The cult of the idiot
“Amy. I’m fucking shaking with anger. This last change is just one too far. “
“Can I just say one thing?”
“No, you can’t. Talk to me tomorrow when I’ve calmed down.”
So ended my last video project. I had been a successful video producer for most of the 90’s and noughties. The job of a producer is mostly to get things done on time in an economical way. Back then the technology was expensive and slow. I had a good understanding of the ways to work efficiently, and how to get the best from the machinery and the many subcontractors we employed. It was a slow expensive business; an edit suite – so called because it took several rooms to house the equipment – cost over £500,000 and rented for upwards of £200 per hour. Dithering cost money.
After the start of the new century all this technology became obsolete and the job could be done at a fraction of the cost. We no longer needed to be mindful of cost so much, and there was an influx of “producers” who had no understanding of the underlying process. No understanding because those costs were – relatively – trivial.
We entered the age of the idiot, and I know who to blame.
Jeremy bloody Clarkson.
Jeremy Clarkson makes very entertaining television. I enjoyed his farm programme and believe it helps raise awareness of the plight of many of those in the UK who put food on our tables. Good to watch.
Jeremy Clarkson has a simple formula for his programmes:
Jeremy has to do something.
Jeremy asks an expert for help.
Expert tells him what to do.
Jeremy revels in whatever bit of high-tech kit he needs to complete the job.
Then comes his voiceover, saying: “It was then that I had a brilliant idea.”
Jeremy tries to do it his way and it goes horribly wrong
The expert returns to say: “What the fuck are you doing?”
Somehow Jeremy gets it all back on track, finishes on time and everyone has a drink.
But it does spread the idea that anyone can do anything — with no experience.
In my field – as in many others — the economics has changed dramatically but there is still a need for professionalism. Professionals understand process and navigate it efficiently. Amateurs stab at whatever occurs to them as it happens. That’s why I was so angry at Amy. Not her real name obviously. Amy thought she knew what she was doing: after all, we’ve all watched telly, right? Amy caused me and my team to redo work, at our cost, because – for all her claims of expertise — she didn’t understand the process.
The extent to which this trend continues is only limited by our understanding of our lack of experience. No one would think they could “make up” designing a nuclear power station. We should be similarly cautious about dipping our toes into other areas. I love eating out in restaurants, but watching people who actually know how to run them convinces me I would lose money very quickly, were I to be stupid enough – and wealthy enough – to buy one. But the cult of the idiot knows no such self-awareness.
Next time you are tempted to enter a new field, or even an adjacent field, please learn how to do it properly.
I’m writing this, of course, having no training in journalism. But I do at least have a lifetime of writing.
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