TV can help you understand a country. But if you want to see the real abyss, tune into some godforsaken local channel, late at night. Anthropology as an academic subject could easily be replaced by a "EuroTrash" selection along those lines. Or "BritTrash" or "AmeriTrash", for that matter…
Last night, for example, I watched the most unbelievably shameless TV show – every sentence was in bad faith, and it went on for a good 45 minutes. The whole point of the show seems to have been to make as many people as possible call a very expensive hotline. Their way of achieving this, though endlessly embarassing, was actually rather ingenious:
They promise 1000 € to anyone who manages to answer a very, very, bleedingly simple question. Then they pretend as best they can that the question is rocket science (as Americans would put it), to make viewers think they alone are intelligent enough to know the answer, and itch to call in. The trick of course must be that if you tried to call, you wouldn't get through, but be charged lots of money – not a single viewer was put through during the entire time I watched.
The question: Farmer Klaus has 17 cows on his farm. All but 6 run away. How many are left?
This simple child's riddle was repeated in the grave, deferential manner of a Field's Medalist who describes Fermat's Last Theorem – about 59 times! They even kept saying: "I really think this question is so difficult that most viewers won't get it. If you do, please call in. The lines are free: you'll win 1000 € immediately".
By the end of the show, the show's host, a slightly dipsy girl who is obviously not THAT stupid, was still pretending that she hadn't worked out the answer.
It is striking that people are willing to lie quite so obviously and persistently, whilst casting themselves as complete fools, in order to be on TV and / or run a scam. You may have been shocked at the voyeurism of Big Brother a few years ago. But Big Brother only allows you to see people's little dirty secrets, which you would have guessed at anyway. This, by comparison, is the real thing, showing quite how far people will debase themselves for an hour's late-night local TV glory…