Homer Numan

Homer Numan

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Celebrity Torture

OK in the 70s and early 80s TV was dull. Three (later four) channels, all closing before midnight, populated with dowdy dramas, hokey sit-coms and rubbish game shows. I much preferred listening to music. But in it's own way it was homely and harmless.

Fast forward to 2009 and we have huge audience figures for such gems as X-Factor, I'm A Celebrity and (until recently) Big Brother.

What these shows have in common is a rather nasty sadistic streak -- the enjoyment of the suffering of others, not entirely unlike the gladitorial spectacles of the Roman empire.

I've given my thoughts on X-Factor below, whilst Big Brother merely reached it's natural conclusion -- a 'house' stuffed full of unstable, nasty and freakish characters chosen merely for their conflict potential. The particularly unsavoury celebrity edition pitting the deeply ignorant late Jade Goody with Shilpa Shetty was likely a bridge too far for this moronic format and it's set to end after the next series.

But 'Celebrity' is a slightly different animal. Gather together a dozen has-been or never-were 'celebs', drop them (literally) into the jungle and metaphorically poke them with sticks for public enjoyment.

The 'Bush-tucker trials' become ever more sadistic and gross, to the point where the producers begin to cross the line between entertainment and torture. Back in the day we had daft shows like 'Gladiators' and 'The Krypton Factor', which tested physical stamina, yet allowed contestants a modicum of decency and achievement. 'Celebrity' instead sets out to humiliate and bully participants into performing ever more sickening tasks, egged on by sniggering schoolboys Ant and Dec, whilst millions at home presumably revel in the suffering of others.

But I hear you cry, these people are paid, they know what to expect, they get free publicity. But you're missing the point. Offer the public £10k to run naked down a street being pelted with rotten eggs and fruit and you'll inevitably find takers. But should they be allowed to degrade themselves in this way for what is after all a neanderthal voyeurism?

And more disturbingly, it's obvious that each series of 'Celebrity' is more sadistic than the last. Rather like pornography, viewers require ever harder doses of humiliation and suffering to sustain their interest.

So where will it end? Is pandering to the public's lowest common denominator in exchange for the holy grail of ratings a defendable policy? How many teenagers must be broken on X-Factor, celebrities covered in maggots before people cry enough? Or will they merely demand more? And should we be surprised by the alarming rise of bullying in schools and workplaces when we witness Katie Price screaming in a 'jacket' of squirming insects or watch Paul Burrell eating kangaroo testicles?

Yes it's easy to laugh and point fingers at these shows, in much the same way that it's easy to watch a fellow child being bullied in the school playground. But what does it say of the current state of human nature that others suffering is a cause for entertainment?

Big ratings = big advertising revenue = big money, but if this comes at the expense of one of the most basic tenets of civilisation, is it really worth it?

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