In my expert opinion, the next frontier in media content will involve filming human biological decay in real time, but offering the viewers the chance to speed it up and slow it down. Combine Big Brother with snuff movies with Tamagotchis, and I think you have the recipe for a multi-million pound media venture. You'd probably have to host it in Dubai or some other moral vacuum - unless you could film it on the streets of Hackney and claim you were being 'creative' - but think of the tax benefits. Consider a few precedents:
- Amy Winehouse: London Lite and Thelondonpaper now concentrate primarily on the dwindling mental and physical health of this beloved diva. On days when she appears to have performed no self-destructive act, they reluctantly pad out their pages with tales of financial disaster and war, but she doesn't often disappoint. Pete Doherty was a useful back-up, but now appears to have slowed his self-abuse to a pace that is beyond tantalising, and merely boring. Changes in pace are crucial here. Her life-expectancy must be veering wildly between 30 and 60, depending on what she gets up to on any given weekend. "Winehouse's dad drags her to rehab!" - at this rate she could have another 40 years in her. "Winehouse too ill to perform" - ooh, perhaps she's on the way out.
- Jesus Christ: a well-rehearsed story, but what elevates this above Amy Winehouse's is the agency of the audience. Pontius Pilate, an Endemol executive 2,000 years ahead of his time, understood the importance of engaging with the 'people-formerly-known-as-the-audience'. Jesus was literally voted off (this mortal coil) by the crowd.
- Tamagotchi: the beauty of this twist on the old 'death' problem is its combination of the above. Firstly, there is a real-time dimension to the tamagotchi's demise, and changes in pace are constantly occurring. Like people, this little electronic creature is doomed from the minute it is made, but its range of possible life-spans vary enormously, like Winehouse's. Well-tended and fed, and it can last for several weeks. Neglected and it will die quickly. The mistake the manufacturers made was to model the machine on a pet or child, thereby teasing our capacity to care, rather than on a hedonistic rock star, which could have tapped into a no less insatiable desire to witness wanton destruction. Secondly, borrowing from the New Testament, the tamagotchi puts us in charge of its fate. But again, a lesson could have been learnt - where is the 'Barrabus' tamagotchi for us to vote in, as the 'Christ' tamagotchi is voted out?
Back in Dubai, I imagine a deserted village out in the desert, a la CBS's Kid Nation, filled with various rock stars, models, fading footballers and hangers-on. It is filmed 24/7, and the viewers vote on which member of the house is to take which narcotic, attend which party and experience which form of short-term psychological kick. Except that - and here I borrow from Lost slightly - the time horizon and plot genre is entirely uncertain, because the series only ends when someone dies. How long will that take? Who knows. It depends partly on the votes of the audience. Whether we are 'half way through' the series or 'near the end' is entirely unknown, until the conclusion is reached - as with life. To my mind, only a 5-day cricket match has a similar capacity to illuminate and manipulate the strange slowness and quickness of time.
You've heard of 'reality television', well welcome to 'existential television'. Reality tv uses the frame of a camera and production studio to take banal phenomena (such as washing up) and re-produce them as spectacles or games. This preference for 'reality television' over 'entertainment' is similar to a preference for bare-knuckle fighting over boxing - it is a gradual thinning of the distinction between artifice and everyday life, until there is only the fact of there being an audience to distinguish between them. What, the existentialists amongst us ask, could be more essential to everyday life than its finitude? So what could be a more lucrative genre of television than taking that finitude and adding an audience with a vote?
As Larkin put it, "life is slow dying". But he hadn't factored in hard drugs and a decent editting suite.