Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|Time to kick out the TV?|
|07/30/01 at 08:47:32|
|From The Telegraph. Time to kick out the TV ? Or at least VERY FIRMLY control what is shown on it ?|
Are there no limits?
By Jenny McCartney
BRASS Eye, Channel 4's satirical documentary
programme, last week crash-landed - along with
the executives who commissioned it - in a sea of
It had chosen, as its target for ridicule, the media
hysteria that surrounds paedophilia: to this end, a
range of willing television personalities from Phil
Collins, the rock star, to Gary Lineker, the former
footballer, were duped into appearing on the show,
gravely making fatuous pronouncements on the
dangers of child molestation.
In one scene, the show's presenter, Chris Morris,
brought a child actor masquerading as his son into
the studio and asked a "paedophile" placed in the
stocks if he wanted to have sex with the boy. In
another, a "father" proudly showed off his
pre-pubescent daughter's breast implants.
The show received 2,000 complaints. A defiant
Channel 4 (defending the programme as a
"powerful satire" on "inconsistencies in our
attitudes to children and sex") screened it once
again in a late-night broadcast. Mary Marsh, the
director of the NSPCC, condemned the decision as
Brass Eye, however, was not the only programme
to provoke strong public unease last week. In
EastEnders, Steve Owen - the iron-jawed
hardman played by Martin Kemp - was shown
having a lingering, incestuous kiss with his dying
Yet more squalid revelations are lined up for future
EastEnders episodes, including the news that the
character Harry Slater is a paedophile who raped
his own niece.
Coronation Street, however, can already claim to
have got to the subject before its rival: it has
recently run a protracted storyline about a child
molester who uses the internet to lure his young
Writers for soap operas defend this as the depiction
of "social realism", arguing that they are fearlessly
shining light on issues more usually pushed into the
dark crevices of the family closet.
Yet soaps now strive to pack more "realism" into a
single episode than most of us have the misfortune
to experience in a lifetime.
Mere affairs are passe: producers are constantly
truffling around in the kitbag of incest, abuse and
betrayal, searching for the next big taboo that will
shock the nation and send their ratings soaring.
There is one central difficulty: shock is rather like a
drug, and, within a relatively short time, the public
finds that a dose of material that it once found
startling is no longer strong enough to produce a
A lesbian kiss on Brookside, for example, caused a
sensation a few years ago; then, in 1999, the
programme was chastised for the graphic
portrayal of an attempted rape. Today, the hot topic
for debate has shifted to the darker ground of
Eastenders' mother-son incest.
"Reality game shows", in which young, exhibitionist
contestants compete with one another for cash
prizes, began as a televised social experiment in
which sexual attraction between the players was
only one element: increasingly, sex is becoming
their sole raison d'etre.
In the first series of Big Brother, the programme in
which volunteers are enclosed in a house together
and constantly filmed for weeks, a kiss between two
of the housemates was enough to provoke a furore.
The makers of the second series, however, actively
pushed the participants to have sex live on camera,
setting up a "love-shack" for the use of any willing
Channel 4 relentlessly promoted the burgeoning
romance between Paul, a car designer, and Helen,
a giggly blonde Welsh hairdresser, along the theme
of "will they or won't they have sex?".
In spite of the evident desires of the programme
makers, the couple just managed to hold
themselves back from starring in a nationally
viewed porn show.
Helen came second when the Big Brother contest
ended last Friday, her popularity boosted by her
raciness. Earlier in the week, however, Charlotte
Hobrough was announced as the £1 million winner
The details of her affair with a fellow contestant on
the island (as her humiliated husband waited at
home) had also been widely publicised.
Britain's television, and its tabloid press, is soaked in
sexual suggestion, voyeurism and innuendo as
never before. This was, no doubt, what the makers
of last week's Brass Eye intended to satirise: our
prurient, sex-obsessed society, which reacts with
rampant hysteria to paedophilia.
This is certainly deserving of satire, in some form.
The News of the World, for example, led a vitriolic
"naming and shaming" campaign against
paedophiles, which resulted in many innocent men
being attacked by rampaging mobs: its pages are
filled, however, with drooling stories about
adolescent girls just past the age of consent, and the
intimate details of their sexual performance.
In the tabloid world, everything magically changes
when the bell rings "16": a man who sleeps with a
girl aged fifteen and three-quarters is a paedophile,
while one who sleeps with a 16-year-old is deemed
a lucky devil.
There was one great paradox in the screening of
Brass Eye, however: it was made possible only by
exactly the same climate of national sex-obsession
that allows lurid soap plot lines and reality game
shows to flourish.
As little as 10 years ago, the satricial documentary
itself would have been judged in such poor taste
than it could not have been broadcast: today, thanks
to the exaggerated respect paid in television circles
to any programme that claims to "push the
boundaries", it was.
Brass Eye certainly pushed the boundaries last
week, but they were those of taste rather than of
satire. In its eagerness to mock the media's fixation
with an exaggerated "paedophile menace", and the
celebrities who will lend their names to campaigns
without asking the most basic preliminary
questions, it fell into the worse trap of trivialising
the gravest offences against children.
Early in the programme, there was a comic skit in
which Chris Morris pretended that Sidney Cooke,
a convicted child-killer, had been sent into space to
keep him away from children.
Then he revealed that an eight-year-old boy had
accidentally been trapped in the spacecraft with
him. "This wasn't supposed to happen!" Morris
shouted, reeling around in mock alarm.
Anyone who remembers the offence for which
Cooke was convicted might not find this sketch
quite so witty. Cooke was the ringleader of the
London gang that repeatedly raped and abused a
vulnerable 14-year-old rent boy named Jason
Swift, before killing him and dumping his body.
Swift died, according to evidence later produced in
court, with tears running down his cheeks.
That is not a media exaggeration, and Cooke is not
a fiction. One does not need to be the leader of a
lynch mob to believe that he should be kept away
from children for ever: the idea of him in a
spaceship with an eight year old might, indeed, be
fantastical, but it will never be funny.
If Morris and Channel 4 really wished to attack
only the hypocrisy and hysteria that surrounds
paedophilia, they had every chance to do so. Did
they really need to drag in child actors to perform
in sketches about abuse, or perform gags about men
such as Cooke?
The satire could have survived without it, but
perhaps - as with so many shows that Morris
purports to despise - it was really the ratings that
were calling the shots.
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