Monday, August 14

Every dog has its day

Alastair O'Dell finds troubling echoes of Britain's maccabre Victorian past in the edits of television's weekend light entertainment

I don’t believe that its possible to visit Blackpool Pleasure Beach without feeling that its faded Victorian grandeur is gloriously out of step with any remotely modern idea of pleasure. Despite an almighty roller-coaster, efforts to breath life back into the place seemed doomed to failure. Its destiny is surely in surly stag weekends and there is fuck all that anyone can do about it.

The sad fact is that everything, especially in that most ephemeral world of entertainment, has its day. The thing that separates reality television from Blackpool, despite similar levels of vulgarity, is that the men behind the shows know it and behind the scenes they are squirming like Peter Stringfellow's leather trouser gusset. Love Island, Celebrity Wrestling, and just about anything else ITV tries its battered hand at these days, have proved to be unmitigated disasters and cracks have emerged even the most bankable varieties.

The aspect that originally endeared reality television to UK audiences– that one can achieve something without talent, work or even luck – is being steadily eroded by producers. Take ITVs X Factor (Saturday 8pm). Once the frivolity of the early rounds – laughing at the desperation of delusional and idiotic people – the central business gets under way: cheap yet invaluable publicity for this year’s next big thing.

No one seems to mind that it’s a fraudulent meritocracy. The presence of a smattering of unintelligible Northerners – however aesthetically similar to Johnny Vegas – do not remove the fundamental principles behind chart-topping success. Think the biggest ever successes of Girls Aloud and Will Young, and last year’s winner Shayne Ward. The obvious elephant in the room for my argument, is of course Michelle McManus, but once the fans had stopped patting themselves on the back for being so nice, what the fuck happened to her?

But I get ahead of myself. Saturday provided an invitation to reminisce about the heady days of last year, with such talents as everybody’s favourite 34-year-old Moroccan ex-goat herder Chico. A man who has been variously described as ‘weirdly entertaining’ by pantomime villain Simon Cowell, ‘fabulously crazy’ by Widow Twanky Sharon Osborne and as ‘The biggest waste of space on television’, accurately, by the ever-sympathetic Sun.

But what a lovely and novel idea to allow the public to have a say in the success of an artist by allowing a public vote! Now, I may be missing something, but how does this differ from the old fashioned way of buying a record, apart from the punter not actually receiving anything for their money? One can only imagine the record industry execs chomping on their cigars, busting their corsets, trying to hold in their laughter while accusing the file sharing community of theft.

However, if The X Factor betrays the concept of reality TV by featuring people with genuine talent, the daddy of them all, Big Brother (Channel 4, E4, all the 4s, all the time), has kept the candle burning very, very brightly. Here the producers have simply embraced anarchy, but with little potential for a further series. The big spectacle this weekend was the blossoming romance between the guy with ‘hilarious’ disability Tourettes and a vile WAG-wannabee, uttering sweet nothings like a love scene from Beavis and Butthead.

In the light of BB-swindlegate, the level of screaming, bawling and hollering seem all the more ludicrous. The chief punishment for losing a vote now seems to be a night out collecting freebies (like Lea’s supposedly free Beckham-priced haircut). The only housemates not currently in the house are the ones that may imminently become inmates of a rather different kind.

Perhaps the BB house only serves to disprove the theory outlined in C4’s earlier programme What Makes Us Human? (Saturday, 8pm) a program on genetics that was inexplicably not presented by the schoolmasterly Dr Robert Winston. In it, the rather more dapper Dr Armand Leroi explained that what separates us from monkeys is our genetic code. He illustrated the point with the decidedly unfunny disability that afflicts the ‘chuas’ or ‘rat people’ of Pakistan, a brain-shrinking and disfiguring affliction that proved a favourite of the Victorian freak show scene. Maybe we have not changed so much after all.

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