IT IS unsurprising that I watched with some concern YouTube
- the Future of TV? (BBC2, Wednesday of last week), as my
pocket money depends on the continuance of what used to be known
technically as "the gogglebox".
The presenter, Jacques Peretti, acknowledged that he was
exploring foreign territory: serious television taking note of an
upstart rival. Last year, for the first time, 13-to-20-year-olds
spent longer watching the internet than TV. Google bought YouTube
for $1.65 billion, at a time when it was still making huge losses,
but this gamble has paid off, as each month's one billion watchers
attract enormous advertising revenue.
The trick is that the company pays no production fees; anyone
can download a video, and anyone with a webcam can make one. Two
sins seem to be central to the exercise: vanity on the part of
YouTubers, thinking that their antics should be of interest to
anyone else; and idle curiosity from the "subscribers" who watch
Vanity and curiosity are, of course, what make the world go
round, and immediate censure was undermined by the amusing clips
that were featured. Its champions trumpet high moral aims for the
genre: it is democratic, in that anyone can produce the material;
it provides a flexible vehicle for talent and creativity to emerge;
and it is interactive, in that there is an immediate subscribers'
response; so it builds up connectivity between people across the
But this ignored the difficult area of the offensive, obscene,
hate-filled downloads, and did not explore the part that it plays
in reinforcing the banal triviality of life. Neither did it
consider how much time it takes up: who can follow all this stuff
and still have a life?
Young people were also centre-stage in a more sobering
presentation: Mum and Dad Are Splitting Up (BBC2, Thursday
of last week). This was a simple and effective concept: five young
people shared their feelings about their parents' separation. After
hearing from the children, the parents were interviewed for their
side of the story; then, if all agreed, all three sat before the
camera and talked.
Some of the stories were hair-raising in their level of parental
self-centredness; and there was a jaw-dropping degree of surprise
from the same parents, who seemed hardly to have considered that
their offspring were so affected by the break-up, and still - six,
nine, 20 years later - felt it so deeply.
The sensitive documentary process, using just the occasional,
gentle question from an unseen presenter, offered some hope of a
better future. There was at least an attempt to communicate with
each other, and repair old wounds - in one instance, the only
resolution was finally to convince the son that nothing would make
his parents get back together.
There was, as it were, no control to this experiment, no
corresponding examples of how children of an apparently stable
marriage could be in despair; but, overall, the conclusion was that
the children seemed far more mature than their parents, far more in
touch with their feelings, and far more aware of the pain that
blighted their lives, and that somehow they would have to continue