TIM FANNING MY VIEW
Sometimes the serious is hilarious, and primetime TV is deadly depressing...
t’s hard to take Scientology all that seriously, and maybe that’s the way those at the top of the ‘church’ like it.
( Monday, Ch4) was ostensibly a documentary about the defectors from the original Church of Scientology set up by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard, especially Marty Rathbun, who has now made it his life’s work to expose the methods used by the organisation.
This was a serious subject. Ever since he split with the ‘church’, having fallen out with supremo David Miscavige, Rathbun and his wife, Mosey, have suffered from the kind of intimidation Rathbun himself once employed against others. We saw a team of so- called ‘squirrel busters’ (squirrels are ‘church’ defectors) camped outside their Texas home equipped with surveillance equipment.
The idea seemed to be to tire Rathbun and his wife into submission and stop them from publicising the tactics the church uses against its enemies. Yet, so much of what we saw on screen produced great belly laughs. It was hard to take these shrill middle-aged men and women in their gaudy ‘squirrel busting’ T-shirts seriously. Yet deadly serious these intimidatory tactics undoubtedly are. By the end of the programme, Marty and Mosey had had enough. They’d packed up their belongings and were on the move to a more remote house. Which could only be regarded as a victory for their bullying pursuers. On the other hand,
which followed on Channel 4, was about TV shows that are prime- time entertainment in Brazil, but which are really quite depressing. On the surface, this looked to be a typical Anglo-Saxon sneer at the tellywatching habits of ‘yer foreigners’, but in fact this was something a lot darker. Presenter Daisy Donovan revealed a television culture that mirrors the violence and misogyny that its poorly educated underclass experience in their day-to-day lives. Donovan, who used to appear on The Eleven O’Clock Show, gamely threw herself into proceedings, appearing in a prank on a reality show, Miss Bumbum – in which young women try to have their posteriors voted the most shapely in Brazil – and a true-crime show, in which bullet-riddled bodies are served up for consumption after children’s cartoons. This entertainment was far from comedic. With this two-parter (concluding next week), ITV ventures into Who Do You Think You Are? territory – but with a difference: here, all the celebrities have ancestors who experienced the workhouse system. Many British and Irish people have a family connection with the notoriously harsh Victorian hellholes that were the cornerstone of the poor relief system until as late as the 1940s. Finding out about their ancestors’ experiences this week are Belfast-born actress Kiera Chaplin (granddaughter of Charlie), novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford, broadcaster Fern Britton (all above, left to right) and actor Brian Cox. It makes for involving, and often emotional, viewing.