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Stephen Simm

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Little Boxes

‘Television… the modern day answer to ritual worship. Both tree of knowledge and cancer of brain to my generation.’ This line is from the very first Miss Kwa Kwa play I wrote, and when the first book was published the line made it into there too. When I wrote the line, I was quite a bit younger (22) and didn’t feel there was a generation below me yet. Today, however, I can see that there is at least one below me, and, frankly, they are quite terrifying. I suspect the line still holds true for them to a degree, although I’m sure the internet is now king. I think they’re born online. Kids these days probably have a Facebook profile before they’ve learned long division (which is surely to become obsolete in schools any day now).

At any rate, I am not about to attempt analysis of a myriad technologies I barely understand myself. The topic of this piece – my debut (cue coy blush) – is Television. I capitalised the word quite intentionally. I am, after all, in a position to fully appreciate the true magnitude and deep evil of this monster in a way that casual viewers never could. I write for television. Note: do not, under any circumstances, read that as pride. It was not cried out to the heavens as I beat my chest vaingloriously. Oh, no.

People frequently tell me things like: ‘Wow, at least you’re making a living doing what you love.’ Although I never truly believed this, I would try and tell it to myself repeatedly, like a mantra, hoping that perhaps it may come true. If I just found the right series, or the right producers, I would have that mystical television experience. Since I have yet to be hired on something like Six Feet Under, my hopes have all but vanished. In fact, I now hate it when someone says something like the above to me because it is simply not the case. It’s a JOB. And, like many people, I hate my job.

I suppose a big part of it is that I have no creative control, and usually that’s something writers prefer. Without going into boring (for you) and infuriating (for me) detail, the world of television production – even the smaller sub-world of television writing – is a soul destroying, often thankless and sometimes perilous one. Mediocrity is rife, and frequently partnered with outright stupidity and ignorance. How some of these people got their jobs – and keep them – is a mystery to rival the picnic at Hanging Rock. In a nauseating recent turn of events, one of these people, whose job it is to critique writing – with no qualifications, experience, or indeed, a clue – was promoted!

This kind of genius is rained down upon the writers at every stage of the process, often until any discernible trace of actual quality there may have been is completely obliterated. For what purports to be a creative endeavor, there is a spectacular lack of creativity (or even basic ability) at the top – where it counts. Then, to add insult to injury, Tom, Dick and Harry, standing around at water cooler, blame the writers. I understand why they would think that, and have long since stopped worrying about it or trying to defend myself. Still, I will admit I have a moment of shame when I have to tell someone what I do. All of that said, there are exceptions: good, capable people, trying to push the envelope as far as the post office will allow. However, the post office is still in charge (although, there seems to be some wrangling at the moment as to exactly who is in charge there).

I’m not sure exactly why I felt compelled to write all of this down – or if anyone would even be interested. I suppose it comes down to this: aside from the usual I-write-because-it’s-a-calling-I-have-to-do-it-if-I-didn’t-I-would-die stuff, my JOB makes me appreciate my other writing – my writing – that much more. The freedom of it.

I just drifted away there for long minutes, appreciating the freedom of that world. Sigh.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    July 16th, 2008 @00:09 #

    You make it sound so glamourous! But I'm sure there's a darker side you're keeping to yourself. Are you really only 24?

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    July 16th, 2008 @09:07 #

    Ah Stephen, you should foresake Jozi and come join our Team Scripticon, also including Sarah Lotz and Sam Wilson. We're kinda like one of those Mighty Morphin Power Rangers / G-Force robot fighting teams where we all assemble into one giant super robot of writing doom.

    We also get blamed for everything, but in a good way (as in, what was up with that episode, it was totally insane - yep, the writers have been at the coffee again)

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Stephen</a>
    July 16th, 2008 @10:47 #

    'foresake Jozi'... ah, two words that seem blasphemous, and yet also immensely tempting. :-) Also, the term 'giant super super robot of writing doom' is very compelling. I'm always up for large doses of doom and coffee.

    No, Richard, I'm 28. Wrote the play at 22. How old are you? ;-)

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    July 16th, 2008 @11:17 #

    I empathise, Stephen - the world of Television, "a soul destroying, often thankless and sometimes perilous one. Mediocrity is rife, and frequently partnered with outright stupidity and ignorance" sounds similar to the too-close-for-comfort relationship my dayjob has with Marketing.

    Aaaargh - here come the XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXs of the corporate blogging policy!

    XXXXXX Hey, be fair: Jozi* forsakes us; the least you can do is return the favour. XXXXXXX

    (*Its cars and stench and greed and rage, not its lovely birds and skies and trees.)

    XXXXXXXXXXxxxxxxxx_________ _______ __ ( 00 ___- X

  • Sven
    July 16th, 2008 @11:53 #


  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    July 16th, 2008 @13:03 #

    Stephen, we have plenty of doom on demand and caffeine on tap (or via drip, if you're hardcore like Sarah).


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