Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Greatest Television show on earth (J G Ballard, 1972)

“ During their visits to the battle the producers found that there were fewer combatants actually present than described by the historians of the day. Whatever the immense political consequences of the defeat of Napoleonic France, the battle itself was a disappointing affair, a few thousand march-wearied troops egaged in sporadic rifle and artillery duels.

(...) Rather than sit back helplessly behind their cameras, the Time Vision companies should step in themselves, lending their vast expertise and resources to heightening the drama of the battle. ‘History,’ [the producer] concluded, ‘is just a first draft screenplay.’

(...) Equipped with a lavish supply of gold coinage, agents of the television companies moved across the Belgian and North German plains, hiring thousands of mercenaries (at the standard rate for TV extras of fifty dollars per day on location, regardless of rank, seventy-five dollars for a speaking part). The relief column of the Prussian General Blücher, reputed by historians to be many thousand strong and to have decisively turned the battle against Napoleon, was in fact found to be a puny force of brigade strength. Within a few days thousand of eager recruits flocked to the colours, antibiotics secretly administered to polluted water supplies cured a squadron of cavalry hunters suffering from anthrax, and a complete artillery brigade threatened with typhus was put on its feet by a massive dose of chloromycetin.

The Battle of Waterloo, when finally transmitted to an audience of over one billion viewers, was a brilliant spectacle more than equal to its advance publicity of the past two hundred years.”

This short story explores the idea that our expectations are much higher than the real thing might be and that we believe that something is authentic when it meets these expectations - even if what was actually authentic has been tampered with and overly exaggerated.

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