TV Review: The TV Mass
Mass For You At Home (MFYAH) is a long-standing institution. It is still being shown on Channel Ten (or Aurora on Foxtel), 42 years after its first screening on what was then Channel 0. Its viewers are a mixed lot: housebound, hospitalised, imprisoned, those in remote and outback Australia, or simply wakeful at 6am on a Sunday. It is the third longest running show on TV after 4 Corners and Playschool (and leaving out news bulletins) and is the only one of the three not to win a Logie. But after such long and faithful service, things are about to change for the program, and not for the better.
Not that it is favourably treated now: it is wedged between evangelical christian programs that begin at 4am. The Californian-based Hour of Power, from the troubled, litigation-ridden Crystal Cathedral, immediately precedes MFYAH. Hillsong, coming straight after, is heavily pentecostal and full of literal interpretations of scripture that most Catholics tend to read in a more sophisticated fashion.
MFYAH is (as it has always been) a little oasis of gentle profundity between these two lavish extravaganzas of religio-tainment. Its content hasn’t changed much at all in that time; only the new translation of the liturgy is evident. But its circumstances have changed. When it began in 1971, MFYAH aired live at the respectful time of 11am. MFYAH’s production has gone through several upheavals as well. It was first produced by Catholic Communications and then when that organisation was restructured in 1998, it was continued by Albert Street Productions, which closed early last year. The program has been kept going by producer John Rowland, with his company Roland productions.
At Network Ten, times have changed, literally. No longer screening live at 11am, MFYAH has become almost monastic in its early dawn timing, opening the day at 6am with masses that must now be pre-recorded. After Easter the Mass will move to Channel 11 with an even earlier broadcast time of 5:30am. John Rowland says:
‘Network TEN has needed to move our time slot due to contractual requirements within the network. This change however brings the programme into line with Southern Cross TV who moved MFYAH to 0530 on their Channel 11 in country areas towards the end of last year. So from next week Mass can be seen at the same time, 0530 on Channel 11, nation wide. It can also be seen online at www.mfyah.com.au
The gentle solace and sustenance provided by this program is very important to the sick, the old, the shut-ins, the prisoners and the deaf. Each reading is accompanied by an inset of a person signing the words. No-one is excluded, just as it should be. But it will be hard for some of these members of the congregation to arrange to get up even earlier than they do already. John Rowland also adds:
‘While this change is not ideal for viewing we still need to be thankful to Network 10 in their generosity to provide studio space, a crew and broadcast time with no advertising revenue.’
In the meantime, it’s a worthwhile 20 minutes of viewing if you are up very early on a Sunday. The sermons are spiritually nurturing and prayerful, if a little undemanding in the scriptural scholarship area: this is not the time for a discussion of the Q texts or the Jesus Seminar, nor does this congregation seem to need it. What they – what we – all need, is some comfort and assurance of God’s unconditional love, and they can find it here.
MFYAH can be viewed currently on the web however, which is good news for those that have access to the internet: http://www.mfyah.com.au The problem of course is that some people who will no longer be able to view the program at 5.30am won’t have internet access either, and they will be left bereft. If you are a regular viewer, consider writing to Network Ten to let them know this.
In the meantime, what are we being offered for the rest of TV? I tried, I honestly tried hard, to watch My Kitchen Rules but nausea overcame vicarious gluttony. The poorly rated Masterchef Professional was our household pick, largely because it concentrates more on the straight-up cooking competition than trying to work up some spurious soap-opera ‘Big Brother Kitchen Squabbles’ schtick. Obviously my household is way out of touch with the broader Australian viewing public’s tastes, because MKR rated wildly (even ridiculously) well, as did the other success, Nine’s The Block, which I found soporific rather than emetic, but there you are: I am willing to entertain arguments about these offerings, but am fearful of what such ratings for dreadful rubbish may mean for better programs. Certainly I am fearful of having to watch much more of them; one has one’s brain cells to consider and I am getting to an age where I treasure the neurones I still retain.
Not that one needs to watch more than 15 minutes of these programs to realise that they are all spawned from the same swamp, or stamped from the same cookie-cutter. The characters never change: there will be a Loveable Battler, a Weeper With a Secret Sorrow (no longer secret now of course), a Temperamental Dummy-Spitter, a Spiteful Diva/Divo, a Sneaky Manipulator, a Flyer Under the Radar, a Hardworking but Luckless Loser and either a Popular Winner or a Controversial Winner Whose Win Will Be Discussed On the Channel’s Own Morning Program for a Whole 24 Hours Afterwards.
All of the situations will be tightly scripted, indeed closely directed like a movie. And nothing will approach what we used to think of as documentary reality, the kind of reality that springs to mind when we recall the 7-Up series or even Sylvania Waters, which seemed so edgy and groundbreaking at the time and now seems so lacking in polish, in slickness and production values. It was too honest for today’s crowd, who cut their teeth on Big Brother and now seem quite unshockable. The movie reference is telling: when my generation watched Running Man it was definitely in the realm of distantly futuristic fantasy; last year’s Hunger Games, for me, seemed to come from a vision of the future that is nearer and less improbable – God help us.
On the bright side of TV viewing, Call the Midwife is back, a clear and moving view of the recent past, though before we congratulate ourselves in how far we have evolved, it may well be salutary to balance its worldview with the downside of the sexual revolution that can be seen in the ABC’s screening of the British documentary series Unsafe Sex in the City, set in a clinic for sexually transmitted disease in Manchester. The awful consequences of licence without self-respect, entitlement without responsibility, can be seen here as we see the parade of people who respect neither other’s bodies nor their own. The matter-of-fact kindness and non-judgemental attitudes of the staff are admirable, but here the issue must surely be about life and death. The rise of incurable disease strains, the threat of death or disablement or infertility, does absolutely nothing to stop some sad people who seem incapable of seeing danger and don’t seem to be getting much pleasure in return for what they have given up. In cases like this, the kindness of staff in their indefatigable attempts to minimise harm and save people from harming others, is quite saintly in my opinion.
It will be interesting to see what the winter viewing months will bring; in the end, getting up before dawn on a dark Sunday morning may well be the best thing to do.