22 October 2012

Saving appearances

I'm not so ill-tempered to suggest that recent reports that TVNZ spent almost $1.3 million on hair, makeup and outfits for its stars over the last three years has completely lost its moral compass and is engaged in a shameless circle of wasteful extravagance and pointless celebrity objectification. After all, television is an intensely visual medium requiring a certain amount of personal grooming for those who appear on our screens to avoid undermining whatever credibility they might possess. And the studio lighting can certainly play havoc with your skin tones, as I encountered first hand during my brief sojourn into the world of TV appearances in the 1990s, which happened to coincide with my long era of famously unruly skin. At least I didn't have to worry about the perils of modern HD broadcasting, which would have taxed the skills of the makeup artists to breaking point.

But I don't think it's outrageous to dial it back a bit and suggest that TVNZ's spending in this area is wasteful. No realistic viewer expects the nattering talking heads depicted on our screens to be clad in a different outfit every single day, like the Queen or Victoria Beckham. The quality of factual broadcasting should derive from the content, not the packaging - but of course that's not how TVNZ sees it. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that superficial visual appeal plays a major role in everything TVNZ does, and there's definitely a gender-based discrimination at work there too. After all, how many game and comely young lasses does TVNZ put onscreen, and why are they all required to have Jennifer Aniston's big flicky hair from Friends in the '90s?

The Herald article indicates that TVNZ spent $1,288,229 on hair, makeup and clothing over the past three years, which is over $400,000 per year. We could argue about the appropriate bare minimum level of spending in this area, and I'm not about to claim that there should be no spending of this type whatsoever, but to add a sense of perspective to TVNZ's spending priorities it's worth remembering that for the same amount of money TVNZ could have hired 14 graduate journalists at a starting salary of $30,000 as listed by Careers NZ. Would viewers really suffer if the journalists on their screens didn't wear designer clothes or have professionally-done hair and makeup? Or by the looks of this NZ On Air report, the same amount of money could have been used to fund three extra additional hours of NZ-made documentaries, which is certainly something that we need far better access to. 
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