A History Of Ideas (2014)
Harry Shearer, Gillian Anderson Present Philosophy In BBC Web Series –
Gillian Anderson and The Simpsons star Harry Shearer will explore some of life’s biggest ideas from philosophers including Plato in animated YouTube videos to accompany a Melvyn Bragg series on BBC Radio 4.
Anderson, about to return to BBC2 in a second series of serial killer thriller The Fall, and Shearer each voice 12 animated takes on philosophical conundrums, such as free will, beauty and what it means to live a good life, as a digital spin-off from the 60-part series, A History of Ideas.
Shearer, the voice of Mr Burns in The Simpsons, offers an unusual take on Diotima’s ladder of love, as featured in Plato’s dialogue The Symposium, in a 90-second episode featuring unexpected references to Uncle Monty from Withnail and I.
The animations – 48 of them in all, scripted by philosopher and writer Nigel Warburton – will be distributed via Radio 4’s Twitter account, Facebook page and YouTube channel. BBC executives are hoping they will become viral hits and reach out beyond the station’s traditional radio audience, helped by having two familiar voices on board. Another two people, yet to be announced, will be recruited to voice the other online episodes.
Mohit Bakaya, the Radio 4 commissioning executive responsible for the series, said it was one of a series of pop cultural references in the animations intended to open up often complex ideas to a bigger audience.
Another animation voiced by Shearer, about free will, features God unintentionally causing a flood with a giant teapot after getting distracted by listening to The Archers omnibus.
“We are aware that Radio 4, if it is to keep on thriving, has to find new ways of reaching a wider audience and finding those people who might be interested in exactly the kind of stuff we do but don’t necessarily know we exist,” said Bakaya.
“Research shows that we can understand things more clearly if there are visual accompaniments. We want to explore ways in which Radio 4 can supplement what we do on air and not just putting a camera in a studio, as some of the other networks have done.”
Each week, a different theme will be tackled in the show, which is described as taking a “very 21st-century approach to an ancient set of questions”, exploring ideas from philosophers including Thomas Hobbes and Immanuel Kant. A History of Ideas launches on Radio 4 on Monday, with philosopher Angie Hobbes exploring the question “what does it mean to be free?”
By coincidence, both Shearer and Anderson were working in the theatre in London when they were approached to take part, Shearer in Daytona, Anderson in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Bakaya, Radio 4’s commissioning editor for specialist factual, said: “What was interesting was they both bit our hand off. They liked the public service aspect of it, and it didn’t take a huge amount of time to do.
“Harry, with his experience with the Simpsons, we thought would be a voice who would know how to deliver something like this, and Gillian Anderson has a brilliant voice. It was about trying to find people who spoke to a Radio 4 audience, and beyond that.”
The series was co-produced by Radio 4 in conjunction with the Open University, with the online videos made by animation firm, Cognitive.
Bakaya added: “It is the first time we have done something like this on this scale. One of the things we have been scratching our heads about is how do you make audio viral. It is not enough just to put the audio out in its broadcast form.
“You know if you put cats in a video people will share it, but we haven’t really cracked it with audio. It is not an animated version of the programme, it is a further journey beyond the broadcast.”
THE BIG BANG
HINDU CREATION STORIES
WILLIAM PALEY AND THE DIVINE WATCHMAKER
THOMAS AQUINAS AND THE FIRST MOVER ARGUMENT
JOHN LOCKE ON PERSONAL IDENTITY
KARL MARX ON ALIENATION
THE IDEA OF CULTURAL TRANSMISSION
REWIRING THE BRAIN
THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE
THE FOURTH REVOLUTION