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