Perspectives on Poland: No News is Better than Bottom News

Life, they say, is a learning experience. This month I learned that live pictures from the illuminated interior of a human rectum sometimes turn up on the evening news. I’m glad I learned this; it gave me the moral courage I had previously lacked to shoot my television and bury it in the woods. Given that I had never previously imagined I might, one day, be faced with the human anal canal in lingering widescreen detail as I sat down to digest world events and my dinner, you can imagine my surprise when it happened not once, but twice in the same programme. I hope there were no really important stories that day, live coverage of the Men’s 200m Downhill Vomiting perhaps, because I was suffering from hysterical blindness for the rest of the evening and almost certainly missed them.

The “story” was about a CBS News segment in which anchorman Harry Smith underwent a colonoscopy live on American television. In other words, it was a story about a story. The CBS commissioning process must have been spectacularly complex. Dozens of meetings, legal reviews and focus groups on the demographics of colon revulsion almost certainly took place. I bet it took months to get that idea off the ground and I bet it only got there because of the public health argument. Within hours of seeing it Polish TV had sent their cameras down to the local booty doctor and straight up the alimentary canal of whichever random sucker happened to be on the table that day. Apparently, it wasn’t enough to remind us that colonoscopies are also performed in Poland with, say, a nice wide shot of a swanky Warsaw bottom-probing parlour; we had to have video evidence that it’s just as unpleasant to look up the wrong end of a Pole as it is an American.

A few days later we were treated to another story of dubious provenance as every single evening news program carried footage of some French guy pretending to be electrocuted in a glitzy re-enactment of the Milgram experiment. How is this news? “People can be viscous buggers” is hardly a breaking story. “French abandon last shred of claim to sophistication” is more informative but doesn’t warrant wall-to-wall coverage; we all know they secretly eat fish fingers in front of the telly like the rest of us. Presumably we were supposed to be appalled at people being mean to each other for the sake of entertainment. Polish TV was so keen on this message that they managed to show it to me no fewer than eight times in a two-hour period, just to make sure I got it.

I’m constantly astonished by the lurid content of Polish news reports. There is never a story about a murder, suicide or multiple pile-up without wobbly close- ups of bloodstains. I once saw a story about a road accident in which a crashed pickup truck was shown being dragged out of a river and righted onto its wheels while the corpse of the driver flopped around unpleasantly in the cab.

For a long time I put my queasiness down to my sheltered BBC upbringing. Auntie Beeb won’t show you a paper cut before 9 pm without preceding it with a stern warning of upcoming unpleasantness. Polish TV will show you severed limb soup at four o’clock in the afternoon without a flicker of remorse. The multiple-ass incident has changed my mind. This is just pure, tasteless sensationalism. Isn’t it?

Jamie Stokes also writes for Polandian.

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