1990s >> 1998 >> no-1123-march-1998

TV Review

Value For Money?

A new concept is invading television; the concept of “value for money”. The TV executives aren’t attempting to deliver a fair return for the licence-payers’ cash of course, but they have discovered that the search for “good value” can provide them with an endless stream of cheap programmes.

It is a concept that the ordinary person is familiar with, since modern-day crusades are more likely to be carried out under the banner of Fair Trading than anything else. The Bargain has become the Holy Grail of the 20th Century and is proving to be equally elusive—because it is equally mythical.

Any local news programme shows how deeply ingrained this myth of “value” is. A recent report showed an elderly woman expressing her disgust that diabetics should have to pay more vehicle insurance simply because they constitute more of a risk. It didn’t seem to occur to her that the nice man from the Prudential advert wants to make as much profit as he can, and will penalise diabetics all the way to hell and back if that’s what it takes. Incredibly, many people share this delusion, the untenable belief that private companies are in some way providing a public service.

My job enables me to see this widespread fallacy at work. Charging for entrance to a multi-feature attraction with a single admission fee, I find that those who don’t want to see all the attractions tell me this is “stupid”. Stupid? Do they seriously believe that it’s some kind of oversight on the part of the management? It’s a deliberate policy designed to extract as much money as possible from visitors. And it works.

In this society goods and services are produced with one aim in mind, the production of profit. Capitalism dictates that only what is profitable can be done, so there is little hope of companies behaving in a selfless way. They will never allow those who constitute a greater risk to pay the same insurance premiums as others, because this would lose them money. They will not selflessly decline the opportunity to make a profit since profit is the oxygen they breathe. They are bound by the rules of The System just as we are. It is The System which creates “raw deals”, and to end them we must end the system.

There may be times when we can buy what might be called “bargains”, articles priced at less than we might normally expect to pay for them. Prices are not reduced out of generosity though, but with the aim of minimising losses and enticing people to spend more. In short, the bargain is just another means by which the capitalist machine ensures that profit is made.

Nonetheless, the value-for-money myth has now provided us with five different flavours of Watchdog. It’s a profitable seam to mine—but the rip-offs that concern the BBC are far removed from the fundamental exploitation which lies at the heart of capitalism.

Anyone who feels they’ve had an unfair deal can now write to Anne Robinson and have their claim investigated on a Thursday or a Friday. The introduction of the second show is proof, if any were needed, that the first show wasn’t working.

Sooner or later Robinson will have to admit not being quite the Wonderwoman she’d like to be. No matter how much she probes and sniffs there are always enough rip-offs left to fill the next edition of her show.

If she was honest she’d admit that you might as well write in to her show to complain about the weather. Watchdog has more chance of securing a sub-tropical rainy season for Great Britain than it has of getting a “fair deal for the consumer” whilst capitalism survives. But are we to be faced with five channels of 24-hour Watchdog before she realises this? I hope not, especially as the answer is staring her in the face. Were she to turn around the title of her own show’s sister programme—Value for Money—she would have the key to the solution.

The bigger rip-off

Value For Money. Money for value? Does money equal value? Are our wages (money) equivalent to the value of the things which we produce? Clearly they are not, otherwise where would profit come from? It might then occur to her than even if someone managed by some incredible fluke to purchase nothing but “bargains” throughout their entire life, they wouldn’t be getting a fair deal by any means. They would still be exploited.

The working class are paid less than the value of what they produce, or else are condemned by The System to bare subsistence on the dole, as part of the army of unemployed that capitalism requires to keep wages down. Would Robinson grasp that there can only be the occasional piece of “good value” because everything else is very bad value indeed? No matter how cheap an item may be it is still far, far too dear, for why should we be forced to labour in order to have what should be ours by rights?

Perhaps she would see the irony of the fact that the capitalist who, in order to make a profit, pays workers less than the value of their labour, always gets good value for money, whereas the producer never does. The mists would then clear, allowing her to see the answer to the difficult question of why so many companies are unscrupulous, why so many people are exploited, cheated and penalised, whilst others live in luxury and why unnecessary things are produced even though much that is vital is left undone.

I’d be quite happy to see the Ginger Ninja fighting our corner. She may grate the nerves but she’s a tough opponent, and I could even bring myself to tolerate her infamous winking, if every wink were a symbolic nail in the coffin of capitalism. But for the time being we must put up with her being an apologist for the myth that a Fair Deal can be had under capitalism.

M. Vaughan Wilson

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