred such well known famous presenters as Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene and Craig Charles, among others. The show followed the ‘Ghostwatch Team’ which included Sarah with her Camera-man and Sound-man, investigating an apparently haunted house in Northolt, Greater London. Craig Charles is also at the house, although he’s there more for comic relief. In the studio, we have Michael Parkinson, with a expert in the supernatural field ‘Doctor Pascoe’, along with Mike Smith (Sarah Greene’s both fictional and real life husband) who was manning the telephone lines.

The family living in the house claimed to have been experiencing paranormal activity for a long while now, although the local paper have made them out to look like liars. The ghost, named “Pipes” due to the mothers excuse of the mysterious noises being the plumbing, has haunted them for too long, and the family had finally agreed to let the BBC film in their house, if for anything, just to prove they’re not liars.

At the start of the film, mostly everyone is a bit happy and jolly, not really expecting anything to actually happen, but as the film progresses, the hauntings start to become more frequent, growing with severity, as it all escalates at the climax of the film. I wont spoil any more of the plot, because I urge all who read this to watch this film, which is freely available, by the BBC, on the internet.

Back to my original point, due to the way the film was shot, as though it was an actual live broadcast, and since some would have missed the opening title sequence, a vast majority of viewers had actually thought that the events in question real. This caused massive controversy for the BBC, with many viewers calling up to complain that the BBC had ‘tricked’ them and that it was all a ‘hoax’.

The actual power of television deepens, as one you child had killed himself several days after watching the show, believing Pipe’s was haunting him (because of the unusual noises his plumbing made). It was also the first, and possibly the only television show shown to have induced post-traumatic stress disorder in several children as well.

Although these are serious cases, among a lot of less serious complains, the show was broadcast clearly after the watershed. Whether or not this is the fault of the BBC, or the parents, or in deed both parties, is not up to me to decide.

This truly does show the power of television. Sure, it can be used to make us laugh and cry, as many programs do, but it can also make us believe the unbelievable, in a way we never thought possible.

So where do we go next. It’s been 18 years and we are now in the age of computers. The internet is becoming more powerful with the amount of people logging on each day. Its becoming a more direct and quicker way of finding out information. I, myself, found out that Michael Jackson was dying because I read it on facebook (at which point, I went to the TV), but maybe we will have to wait just another 36 years, before something as wide scale and controversial as War of the Worlds or Ghostwatch finally happens on the internet…

Do you agree with me, or think I am talking out my backside? Share you’re own opinions in the comments section, and get your voice heard!


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