last week, I had a very long debate on my Facebook wall with my mate Giles Borg. Giles is a film-maker too and a damn good one at that. If you like indie music and indie films and you haven’t seen his directorial feature debut 1234, then you’ve really missed a trick. Giles is one of my favourite people, he acted as a mentor through the editing of my film. Every time I had a new cut of it, he’d take the time to sit down with me, watch it and help me shape into something effective. He’s very smart and very sharp.
But we disagreed.
And what we disagreed about was the BBFC’s decision to reject the film ‘The Human Centipede 2′ for classification. I don’t want to put words in Giles’ mouth or paraphrase but essentially his point was that censorship is bad and my point was that the BBFC do a good job. This summation does the whole debate no favours and I can’t be arsed to cut and paste it, but that doesn’t matter. This post is not about that debate. But it is what got me thinking about what this blog is actually about.
I’m not a huge fan of modern TV. My TV isn’t even connected to the aerial, I just watch DVDs on it. I always take a look at iplayer and 4od and manage to catch anything I think I would have liked but I could never be one of those people who has the TV on all the time and watches anything indiscriminately. As arrogant and high highfaluting as it might make me sound, a lot of what’s on actually genuinely depresses me. Endless new BBC sitcoms starring Will Mellor, Channel 4’s general switch in its approach to documentary to cover mainly people with physical deformity, talent shows, almost 24 hour coverage of people taking things from their homes to provincial auction houses. It’s all a waste of money, time and a great medium.
Anyway, I work mainly from home and do like to watch a programme whilst having my lunch. Yesterday, I was flicking through iplayer and nothing really took my fancy, so I settled on watching ten minutes of something random. I ended up with a show called ‘Young, Rich and House Hunting’. It’s a curious piece of television. As with all piece-of-shit TV shows made for idiots, it essentially starts with a trailer of things you are about to see in the show itself. A montage of moments including a posh girl singing ‘I want to live here’, a Lamborghini (it might have been a Ferrari, Lotus or Porsche for all I know – one of those cars absolute wankers own, anyway) screeching away from traffic lights, a posh young man in a helicopter, another posh lad playing golf, various posh house interior and exterior shots, two toffs looking at a house joshing ‘this is where the mistress would live’, a posh buffoon waving about a copy of ‘how to be a property millionaire’, posh girls in posh streets and posh spas, posh boys in off-road vehicles and Segways, two drunk poshos scoffing at the average age average people can afford to buy their first homes, shots of poor people on the street followed by shots of poshos popping bottles of champagne, posh girls shrieking ‘and there’s a walk-in wardrobe!’ and general shots of hideous, ostentatious affluence. You get the picture.
This is all accompanied by an estuary-accented voiceover telling us in well-spoken barra-boy that while ‘the nation’s youth is becoming seriously in danger of becoming a generation who will not own their own houses’ we’ll be following the ‘super-rich teens and twenty-somethings’ who will be spending their trust funds and parents’ money on new pads and furnishings. This struck me as fuzzy logic and intrigued me. I always tell my screenwriting students to understand the point of what they’re presenting, to be clear on their motivation. Every show has an agenda, but I couldn’t pin down this one’s. What followed was a really strange show. It followed three ‘super rich’ subjects, all looking for their first homes.
The first pair was two girls, best friends, one a successful model, the other a successful businesswoman who were clubbing together to buy an £800,000 flat in a luxury block. The next pair were a young couple buying a flat for £500,000 in Camden. The final one was a 21 year old daughter of a millionaire hotel magnate who was helping her buy her first investment property to rent out.
Each of these three subjects were presented in a subtly damning manner. The two girls introductory piece of dialogue is a shared joke ‘next year we’ll be in the penthouse!’. The Camden couple, we are informed by Estuary Eddie are ‘buying their first home for half a million… after only seeing it once!’ and the rich daughter is shown telling her estate agent ‘the whole street seems a bit, um, how can I put it? A bit chavvy’
These are our introductions. This is the initial information we are given about these people. In turn, a pair of offensive luvvies, a couple of idiots with more money than sense and a hoity-toity girl who looks down her nose at the average person.
I was suspicious. The show’s makers, although working with these people, clearly had the guns out for them. It was defining them by these three characteristics.
When I was a teenager, I had a brief tango with the notion of poetry. It was very brief. And very bad. My parents sent me on a summer school to try to drag my academic achievements up and possibly pass an A-Level. It was me and a bunch of the poshest kids I had ever been around. I hated them on principle… and also because they were hugely detestable people. I was listening to a lot of The Clash and The Levellers back then and no doubt channeling my burgeoning middle class guilt into the mix and acting out some kind of mad class war in my head. I wrote a clutch of hateful poetry about these people and it didn’t take me long to realise that it said far more about me than it did about them. When I went to university, I finally got to meet actual real rich people and make friends with some of them. One in particular actually shattered my prejudices about people born into wealth. Because, we’re all born into *something* and we all have our advantages and disadvantages, talents and failings. The grass is always greener. I’ve met some real rich assholes but it wasn’t the money that made them that way. I’ve met just as many poor assholes and it wasn’t the lack of money that made them that way. There are cool people and there are dicks and being predisposed to hate someone for their privilege is as dumb as being predisposed for hating anyone for what they are rather than who they are.
So, I guess unlike many of the target audience for this show, I wasn’t going into this despising the subjects for their wealth. They were going to have to work to make me actually hate them and they’re opening gambits didn’t fool me.
For a start, my sister and her husband bought a house after only having seen it once. At least, they got their offer in immediately. I believe they made the offer when they stepped through the door. That’s what happens in a competitive marketplace. Houses sell fast, there isn’t time to dither. I’ll add that my sis and her husband aren’t rich, they’re normal people like us who work and don’t come from rich families. They’re actually not ‘normal’, they’re fucking awesome, but you get my point. When I was house hunting myself, estate agents would tell me ‘you’ll want to get an offer in today if you like it’ whilst I was booking the appointment over the phone.
Then there’s the girl who’s looking to invest. When the narrator mentions her father, he calls him ‘Daddy’. It’s quite a subtle linguistic thing but the difference between being told ‘financial assistance from her parents’ and ‘daddy’s help’ is pretty huge. ‘Look at that spoiled cow!’ we think ‘Daddy’s little girl, getting anything she wants!’ Well, that’s actually what happens in a lot of cases. I couldn’t have got my mortgage without my parents’ help (some months I can’t even PAY it without a little parental grace loan). They got their first house with some parental help. Most of my friends who own their homes had to get their parents to at least guarantee the loan. When I have kids, you’re damn right I hope I’ll be in a position financially to help them out. Oh, and as for her declaring the street as being ‘a bit chavvy’. How many of us hunting for houses haven’t said or thought exactly the same thing?
The penthouse girlies, despite being painted as vacuous poshos, clearly work quite hard to pull down the kind of dollar they’re rocking. No, not in factories or bars, but it’s obvious they’re careerist and I have no issue with that. What I took issue with was the jaunty music playing in the background of their segment. you know how these shows usually aren’t too subtle with their choice of backing music, right? Selecting a pop staple which thematically ties in to what’s going on screen. For a while there, you couldn’t see a daytime TV with multiple dogs in it which didn’t use the track ‘Who let the dogs out?’ Or someone walking on a sunny day to ‘I’m walking on sunshine’ – you understand what I mean, a very literal approach to music licensing. Well, the track the makers chose for these two was used a bit more subtly, it didn’t have a vocal track on it but was bouncy and dynamic and then the penny dropped. It was the Cee-Lo Green track ‘Fuck You’. How’s that for subliminal, eh?
And so the show continued, pretending to be an enjoyable show about house hunting but actually being a hatchet job better called ‘rich cunts buy houses you couldn’t even dream of setting foot in’, the reasonable-sounding narrator constantly dropping in reasonable-sounding facts about how rich or insane the people are like Iago whispering in the audience’s ears. At no point does the show focus on the actual houses – there are very few decent interior style shots, two things became very clear to me, very quickly. Firstly, this is a show designed to whip the audience up into a frenzy of hatred for the wealthy and secondly, there was no way in hell the production team told the people participating in it what the show was called or focused on. A complete, wicked hatchet job.
Today with my lunch I watched ‘You’re Fired’, the companion show to The Apprentice. I have a huge soft spot for The Apprentice. I know it’s just a Simon Cowell rip-off for a more refined audience but isn’t it fun, eh? The companion show, if you haven’t seen it, takes the person who got fired on this week’s show and offers them a bit of a requiem. As every week, you find yourself going ‘Oh, he seems alright, actually’. Even last series, where we spent so long detesting the evil STUART ‘THE BRAND’ BAGGS, when he finally appeared on You’re Fired, all was forgiven and we ended up going, as ever ‘Oh, he seems alright actually’. The reason that they ‘seem alright’ is because it’s a different format. It’s a live-style show. Is it actually broadcast live? I don’t know, anyway, it gives the contestants a chance to actually talk and answer questions. And they seem alright because they’re not being edited to look the opposite.
The Apprentice is a master case study of editing. I think you have to have made films to really understand how editing works. But essentially, if you film someone for a whole day and are cutting a film only a few minutes long, you choose carefully what you will show of them and why. So, in any one day, we might be funny, grumpy, lazy, spiteful, generous – any one of Snow White’s mates at any one time but we go through the whole spectrum because we are human beings and humanity is a bit like that. But that does not make for compulsive viewing. So, we’re shown only the highlights – all we see of Susan is her whining, all we see of Jim is his bullying, all we see of Zoe is her laziness, and so it goes. To the degree that when we hear them talking openly at the end of it, we’re amazed they’re not the utter wanker we had been geared to expect. Every confused glance, moment of thumb twiddling and shake of the head is weaved together and presented to us with a direct and cynical agenda.
TV is rife with this.
I don’t think it’s censorship we have to worry about so much as the agenda of manipulation in what we DO get to see.