For an institution still in the first cerebral rush of its adolescence, the Church of England can be remarkably slow on the uptake. The usual perception of delegates to the General Synod is that they should get out more, but on the evidence of last week's debate on the media it looks as though many of them haven't been staying at home anything like enough; for they seem only just to have noticed that there's a lot of rubbish on television.
Inevitably there was much discussion of porn and violence, but the synod also criticised trends in broadcasting that "exploit the humiliation of human beings for public entertainment", which apparently embraces both Little Britain, because it lampoons grotesques, and Celebrity Come Dancing, a contest in which most of the participants fail to win.
I'm no fan of either. finding the former a coarse exercise in therapy for the chippy, twisted minds of its writers, and the latter merely baleful pap. But the day we stop finding oddballs amusing we might as well all move to the mid-western United States, and make our homes among the doe-eyed, humourless down-home folks who reside there; while competitions with no losers were the dream of all those anti-elitist twits in the 1970s, and fortunately doomed in a sports-mad nation like ours.
And really, that's the point. Certainly the Dutch auction in intellectually challenging content that has been running between the networks in recent decades is to be deplored, but the crisis at ITV gives us hope that public taste might now force a reversal of that trend. The success of a programme depends on its popularity, thereby reflecting the market. Whether the material is soppy or cynical, atavistic or nihilistic, its reception by the viewers is a useful indicator of prevailing moods. To ask that the tail wag the dog by demanding that television ignore distasteful impulses and fantasies in its audience is to advocate censorship.
And it doesn't even work. Soviet propaganda could kill neither the religious nor the entrepreneurial instinct, while the outright banning of television in South Africa until the early 1970s did nothing to suppress black nationalism or the Communism that exploited it.
It might be useful, as well, to remember that media types are people too, and to inquire why they write the way they do before moving on to examine the reasons for their success. I am no Marxist, but it is undeniably true that writers who appeal to a mass audience do so because that audience shares something with them, and was only, albeit subconsciously, waiting for it to be expressed by a writer. The notion that anybody could hit the big time with an idea that revolted the public is patently absurd.
So let us look, not at something obvious that reflects lamentable contemporary sexual mores, but at Matthew Graham's hit Life on Mars. We are used to atavism expressed in quaint manners and costume (Poirot, Foyle's War etc), but to combine the tapping of enthusiasm for escapist science fiction (especially Dr Who) with nostalgia for a time when everybody was ruder and the fashions were rubbish is a masterstroke. Nineteen Seventy-Three: what a grim time in which to set a drama. But though the central character's situation might be complex, his setting is so much simpler than today's: no mobiles, no interne, no political correctness ham-stringing the coppers. Bingo.
And look at the cop shows that were actually made in the 1970s. Today's protagonists kill only sparingly, with much hand wringing. The heroes of The Sweeney and The Professionals gunned down the baddies like clays, because they were asking for it.
Why? Because many of the viewers (and the writers) still remembered the Second World War, and retained a tribal memory of the First. This had made them stoical, not insefisitive, when faced with the deaths of those they knew, but it had also created a general callousness to the wider phenomenon of death. It was even a source of comedy within the cop/spy/adventure genre, in which, as late as the 1980s, the situation in which a character got cooped up with a corpse was still a stock comic stroke. Those scripts now seem to evince a barbarism of which we would be ashamed: but they were merely reflecting the ethic, the defensive dark humour, of their time.
The General Synod is rightly concerned by society's ills, but television is merely the symptom, not the cause. To understand its message, we should try to put ourselves into the future, and look back.