PA­TRICK FREYNE

Civil­i­sa­tion is col­laps­ing but at least we have pizza . . . for now

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY -

On Utopia: In Search of the

Dream (Tues­day, BBC4) a child draws a pic­ture of her spe­cially de­vised utopian so­ci­ety. It is, she ex­plains, “a town on a flower”.

Europe’s pol­icy-mak­ers, hun­gry for a master nar­ra­tive af­ter the fail­ure of com­mu­nism and free mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism and

Bake-Off, lean closer to the tele­vi­sion, their pens hov­er­ing over their note­books.

“All the celebri­ties live on the petals,” she con­tin­ues.

“Who lives in the mid­dle?” asks the pro­gramme’s pre­sen­ter, Prof Richard Clay, who has been very en­joy­ably ex­plain­ing a few cen­turies worth of utopian ideas in the lofty but catchy BBC4 style.

“The nor­mal peo­ple,” says the child.

“Is it bet­ter to be a celebrity or a nor­mal per­son?” asks Clay. “A celebrity,” she says firmly. Over on Celebrity Big Brother (ev­ery day, 3e), on one of the petals on the flower, Sarah Hard­ing, for­merly of Girls

Aloud, is los­ing it into an in­ter­com while seated in front of a fake meadow. The in­ter­com ad­dresses Sarah with all the warmth of a re­cently self-aware pro­fil­ing-al­go­rithm.

“Try and tell Big Brother what you’re feel­ing,” it says.

“I don’t want to be on cam­era, is what I’m feel­ing,” says Sarah, and she’s cry­ing.

This isn’t a utopia at all. Over the pre­vi­ous days Sarah has been drunk, bit­ten X Fac­tor fi­nal­ist Amelia Lily on the leg (play­fully) and got into a row with an emo­tion­ally ma­nip­u­la­tive gar­den gnome called Paul

Danan (he was once on Hol­lyoaks).

As ever, there are ques­tions about the pro­duc­ers’ duty of care to the vul­ner­a­ble. But don’t worry, Sarah Hard­ing’s not with­out sup­port.

Dis­cred­ited tele­vi­sion psy­chic Derek Aco­rah is at hand with his heal­ing crys­tals, for ex­am­ple. And the house­mates give sage ad­vice to one an­other. “The only char­ac­ter you can play in here is your­self,” coun­sels Danan, who has ac­tu­ally been woe­fully mis­cast (he strug­gles with the role of “him­self” to be hon­est).

And Barry from East­End­ers is here. I’m not sure how that helps, but per­son­ally I find his lugubri­ous pres­ence com­fort­ing. Per­haps he will drive some­one to mur­der him like he did with Janine on East­End­ers?

At least Paul and Barry and Sarah and Derek have real, unionised jobs like “ac­tor” and “singer” and “psy­chic”. Ev­ery­one else here is a pre-di­gested celebrity from re­al­ity shows with names like Fame Bas­tard and The Real Bach­e­lorettes of East Hell. Be­cause, of course,

Celebrity Big Brother is ba­si­cally pop cul­ture’s di­ges­tive tract, the mid­dle bit of the re­al­ity tele­vi­sion cen­tipede. They are just pass­ing through on their way to their next “re­al­ity” and so are con­se­quently coated in lumps of sticky fame.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have “lives”. Fluffy haired Made

in Chelsea posh boy Sam is in a love tri­an­gle with X Fac­tor fi­nal­ist Amelia and smoul­der­ing

Bach­e­lorette hunk Chad. Chad is al­ready shaped a bit like a tri­an­gle so is ar­guably a sort of love tri­an­gle all by him­self. Amelia favours Sam over Chad and Chad gets into a huff that leads Amelia to say, “I’m not a

mind reader, Chad.”

There are other spats. Karthik from The Ap­pren­tice has a run-in with Paul Danan over Paul’s con­tin­u­ous mis­pro­nun­ci­a­tion of his name. Paul ac­cuses Karthik of “play­ing the race card” and says, “If you’re not happy with your name . . . just change it.”

Then Big Brother takes him aside to amaze him with some lessons in cul­tural sen­si­tiv­ity. “Shit man, that’s proper pol­i­tics,” says Paul, which is, you’ll re­mem­ber, what En­gels said when Marx showed him Das Kap­i­tal.

All the while, Big Brother’s dis­em­bod­ied voices ran­domly toy with the house­mates much like malev­o­lent ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gences will even­tu­ally toy with us all. The house­mates are sep­a­rated into two San­ford Prison Ex­per­i­ment-style groups, VIP and “riff-raff”, with pre­dictably sadis­tic re­sults. The voices make heav­ily tat­tooed re­al­ity show vet­eran Jemma colour in a bag full of pop­corn. A beefy young­ster named Jor­dan is told to wan­der around dressed as a fish­er­man while clutch­ing a real fish. “It’s even got a face and eyes!” cries Jor­dan as he be­holds his aquatic com­pan­ion (which is also, cu­ri­ously, ex­actly what we said when we be­held Jor­dan for the first time). One celebrity, Marissa from

Mob Wives, is ex­pelled from par­adise at the whim of a mob with­out. And ear­lier there’s a bit where piz­zas are of­fered to the treat-starved celebri­ties if they forgo chances to avoid evic­tion. This is ba­si­cally the marsh­mal­low test, usu­ally per­formed to as­cer­tain the im­pulse con­trol of four-year-olds. YouTube star Trisha Pay­tas chooses the pizza. Sure she might as well. Life is mean­ing­less. There is only now.

Speaking of utopias on tele­vi­sion, this week Channel 4 re­turns to the Scot­tish High­lands where they left a bunch of vol­un­teers to fend for them­selves as part of a so­cial ex­per­i­ment/re­al­ity show called Eden (now re­named Eden:

Par­adise Lost). It was re­ported a while ago that pro­duc­tion had been scaled back, that the com­mu­nity had de­gen­er­ated into an­ar­chy, and that the re­main­ing par­tic­i­pants had re­turned home with­out the fi­nal episodes air­ing.

This made us all con­tem­plate that old ex­is­ten­tial ques­tion: if a tree takes a selfie of it­self fall­ing in the for­est but the broad­band is down and there­fore the images can­not be up­loaded to the cloud, then should the tree call its broad­band provider to dis­cuss its con­tract? (I may be mis­re­mem­ber­ing the ques­tion). The trou­bling thing about

Eden is re­ally, how­ever, that in­stead of dump­ing soap ac­tors, YouTube celebri­ties, re­al­ity stars and tele­vi­sion psy­chics into the wilder­ness (a much shorter, dead­lier and po­ten­tially more en­ter­tain­ing se­ries) the

Eden pro­duc­ers chose doc­tors, car­pen­ters, hunters, fish­er­folk and farm­ers.

So, when I tuned in this week to watch these com­pe­tent, skilled peo­ple get­ting an­grier and hun­grier and turn­ing on them­selves, I found it quite trou­bling. If these peo­ple can’t hold it to­gether then nobody can.

In short? When civil­i­sa­tion col­lapses, and af­ter you and I have be­trayed and eaten the more gullible peo­ple we know, we’re f***ed.

Barry from East­End­ers is here. I’m not sure how that helps, but I find his lugubri­ous pres­ence com­fort­ing. Per­haps he will drive some­one to mur­der him like he did with Janine on East­End­ers?

Eden’s doc­tors, car­pen­ters, hunters, fish­er­folk and farm­ers

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