The World This Week

This week, Phil watches the House of Commons face up to the future and overindulges on pixels

POLITICS | Daily Male

French, kissing: gay marriage gets a facelift © Getty Images

Late on Tuesday night, the House of Commons came out in favour of gay marriage. After a six-hour debate that invoked the ancient laws of the land and some of the best lines from Legally Blonde, MPs voted 400 to 175 to approve a bill that will put same-sex couples on a par with straight.

“It is not possible to redefine marriage,” said the right-wing backbencher Roger Gale, conveniently forgetting that Henry VIII did exactly that, six times. (GSCE history isn’t everything.) “We should be in the business of protecting cherished institutions and our cultural heritage,” said Edward Leigh, another one. “Otherwise what, I ask, is a Conservative party for?”A good point, you have to agree. And at least David Cameron is doing his best to answer that question. For the Edward Leighs, a Conservative party appears to be for the prevention of change and to protect against anything new. In other words, it’s a club of fear.

But what are they so scared of, the Edward Leighs? Is it effort? After all, it’s easier to preserve what you were instead of becoming something new. The problem for him is that polls show the majority is up for the challenge. What the majority is scared of is living in a crumbling ex-empire, relying on past glories for a sense of self-worth, and eating Spam. The majority wants a new, confident society in which everyone is given a go, TV is on demand, and thread counts are 200 minimum. And if that means Lady Gaga getting all the airplay, it’s a small price to pay.

Perhaps what the Edward Leighs are really scared of is becoming a minority-interest group, alienated from the rest of society and forced to live in a ghetto. In that case, they’re right to feel the fear: gays didn’t like it much either.

So what’s next for the Edward Leighs? Like the Church of England, they can perpetuate their own irrelevance by supporting views that are increasingly at odds with a mature society, or they can adapt along with the rest of us. Perhaps it’s just time to grow up – Gaga isn’t that bad.


This week, the TV production and online rental outfit Netflix validated a recently coined compound noun, when it released every episode of its new drama series at the same time. According to research company Procera Networks, a quarter of those who watched the first episode of House of Cards followed through with the remaining 12 – a total running time of almost 11 hours.

Given that Paula Radcliffe can run four-and-three-quarter marathons in 11 hours, and given that a plane can get the rest of us half-way round the world in about the same time, it’s amazing how much of someone’s day can be devoted to TV (unless of course you’re on an 11-hour flight, in which case fair enough).

What has been labelled “binge viewing” is a relatively new phenomenon on online platforms. We’re used to hearing about those box-set bargain-bucket weekends from the man at work who knows too much about computers, but now the affliction appears to have gone mainstream. Last year, 50,000 Netflix subscribers took a refresher course in drugs drama Breaking Bad by watching the entire fourth series the day before the fifth series began on cable.

Breaking Bad is a good show by any critical standards, and House of Cards is garnering favourable reviews too. Consisting of 13 50-minute episodes, and utilising the talents of the Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey, and Oscar-nominated writers and directors, you’d be right in thinking it probably doesn’t come cheap. With a budget of nearly £63 million, House of Cards is an expensive piece of quality television – so it’s perverse to treat it like a throwaway piece of McTelly, gorged on rather than savoured.

Gripped: TV is keeping Kev on the edge of his seat © Netflix
When you get home from the office and you’re tired from talking about computers all day, half-listening to Cockneys argue about being a “faaahmly”; or someone from Yorkshire admitting they used to be a man; or an Australian tell another Australian they’re not ready for a relationship, is just the job. There’s a reason why soap operas are on every night of the week: they’re cheap to make and they fill you up, bridging the gap between the proper meals of quality productions.

Treating a quality production as if it were just a very expensive soap, however, doesn’t make sense. Hundreds of people have spent hundreds of hours to build the sets, pen the scripts and act the parts of the shows we really remember. Clever carpenters make us feel we are actually there; sharp writers supply lines we actually say; and great actors invent characters we actually invest in. But now that technology has allowed TV to follow the fast-moving consumer goods all-you-can-eat route, all those man hours and all that effort will be swallowed whole without any chewing. Perhaps, 100 years from now, we’ll be producing great swathes of glossy drama perfection and streaming it directly into people’s brains 24 hours a day. Perhaps we’ll be so used to brilliance on tap, we won’t even notice it’s there. Perhaps TV really will eat itself.

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