I've been getting more and more annoyed with vox pops on the telly. They're doing a lot of it at the minute what with the run-up to the election, and the new comedy 'Bellamy's People', which I'm quite enjoying (largely, it has to be said, because of Felix Dexter's inspired contributions, though Amelia Bullmore's logic-impervious CofE maven is also a delight), is sort of an extended satire on the technique. Both the supposedly factual news and the fictional comedy essentially make the same point: put most members of the general public on camera and start asking questions, and in most cases the result will be complete bollocks: amusing bollocks in the case of 'Bellamy's People', and tragically unfunny, head-shakingly bad bollocks when the camera gets shoved in the face of an actual member of the public on the news.
Which is mystifying. Because they can't all be that stupid, can they?
I don't think they are. The problem, I think, is this: most people who are smart enough to have an informed and thought-out opinion on an issue are usually smart enough not to stop in the street and burble into a camera when they have other things they could be doing; and, when they do give their opinion, it will probably be too long and well-reasoned to fit into a quick soundbite in a three-minute news report. When asked: will you vote at this election, one person might give a lucid, balanced appraisal of the pros and cons of voting, and whether it really makes a difference under the current electoral system, and maybe even the fact that there are all kinds of ways to be actively involved in the functioning of a democratic polity without voting, while someone else might just say, 'well, I won't bother voting really, politicians are all the same, aren't they?' And you can bet it's the second person who'll get on the news.
The other problem is that the people most willing to give you their two cents on an opinion are usually the people least informed about it. And they're also the people most likely to take umbrage when you point out that they are uninformed. The cult of the vox pop, and the witless way in which most media have decided to go to town with never-ending fillupthepaper.com surveys and discussion boards instead of putting in the time and energy to be genuinely interactive, have created in the opinionated-but-uneducated the perception that they not only have a right to express an opinion, but also that their opinion should not be challenged because it is their opinion, and challenging them is a form of censorship.
And so I was thinking that I ought to really write something explaining how just because you have an opinion, it doesn't mean you're right and maybe you should think and inform yourself before engaging mouth, not brain, and so on, and then I came across this piece on A Truly Elegant Mess which, I feel, rather sums it up. You should read it. In my opinion.