TV has got the nation hooked

If John Logie Baird could look down at the monster he has created would he be pleased? Like Frankenstein's very own monster, television has taken on its own persona.

By Victoria Knowles

If John Logie Baird could look down at the monster he has created would he be pleased? Like Frankenstein's very own monster, television has taken on its own persona. Its life blood is the millions of helpless individuals glued to their sets for hours a day.

As the nation's obsession with Big Brother reaches its climax, Victoria Knowles spoke to psychologist Lilian Power about our love affair with the small screen. Is it healthy escapism or is it gradually taking over our lives?

As she picks up the iron and slams it down on to his cowering body again and again we stare – frozen to the spot.

Meanwhile across the road the chip shop owner puts his family at risk as he decides to spend the night with a prostitute.

It is Friday night. What do you do? Do you stay to find out if he is all right? To see if she helps him or runs away. Or do you go out with your mates and try to forget?

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You could set the video but what if someone lets the cat out of the bag while you are away from the television.

Our obsession with the television is growing stronger by the day. The growing number of soaps and other addictive programmes means staying in is increasingly in danger of becoming the new going out.

But what draws us to this arena of dramatic entertainment? Are we kidding ourselves that there is some morsel of truth among the bodies under patio and the endless cups of tea which serve as a permanent platitude to the wrongs of the world.

A quick survey among a group of twenty-something aged friends proves that television is quickly gaining a strangle hold on life.

One actually said that she tried to arrange a holiday away around Eastenders so that she did not miss a gripping story line. Another - as reluctant as the first to have her sins in print - said that she always watches the omnibus edition of her favourite soaps just in case she missed something the first time round.

Come on - this is the nation who organised its own Free Deirdre Rasheed campaign. The same campaign which was mentioned in the House of Commons.

Yes we all laughed as the irony flooded out of the pores of the campaign. We giggled at the tongue in cheek furore which unfolded when she was found guilty.

But could television have been having the last laugh? After all, ironic or not it had entered in to other spheres of our lives. Silently infiltrating our every day lives.

"Television has become the new fire place," said psychologist Lilian Power.

" It certainly seems to me -and there is research to back it up - that television has replaced the community for many people. It provides us with a form for discussion.

"People have become far more isolated from each other and so through television we can project our own hopes and dreams.

"It is a way we can rehearse problems we face without talking to those we may have turned to without television. It is far more than a passive experience.

"I do not think the majority of people actually see any truth in the soap operas they watch. They know it is fiction but it still plays an important role in their lives," she added.

Television is often accused of dumbing down society and that it is not comparable to other forms of entertainment such as the theatre, literature and the arts. But it can also be argued that television simply brings all of these genres together and offers people the opportunity to pick and choose in a more condensed form.

Mrs Power believes that television is not an inferior form of entertainment.

"There can be a lot of snobbery surrounding television and people assume the information they receive is inferior to that obtained in books. But in many ways we have learnt a lot about art, literature and human emotions through television.

"Television is often used as a refuge by people. We dip in and out of it depending on the pressure they are under at the time. If you are happy and feeling fairly sociable you may not use television as much," she added.

In the late 90s television moguls had the sudden realisation that soap operas were no longer enough to quench the thirst of a drama hungry public. We needed more – to be taken to the extremes of our own reality and so the reality show was born.

From the tender early years of soap when a young stripper named Daphne met the slightly dippy Des and bought a dog named Bouncer in the ever popular Neighbours. To a group of ordinary people plucked from a mass of hopefuls to become objects of desire in Big Brother. Who, with a single whisper, can become the subject of a hate campaign so strong people will line the streets to see them and jeer.

Lilian Power believes that television is merely a symptom and that the real problem lies with why we feel the need to pry in to others lives.

"Television is blamed for making us too voyeuristic but it is just a symptom rather than the cause. If we lived in a village and we only knew the people in the village then we would only talk about them.

"Reality television is compulsive viewing but I am a little uneasy about it and how invasive we all want to be. But it would not be so successful if we did not have the need to understand people's behaviour in the way we do."

Our insatiable appetite for voyeuristic satisfaction has led to a culture where it is becoming increasingly acceptable to really care about what happens to the Slater sisters or Bet's return to The Rovers.

It could be argued that television is the 21st century opiate of the masses. That is dampens the senses and leaves us living in a state of hyper reality.

Or maybe the answer is far less complicated. Perhaps we are watching so much television simply because we can.

FOR millions of us, there are soap characters, plotlines, rows and romances that we still refuse to forget.

Here's just a snapshot of the names and the dramas with which we became obsessed.

Daphne and Des, the loved-up couple of Ramsay Street. This pairing was a popular one in Neighbours, and it left millions in tears the day Daphne slipped away from us in a dramatic hospital scene. Likewise, the unforgettable Scott and Charlene coupling had us all gripped throughout their romance.

Den and Angie. These two were a part of the successful EastEnders cast from the very beginning. Always rowing, but ever likeable, the pair went through all manner of personal dramas. The pair eventually divorced in a ratings-winning Christmas storyline.

Emmerdale's plane crash. Controversial when it came to our screens, the Emmerdale storyline wrote out several key cast members in one night. The plot was questioned and criticised for coming so close to the real-life Lockerbie crash.

Coronation Street's 'Free The Weatherfield One' campaign went all the way from small screen to tabloid newspapers – and even to the House of Commons. It was a sign of the addictive nature of television that the story took up so many column-inches in the national press.

Brookside's lesbian kiss is one of the storylines still heavily talked about to this day. Featuring Anna Friel in a clinch with nanny Margaret, it caused upset, outrage and a great deal of open debate. Anna Friel's character was also at the centre of another ratings-grabbing Brookside story – the 'body under the patio' plot.

And finally….Big Brother might not be a soap as such, but it's certainly gripped the nation and it's certainly provided us with plenty of addictive personalities. From Nasty Nick to Helen and Paul, and this year to the naïve Jade, we've found ourselves obsessed with the worlds and the wackiness of this real-life cast.