Reasonably interesting trip to Teesside University on Thursday; I am looking for database courses, partly so that I might apply more successfully for database-heavy jobs. Two options: I can take a one-night-per-week course all year, at approximately 20% the workload of a full-time student, and get a "one-fifteenth of an undergraduate degree" certificate for £150. (Half-price for your first one-fifteenth; double that later.) Another option is that they offer the first half of the database course for free, but you study it at half speed and so would have to wait another year to get on the more advanced half of the course. This free option is offered at about ten venues around the county, but the nearest to me is no more convenient than the university. I probably could still get the same certificate, but it would be half in databases and half in spreadsheets. Options, options; I will probably take on one or the other. (If I take the database-heavy faster option, I may be able to tap someone else for the cost of the courses, too.)
I suspect I'm not getting as much from LiveJournal as I used to, even after fiddling around with my filters. Accordingly, I'm going to try something a little different: a book review.
TV Nation was a 17-episode show broadcast in the summers of 1994 and 1995 in the USA and the UK (then later around the world) in which Michael Moore, previously most famous for the documentary Roger & Me (and more recently most famous for the documentary Bowling For Columbine, which I still haven't seen) presented news stories in a humorous style, siding with working people against the corporations, institutions and organisations of America. (Occasionally his ambitions were more global.) The main tactics used were to point out absurdity, to suggest how effective ground-level activism could be and to perform minor acts of civil disobedience when sufficiently amusing. In 1998, the series spawned a book, co-written by Moore and the series' producer Kathleen Glynn, Adventures in a TV Nation.
The bulk of the book details 25 of the 105 segments that were recorded for the show. Given that the segments tended to be about eight minutes in length, their treatment at a couple of thousand words doesn't seem to frequently add much detail. The layout is attractive; most pages have photos or sidebars. The writing style is simple; I would expect 14-year-olds not to have trouble with reading the book, though they would miss many of the cultural references. It's a very easy read, more like a collection of short stories than anything else. The most fondly-remembered stunts were those with Crackers the Corporate Crime-Fighting Chicken, but I have a lot of time for a segment in which Moore challenges Fortune 500 CEOs to do manual jobs associated with their companies. (To be fair and balanced - remember, series two of TV Nation was broadcast on Fox! - the CEO of Ford did change the oil in one of his company's cars.)
The most interesting chapters are, inevitably considering my tastes, those which are deliberately furthest behind the scenes. The story behind the inception of the show is almost a fairy tale in the way NBC cough up a million dollars for a pilot based on the haziest of proposals. The penultimate chapter details the five segments that were never broadcast on American television; I can remember one of them clearly, a roving reporter on the trail of small condoms. (The book doesn't mention it, but the phrase that pays for the smaller penis is "snugly lined".) The book gets credit for its extensive appendices too; the show's wacky polls in full ("17% of college graduates would punch themselves really hard in the face for $50") and a very extensive guide for activists as to where they might turn should they want to follow in Mike's footsteps. It's also interesting to see one Louis Theroux credited among the acknowledgements, who has since made his name on British TV very much in the mould of the Moore protegé.
Whether you will enjoy this book or not depends to some extent on your opinion of Moore. I have fond memories of the show at the time and regard myself as a fan of his work in general. (I even thought of my previous pair of spectacles to this one as being Michael Moore spectacles - big, almost traditional-TV-screen-shaped lenses, relatively thick black frames. On reflection, with the strength of prescription I have, no wonder the thick lenses kept falling out and the frame eventually snapped.) However, despite being an easy target for this book, eight years on from the show, it all seems a little same-old, a little old-hat; I'd have preferred greater depth at the expense of breadth, for an attention span greater than that of the length of the show's segments. Of his successors, Mark Thomas takes on fewer targets but goes into more detail with them and has funnier, ruder jokes; Dave Gorman gets up to wackier antics in the name of silliness, though doesn't have any political bias.
It's a sign of failure that the book didn't particularly inspire me to take Mike's activism further, though I suspect it's 80% reader failure and only 20% inspirational failure; perhaps raising awareness is really as much of a small win as Moore is actually hoping for. Accordingly, I can recommend Adventures in a TV Nation only principally as a comic book (not a comic book but a comic book) for light bedtime reading when you want to give yourself some subversive dreams.