What the Do­minic West saga re­ally shows

The Daily Telegraph - - Front Page - Bryony Gor­don

My hus­band has be­come ob­sessed with a pro­gramme called Be­low Deck. It is es­sen­tially Down­ton Abbey meets Keep­ing up With the Kar­dashi­ans, on a su­per yacht. Each sea­son, a man who looks like Cap­tain Bird­s­eye, but who is ac­tu­ally called Cap­tain Lee, re­cruits a new set of gor­geous young deck hands and “stews” (stew­ards), who are shoved in the bow­els of a lux­ury boat, where they must pan­der to the ridicu­lous whims of the ocean-go­ing guests on board.

Foam party in the mid­dle of the windy sea? No prob­lem. Last­minute wed­ding on board, with only 24 hours warn­ing? Go for it! Thou­sand-dol­lar bot­tles of whisky, dis­patched to the yacht on a speed boat in the mid­dle of the night? Why, of course!

Now, you may be won­der­ing why I am us­ing pre­cious col­umn inches to tell you this. And my an­swer to that is as fol­lows: I am telling you this be­cause my hus­band is not the kind of per­son who watches pro­grammes like Be­low Deck. He is not the kind of per­son who will down­load eight sea­sons of a show that makes Love Is­land look like The Moral Maze. He is not the kind of per­son who watches any­thing other than doc­u­men­taries on BBC Four.

Or at least he wasn’t that kind of per­son, un­til recently. Now he is very much that kind of per­son, binge­ing of an evening on tele­vi­sion so fluffy, it threat­ens to turn our brains into cot­ton wool.

Are we all now that kind of per­son? A quick poll of friends and col­leagues has made me won­der if even the most cul­tur­ally dis­cern­ing char­ac­ters have found them­selves, this year, watch­ing the kind of es­capist tele­vi­sion they would nor­mally turn their noses up at.

Be­low Deck ap­pears to be a par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar show among peo­ple who would nor­mally not watch TV at all, but have found there isn’t much else to do now that all their nor­mal cul­tural evening ac­tiv­i­ties – go­ing to the the­atre, so­cial­is­ing with friends – have been banned by the Gov­ern­ment. See also: Sell­ing Sun­set, a re­al­ity se­ries set in a Bev­erly Hills es­tate agent; Schitt’s Creek, a Cana­dian com­edy about a for­merly wealthy fam­ily forced to live in a run­down town they once bought as a joke; and Emily in Paris, a Net­flix se­ries about a young Amer­i­can wo­man find­ing her way in the French cap­i­tal.

In the past two weeks alone, The New York Times has run sev­eral ar­ti­cles about Emily in Paris, which is pulling in huge num­bers of view­ers not be­cause it is any good, but pre­cisely be­cause it is re­ally bad. The show has been wow­ing peo­ple with its clichéd, cul­tur­ally of­fen­sive aw­ful­ness.

Would it have done so well in a year where we hadn’t all been locked up at home? Prob­a­bly not. Has the bar for en­ter­tain­ment been placed so low that we will con­sume any­thing? Al­most cer­tainly!

And it’s not just trash tele­vi­sion that is get­ting us through. Celebrity gos­sip is also pro­vid­ing us with the kind of com­fort we might pre­vi­ously have liked to think be­neath us. Wit­ness the hys­te­ria over the pic­tures this week of Do­minic West ap­par­ently canoodling with Lily James.

Judg­ing by the re­ac­tion, you would think that he is the first

We have leapt on the gos­sip with the vigour of a hun­gry panda on a lush bam­boo shoot

mid­dle-aged Eto­nian in the his­tory of hu­mankind to have brazenly cheated on his wife. In­deed, any other year, such a story might have es­caped wide­spread at­ten­tion. But in Oc­to­ber 2020, where doom and gloom has be­come so com­mon­place that we are desperate for distractio­n, we have leapt on it with the vigour of a hun­gry panda on a lush bam­boo shoot.

How sweet and in­no­cent we all were back at the be­gin­ning of lock­down, when we clapped for key work­ers and dared to dream of a world where an ob­ses­sion with va­pid celebrity was re­placed with a re­spect for peo­ple who ac­tu­ally hold the coun­try to­gether!

“I hope this will en­able us to fo­cus on what’s re­ally im­por­tant,” I re­mem­ber par­rot­ing again and again in April, with all the naive op­ti­mism of some­one who hasn’t yet cot­toned on to the fact that the coun­try’s en­tire pub­lic health strat­egy is be­ing run by an ama­teur jockey. Seven months in, the only thing that is im­por­tant to me is the ability to self­lobotomise of an evening with the kind of trash even I wouldn’t have watched be­fore the pan­demic.

If the Great De­pres­sion saw the emer­gence of an en­tire new genre of movie to cheer peo­ple up – the mu­si­cal, of course – the na­ture of Covid means we are stuck watch­ing old re­al­ity shows and Sex and the City knock-offs, un­able even to go to the cin­ema in many places be­cause, like ev­ery­thing else, most are shut down.

It is often said that we get the politi­cians we de­serve. But also, by the looks of things this year, the en­ter­tain­ment.

Hys­te­ria: in an­other time, the Do­minic West and Lily James saga would have at­tracted far less at­ten­tion

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