Tim Blair


New Criterion



Sunday, March 02, 2003
"THE BRAIN IS BEING STRETCHED" by India's economic circumstances. But your brain won't be stretched by Auntie's All in the Mind program under the control of one of the ABC's champion dumbers, Natasha Mitchell.

Natasha has made a recent journey to India, a "mind-boggling" experience, and, as a result, we are going to get at least four weeks of public health problems in India. This follows a heavy treatment of the social problems of the mentally ill in New Zealand.

Why did Natasha choose to go to India? She doesn't say. Perhaps she just knows that wisdom is inversely related to material wealth.

Why did her colleagues choose to take the Science Show to Vietnam to do Science in a Suitcase? Same reason, I suspect.

Unless you are so young that you have never come across the fact that those with mental illness have problems in the way the rest of us react to them, you are unlikely to learn anything from any program in this series.

Social problems appeal to the dumbers, because they are easy to understand, require no struggles with technical vocabulary. In fact they match, in these respects, the courses that most of the dumbers appear to have taken at their post-secondary institutions of adolescent distraction.

Social problems we can experience, talk about, engage in a "conversation" about, dialogue about, all in comfort since we are unlikely to meet anything we didn't already know about.

Auntie's dumbers hate ideas. Not because they require the listener to make an effort, but because they require the programme makers to think. They prefer experiences.

In contrast, Auntie still employs some champion informers, like the medically-qualified Norman Swan of The Health Report, the sainted Robyn Williams of the Science Show and the outstanding business analyst Alan Kohler. They have in common an engagement with the ideas in their fields, a passion for learning more about it and great talent in explaining their fields to the rest of us.

Auntie's informers are ageing. Their replacements, I fear, will be products of the schools of media studies and the other "social sciences" whose standards have suffered so badly from the advance of post-modernism through the mass university.

The dumbers' programme-making is also characterised by loud and distracting rhetorical devices. Wild sound that makes the words hard to hear, but is dramatic. They can't tell you about opening the cereal packet, they have to let you hear it. Which means that their programs are confined to topics that generate noises that are easy to grasp, have passed through no human mind that might pollute them with expertise not available in a first-year tutorial. You can hear plenty of this from the Pre-schoolers of Background Briefing.

Among these mindless noises are the sounds of the presenters' voices.

The study of the human brain and mind is today producing new knowledge almost as dramatic as the disoveries of genetics. For the first time since the middle of the nineteenth century, discussion of the nature of mind and consciousness has become a central theme.

You will hear nothing of this on All in the Mind.