When Noam Chomsky suggested that the broadcast of spectator sports served to distract the masses from the difficult business of worrying about what's important in the world, he hadn't anticipated The Shire, a prime example of a burgeoning genre so silly it distracts the masses from worrying about broadcast sports. Hundreds of thousands of viewers watched the train-wreck antics of the super bogans in The Shire (Ten, Wednesday, 8pm), instead of the Olympics last week. Were there as many viewers for Randling (ABC1, Wednesday, 9.15pm)? TV for know-it-alls has its place - in a tiny corner, far away from the remake of Big Brother.
The advertising for the relaunch of Big Brother has been complex, multi-pronged and not entirely unintelligent. With a cast of thousands, six different jingles and a production and media budget to rival the GNP of Guam, Channel Nine appears to be taking very seriously the complex task of attracting an audience for mass stupidity.
Forrest Gump's mother said ''stupid is as stupid does'' before a single frame of The Shire or Geordie Shore had been shot. And while I've never been entirely sure what her truism was supposed to mean, it certainly seemed to allow permission for really bad behaviour conceived as a result of well-intentioned stupidity. Mr Chomsky and Mrs Gump were on to something. We were always going to need something to keep the stupid people busy. Who knew that the rest of us would tune in by the millions to watch them?
Let's stop railing about The Shire - the phoney casting, the silicone-injected body parts, the lame, mind-numbing dialogue, grotesque architecture and astonishingly bad hair and make-up - as if we're brainiacs who demand better. This is infinitely more pleasant viewing than Lara Bingle's disappointing stupidity vehicle. The gay boys are horrible. The brunettes with the lips are pure panto and the creepy blonde with the much creepier father make oddly compelling viewing. We never want to meet them but, on TV, they've really got something. The Shire has a long way to go to achieve stupid fake-tan greatness.
The third series of Geordie Shore (MTV, Tuesday, 8.30pm) has made huge stars of the eight drunken housemates who export their subtitled drunken madness to Cancun. Their accents, tanned armpits and alcohol-fuelled sex make our local efforts look tame.
Drunk or sober, they are very loud - particularly the girls, who shout quotable epigrams in every episode. Vicky speaks with admirable spade-plain frankness when she describes her friends: ''They're like Romeo and Juliet, if Romeo were a twat.'' Rather more graphically, it's hard to top Charlotte's declaration of war: ''I'm going to wring his neck like I wring my knickers when I'm trying to get those shit stains out of them.'' For pure romance I cherish Sophie's observation after a night of cuddling: ''I spooned the fork out of him.''
Aaron Sorkin isn't writing dialogue like that now, is he? Sorkin's upcoming series, The Newsroom, is full of sesquipedalian soliloquies. While mildly entertaining, it lacks the almost Chauceresque grunt of some of the stupid genre's greatest successes. The best intelligent television is better than the better-than-average film. But Homeland, Girls and Downton Abbey don't fill our schedules. And if we're honest, that last series of Downton Abbey was just a big shiny soap shot in a trench.
The Newsroom will launch soon, along with the other intelligent new offerings. They may be lost in a sea of stupid people dancing, stupid people trying to impress Kyle Sandilands, stupid people living in a house, stupid girls trying to marry lonely farmers and grooms keeping secrets from stupid brides. I've seen The Newsroom. It's OK, but it's no Geordie Shore.
It's possible intelligent TV provides us with little more than a feeling of superiority over folks who embrace the Neanderthally lowbrow. Watching stupid TV takes our minds off our troubles in ways that more intelligent work does not. Neither presents us with a peaceful solution in Syria.