Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Ask The Chancellors

Ask The Chancellors sets the three would-be Chancellors in a studio debate. It's part of a new role that TV is playing in the UK general election - later we'll see the party leaders doing the same for the first time.

The idea of introducing the televised debate as part of the election campaign – common in many other countries – comes it seems from the increasing disinterest that the electorate seem to show in politics and politicians.

So Channel 4s 'Ask the Chancellors' is an interesting development in the platforms of debate in the UK. It becomes a new type of space –somewhere between game show and the debating chamber of the House of Commons.

The show opened with an overview showing the three candidates each behind a podium on a stage (arranged left, centre, right according to traditional political leaning), facing an audience with Krishnan Guru-Murthy as the host.

Already the traditional spatial arrangement of British political debate is skewed. Instead of the opposing benches of the House of Commons, politicians relationship to the audience is frontal. And it seems to leaves them looking slightly awkward.

The most immediate visual effect is the sheer amount of purple. The whole stage is bathed in washes of non-partisan lilac.

The platform – in the design vernacular – "floats". That’s to say, it's raised slightly from the studio floor.  From underneath, it throws out a bluey-UVish light like a souped-up Vauxhall Astra.

Suspended somewhere over to the right, behind George Osborne, was a large floating oblong like an overscaled fluorescent light fitting.

Behind them a series of panels form a screen – the kind of thing you'd see in the makeover of a 60s office block, suggesting efficiency, contemporayness, openness, clarity. Here though its projected with three C4 logos and highlighted with more lilac spotlights.

The podia themselves are strangely flimsy things –a cross between the dispatch box and a game show. But is not a podium you could thump as you make a point without it collapsing.

 Perhaps the most affecting moment is when the camera shoots across the line of the candidates as one addressed another directly, rather than addressing the camera or the audience. Suddenly, the space becomes visceral, and intimate – the lens collapsing the space between them suddenly forcing an aggressive intimacy more familiar to a boxing weigh-in.

Of course, it’s a little ridiculous to be examining a no-doubt hastily assembled studio set for a profound semiological text on the nature of contemporary politics. But, perhaps the fact that its most obvious quality is a generic emptiness is an interesting attribute in itself. Of course it has none of the gothic spookiness of Westminster. But equally, it has none of the Day Today overblown drama of the contemporary news studio, or even the clubbish setting of Sunday political talk shows. Does this apparent expediency attempt to suggest transparency – that the medium itself isn’t anything more than a means of transmitting information in an innocent manner?

Whether TV is the answer to electoral disinterest is open to question – especially at a moment when TV itself has been fragmented by multi channels and platforms.  It was apparently watched by only 1.7m - 2.1m viewers.

One other thing ... tell us about that tie Krishnan

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