Tag Archives: Television

Sodden clumps of Mayfair on a radiator

sex-boxWoody Allen once said: “Love is the answer, but while you are waiting for the answer, sex raises some pretty good questions.” And thanks to Channel 4’s Sex Box, which starts tonight, three couples now have a forum for discussing those questions. All they’re required to do is have sex inside a futuristic portakabin in the middle of a television studio, before emerging, breathless, ruddy-faced and slightly unkempt, to have a cosy post-coital chat with Mariella Frostrup and a panel of ‘sexperts’. Bingo!

The show is part of Channel 4’s ‘Campaign for Real Sex’, a season of programmes “which aim to reclaim sex from porn”. And what better way to reclaim sex than by placing it inside an opaque, sound-proofed cube. “It’s quite a chaste programme,” said Channel 4’s head of factual programming, Ralph Lee, “— there’s no sex in it.”

True, there’s no sex. But I read somewhere that there is a handy colour scheme so that we can all follow what’s going on at home. Apparently the box glows red for coitus; yellow to indicate intermittent foreplay and a chat about whether the tiles in the bathroom need re-grouting; purple for when the mood evaporates and the couple decide to eat Hobnobs and watch Countryfile instead; and blue to alert the crew to unexpected flaccidity.

Typically appalled by the show’s premise, the Mail Online reported that Channel 4 is cynically trying to boost ratings after it was outperformed by Channel 5 for the first time in its history in July. Whether or not that’s true, I’m sort of glad that Channel 4 got in with this idea first.

After all, Richard Desmond’s cut-price Channel 5 version would probably be called something like Fuck Truck. Presented by John McCririck, wearing nothing but oversized underpants and a deerstalker, amorous couples would be expected to have orgiastic sex in a perspex trailer on the back of an eighteen wheeler. McCririck would then walk among the writhing bodies singing Bloodhound Gang’s The Bad Touch into a loud hailer, as the truck winds its way through Leeds city centre.

Alternatively, Desmond could always develop a programme called Snuff Box, a one-hour programme in which oversexed, banter-loving ‘lads’ are lured into a shipping container by a pneumatic blonde, before taking a bullet to the back of the head. I think I’d watch that.

Anyway, Sex Box and the ‘Campaign for Real Sex’ seem to be a product of Channel 4’s eagerness “to talk about sex – real sex – the kind that is actually going on in Britain’s bedrooms”. That’s fine, but aren’t we always talking about sex these days? A better idea for a show would’ve been Sex Library, where anyone who tries to strike up a conversation about sex gets shushed by a stern-faced, conservatively dressed librarian, with half moon spectacles sitting on the end of her beaky nose. Isn’t sex boring now?

And what is ‘real sex’ anyway? With absolutely no apologies for the sweeping generalisation I’m about to make, I imagine ‘real sex’ for men in their late teens and twenties involves clumsily trying to mount someone in a piss-sodden nightclub toilet, while a stumbling, incoherent friend helpfully vomits eight hours of two-for-one shots into the crotch of their ankle-high underwear.

I’m also not entirely sure how Sex Box can liberate us from pornography?

My first experience of porn was in 1989, when I discovered a bin bag full of pornographic magazines in a park behind the newsagents where I worked. I remember turning my bike on its handlebars, as though innocently fixing a puncture, just to give myself enough time to paw at the bag until some of the glossy magazines slipped out and flipped tantalisingly open. I ended up flicking through a ridiculous photoset featuring two naked women cowering beneath a mulleted Dracula – a set of plastic fangs sitting awkwardly in his mouth, with his cape thrown open to reveal a phallus of truly ridiculous proportions.

I only managed to look for a few seconds, though. The sound of Bram Stoker turning in his grave suddenly spooked me (or it might have been a cat darting through the bushes behind me) so I decided to hide the bag in some undergrowth and return to collect my filthy treasure after dark.

The bin bag was gone by the time I returned to fix another fake puncture on my bike, but that was the beauty of porn in the old days – it was a challenge to find! (And in terms of the sodden clumps of Mayfair I once found and tried to dry out on a radiator, difficult to read.) Furthermore, buying just one pornographic magazine over the counter at a newsagents was often prohibitively expensive, especially once I’d hidden it beneath four packs of Chewits, a copy of The People’s Friend and a foam ball and tennis racket set. The young people of today wouldn’t have an addiction to porn if they had to acquire it under those kinds of conditions.

Actually, thinking about it, maybe Sex Box can rid the world of pornography. If this box thing catches on, we might soon be living in a world where all the filthiest, x-rated bits from porn films take place inside opaque, sound-proofed boxes, leaving us to actually enjoy the dialogue and plot in films such as Moulin Splooge and The Italian Handjob. Furthermore, trying to view pornographic images online would eventually be no more exciting than surfing the IKEA website for a self-assembly wardrobe. If pornography was made that dull, I’m fairly certain that people would lose interest.

We can but hope.

6 Comments

Filed under Television

The one where I can’t think of a title for this rant about television

Anderson shelterAs a 10-year-old child, the most exciting thing to happen to me was my parents buying a house with an Anderson shelter in the back garden. Our very own corrugated iron holiday home, and the perfect subterranean getaway should hordes of irradiated cannibals overrun the obliterated, smoldering remains of our cities during the nuclear winter that was almost certainly on the horizon.

Unfortunately the shelter was out of commission when we moved in in 1985 because it had been infilled with pieces of wood and debris by the previous owners. And even after I’d spent many long, hot summer days excavating the interior, it was only ever really deep enough to offer me light protection from a loosely secured Catherine wheel or larger than average bee. Still, it was better than nothing.

It was my sneaky (and ill-advised) late-night viewing of Threads a year earlier that had turned me into a budding survivalist loon. I wanted to survive the impending nuclear conflagration. I was too young to die. Also, I really wanted to see Rocky IV.

However, 27 years on, as the world prepared for the Mayan apocalypse on December 21st, I remained surprisingly calm. It probably helped that I didn’t actually believe that the world would end on that particular day. But the truth is: I was sort of ready to embrace the end if it did come.

I once had a friend who said that if the three-minute warning ever sounded, he’d simply climb up onto his roof and light a cigarette. After all, surviving the apocalypse in an overcrowded bunker environment would be a truly miserable experience.  You’d probably spend the first few weeks repeatedly contracting norovirus, feverishly shitting your way through valuable rations and deliriously sprinkling lime powder into a dry toilet like a Masterchef contestant dusting a chocolatey dessert.

But as prepared as I was for the unlikely end of the world, I knew in my heart that there was something far more terrible in store for humanity – a cultural apocalypse. Instead of a nuclear warhead or ‘extinction level’ asteroid snuffing us out in a billion degrees of vaporising heat, our demise is going to be slow and excruciating. We’re going to have the life sucked out of us by television until we’re dumbed down to the point where our brains are only marginally bigger than a hamster’s heart. On the upside we’ll eventually be so stupid that no one will be able to operate the array of computer consoles in missile silos and military command centres across the world, making it impossible to destroy ourselves. But on the downside…fuck me, what are we watching?

fake-reaction-itv2Aside from the televisual atrocity that was Channel 4’s Kookyville (which we can only hope died a hideous death at the pilot stage), ITV2 recently launched a panel show called Fake Reaction in which celebrities try to maintain a poker face and earn points for their team while secretly enduring a variety of challenges. For instance, in the opening episode we got to see Joe Swash eat a samosa made of cat food, which made him retch like a man trying to swallow a knitted a scarf. And if you’ve ever scrolled through your television’s EPG and decried that there simply aren’t enough programmes featuring Fazer from N-Dubz staring at a Scotsman’s bare balls – it had that too. And yet, in spite of all that, the programme’s nadir was probably the moment when the studio audience appeared to applaud TOWIE’s Gemma Collins for not knowing what a mammal is. “A woolly mammal? Like in Ice Age?” she said, which led to further excitable mooing from those present at the dumbest start to a New Year in living memory.

Saturday night’s prime-time television bilge came in the form of Splash!, ITV1’s onomatopoeic offering to the Olympic legacy gods. If you missed it, just imagine what the BBC’s Olympic diving coverage would have looked like if Clare Balding had been replaced with Vernon Kay, the Aquatics Centre had the ambience of a Yates’s Wine Lodge, and every competitor had to make their way to the diving board to the sound of a Rihanna track pounding through their skulls. Then picture yourself weeping inconsolably.

tom-daley-splashI mention this programme because of the involvement of bronze medal Olympian Tom Daley. You see, the cultural apocalypse isn’t just about dumbing down, it’s also about television and the media devaluing our Olympic heroes so that we no longer have anything to believe in and aspire to. Seeing Tom Daley featuring prominently in Splash! generated the same feelings of disappointment that a child must feel when an overweight forty-something man dresses up in an ill-fitting Spider Man costume for a children’s party, before slipping on some jelly and exposing his cavernous bum crack to a roomful of tearful faces. Their superhero is forever tainted by that one memory. He’s not a hero after all, he’s just a man.

Not too long after the Olympics, there were apparently frantic efforts by producers on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! to sign up an Olympian or two for the forthcoming series of the show. Because let’s face it, Team GB’s colossal athletic achievements at London 2012 couldn’t possibly mean anything to us as a nation unless we could later watch an Olympian gnawing through the tough rim of a kangaroo’s anus in a head-to-head Bushtucker Trial against some beefy, orange twat from Geordie Shore. Fortunately, the series went ahead without any Olympians degrading themselves on national television. (Speaking of which, with a heavy heart, I forgot to mention that Olympic gold medal-winning long jumper Greg Rutherford will be appearing in episode two of the aforementioned Fake Reaction.)

The 2013 cultural apocalypse has also seen the return of Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 5, with this year’s big draw being the involvement of The Hills’ Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag (or “Speidi” for those “funts” who are now too far gone to summon the energy required to verbalise two separate names). I won’t be watching, obviously. I could spend an hour staring at a kettle and come away from the viewing experience feeling equally as fulfilled. But enough people will watch and discuss CBB to create the illusion that it actually means something.

kardashian-idiot-glassesThis year, we will also have to endure near constant media coverage of Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy. And as no woman has ever given birth before, every agonising second will be incorporated into the multiple reality series that document the minutiae of her family’s cursed existence. Behind her saucer-sized sunglasses there’s probably just a looped cartoon of two anthropomorphic handbags on a seesaw. Convincing the world to watch even one of her long-since elapsed 15 minutes of fame was an impressive trick, but I pray it all ends soon.

Anyway, the conclusion to this exhausting rant is unsurprising and glaringly obvious: television is awful and our lives are filled with meaningless bullshit. Welcome to the cultural apocalypse, enjoy your slow death – or “sleath” if that makes things easier for you.

7 Comments

Filed under Celebrity Culture, Rant, Television

Banning Nintendogs

When Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was first released a few years back, I played it relentlessly for an entire weekend. After 48 solid hours, I was a little bit twitchy. In fact, when I finally managed to wrench myself from the me-shaped depression in the sofa to venture out into the real world, I found that my eyes were constantly darting towards all the high positions around me. The reason? I was checking for snipers.

Thankfully my local Tesco is light on snipers, and I was more likely to run into the path of a mobility scooter than an armoured vehicle packed with dead-eyed enemy combatants. But still, I skittered across the open space of the car park as if my life depended on it.

I later encountered a group of burly Russian men at the self-service tills who were scanning a random selection of items from their basket, which included 24 cans of premium strength lager, a bratwurst and Finding Nemo on DVD. Given that I’d spent so many hours in virtual combat against Russian Spetsnaz forces, it’s perhaps surprising that I didn’t suddenly snap and beat them all to death with their truncheon-like sausage, or attempt to waterboard them with the Munch Bunch yoghurt they were incongruously adding to their shopping bags.

But then again, it’s not really surprising at all. My brain was certainly tired after spending hour upon hour tearing around the war-torn virtual environments of Modern Warfare 2, but the experience hadn’t turned me into a violent killer. I could still separate the virtual from the real, right from wrong. My checking for snipers was more habit than a genuine belief that I was still inside the game and about to be ambushed. If anything, my lengthy gaming session had left me with nothing more than a heightened sense of awareness (and a t-shirt spattered with chicken Super Noodles).

The seemingly annual debate over whether violent computer games fuel aggressive behaviour twitched back into life last week. On Tuesday, 15-year-old Daniel Bartlam was jailed for a minimum of 16 years for murdering his mother with a claw hammer, before setting her on fire. And on Wednesday, a motion at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) annual conference called on ministers to introduce “stringent legislation” to counter the “negative effects some computer games are having on the very young”.

It’s been widely reported that Daniel Bartlam’s sickening crime was inspired by his “favourite” soap opera plot, which saw Coronation Street character John Stape bludgeon Charlotte Hoyle to death with a hammer before leaving her body in the wreckage of a tram crash in order to cover up his crime. The police said that Bartlam saw himself as “a murderous soap character” and they apparently discovered a montage of violent clips from a number of other soaps, including Hollyoaks and Emmerdale. He’d even written his own violent soap opera plot a few days earlier on his computer (a wonderfully cryptic tale about a character called ‘Daniel’ who murders his mother with a hammer and then sets fire to the family home).

Yet in spite of these details – and with several newspapers referring to Bartlam as the “Corrie copycat killer” – many reports were still keen to highlight the disturbing influence of violent video games. “Children as young as four are becoming addicted to the kind of violent computer games from which twisted teenage murderer Daniel Bartlam got his kicks,” warned an article in the Mirror (which you could only start reading once you’d scrolled past Bartlam’s police mug shot, with his doe-eyes, teenage cherry lips and expressionless face).

Of course! Video games are the problem here! They’re much worse than the early evening kill-fests that soap operas have become in the relentless pursuit of ratings – and much easier to create a moral panic about!

There’s a distinct lack of good news stories about video games. It’s always “violence” this and “aggression” that, and media-led calls for bans, boycotts and blame. If David Berkowitz had gone on his brutal killing spree today, blaming his murderous actions on his neighbour’s demonically possessed dog, Harvey, the press and mainstream media would probably call for a ban on the sale of Nintendogs.

But violence in soap operas, well, that’s just entertainment! Some might even call it healthy population control. Let’s face it, without the staggering amount of deaths from blunt force trauma ‘soap land’ would be hopelessly overpopulated. Characters have been dispatched with hammers, spades, crow bars, monkey wrenches, irons, doorstops, statuettes, ashtrays and picture frames (although there will always be a place in viewers’ hearts for good old-fashioned stabbings, shootings, beatings and maybe the odd hit-and-run). Not to mention the more creative attempted murders, like, say, burying your cheating husband alive or gassing your entire family.

If Eastenders’ Ethel Skinner was still alive today, doddering around Albert Square with her little Willy, it would only be a matter of time before she popped up in the Christmas Day episode to hurl a beaker of acid into the ruddy faces of some Walford carol singers. The scene would probably go on to win a British Soap Award for ‘Best Depiction of Random Violence Leading to the Horrific Disfigurement of Innocent Extras’.

During the trial of Daniel Bartlam, prosecutor Sean Smith said: “The boundaries between real life and fiction became very, very tragically blurred.” Not the boundaries between the virtual and the real, but the boundaries between real life and fiction. That distinction obviously doesn’t make Bartlam’s crime of parricide any less shocking and reprehensible, but it does make me wonder why the influence of video games has been a prominent talking point in some of the reporting on the case.

In a speech to the aforementioned Association of Teachers and Lecturers annual conference last week about the influence of video games, Alison Sherratt, a teacher at Riddlesden St Mary’s Church of England primary school in Keighley, West Yorkshire, said: “We all expect to see rough and tumble, but I have seen little ones acting out quite graphic scenes in the playground and there is a lot more hitting, hurting and thumping in the classroom for no particular reason.”

I grew up in a time before video games invented violence, but I still remember kids hitting, hurting and thumping each other for seemingly no reason. And as for the “graphic scenes” that kids are supposedly acting out in the playground – is that really all down to video games? When children pretend to “throw themselves out of the window of the play car in slow motion” and act out blood “spurting from their bodies”, how do teachers know they’re acting out scenes from a violent video game and not the denouement of the latest ill-fated Eastenders, Emmerdale or Coronation Street love triangle?

Alison Sherratt also said: “Obesity, social exclusion, loneliness, physical fitness, sedentary solitary lives – these are all descriptions of children who are already hooked to games.” I certainly don’t doubt that these can all be by-products of a life spent slouched in front of the TV pressing shapes on a joypad repeatedly, but video games are designed to entertain – they’re not designed to provide parental nurturing and support.

Captain John ‘Soap’ MacTavish isn’t going to pause midway through an intense firefight in Modern Warfare to remind children to go and eat a healthy, balanced meal, or to go outside and get some exercise, or remind them of the importance of maintaining real-world relationships with friends and family. That is, and always will be, the parents’ responsibility. (‘Soap’ MacTavish is only ever going to tell a child to “stay frosty”.) If parents allow their children to have a games console in the bedroom and buy them violent, age-restricted video games for Christmas and birthdays, they can’t then complain that said video games are a dark and corrupting influence.

Still, I can’t talk. I think there are snipers watching me.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comment, Television

Yippee-ki-yay, Mrs Dorries

The front page of yesterday’s Daily Mail ran with the forthcoming ‘Let Children Be Children’ report, an independent review commissioned by David Cameron into the sexual commercialisation of children, due to be released tomorrow. In its finest crusading voice, the Mail wrote:

“David Cameron will endorse the proposals of Reg Bailey [the chief executive of the Christian charity Mothers’ Union] who found parents are deeply concerned that sexual imagery in television, advertising and pop videos is making children grow up too fast.

Ministers will make clear that they expect changes and the Government is prepared to intervene directly unless the conveyor-belt of smut is toned down.”

When I think about a “conveyor belt of smut” I imagine something on the scale of Barclaycard’s giant waterslide snaking through the streets of London, with a load of wobbling tits, sexually explicit song lyrics and gay kiss storylines from soaps juddering past people’s office windows. Although, I’d wager that it runs directly through the offices of the Daily Mail’s web team.

Because once you finish reading the Mail Online’s report about the smut that our children are exposed to – on television, the internet, and in the high street – you can then read about how lucky Gary Lineker is, spending the day on a sun-kissed Miami beach with his 31-year-old “model turned actress” wife Danielle. Go on, why not scroll through umpteen photos of her “sizzling body” in a black string bikini. Phwoarrr!

Still not tired of bikinis? Well, you can always click on the Mail Online’s other story about Danielle Lineker, in which you get to see photos of her wearing an open shirt over a different bikini. Or you can drool over shot…after shot…after shot…after shot…of the girls from The Only Way is Essex wearing…er..bikinis. Or maybe you’d just rather settle for Cameron Diaz in a “nude swimsuit”. Your choice.

OK, what about some science and technology news instead? Did you hear about the iKini? Apparently, you can charge your iPod with it and…oh, wait, the article features a blonde model wearing a solar-panelled bikini. Sorry.

Perhaps you’d prefer an article about Imogen Thomas “showing off her figure in a tight red summer dress alongside tan strappy heels” as she embarks on a much-needed clear-out of her wardrobe. The lead photo is a gratuitous shot of her cleavage as she hoicks a bag of clothes into a charity shop, which practically places you in between them and muffles your internal reading voice. Go on, you know you want to!

And let’s face it, she’s a remarkable role model for young girls. With the lucrative commercial opportunities and kiss and tell deals off the back of the Ryan Giggs affair, not to mention the nude modelling for Nuts and Zoo magazines (the kind of lads’ mags that David Cameron, Nadine Dorries and the Daily Mail want to see encased in a modesty cover and banished to the top shelf), she’s a modern day success story. Look, kids, she drives a Mercedes SLK and can afford to give away bin bags full of designer labels! Look how easy, yet aspirational, it all is!

But if none of that floats your boat, there’s always the Mail Online’s favourite sex tape and reality star, Kim Kardashian. If she callously suffocated a load of chicks and tossed their lifeless bodies into the slobbering jaws of an irritable Doberman, the Mail would probably report on how the chicks’ fluffy yellow feathers complimented her amazing shoes and low-cut, figure-hugging dress. They cover her every fucking move. The Kardashians simply must have some dirt on Paul Dacre.

For a newspaper with a free-to-access website, full of questionable ‘celebrity’ role models and cheap titillation posing as news, it’s laughable that the Daily Mail should report on the Bailey Review as if it’s the moral guardian of the world.

Even the Mail Online’s report into Reg Bailey’s review was crammed full of photos from Christina Aguilera’s “raunchy” X-Factor performance from last December, including a screengrab of the precise moment a backing dancer spread her stockinged legs during the dance routine.

Mary Whitehouse once said: “Last Thursday evening, we sat as a family and watched a programme that started at 6.35pm. And it was the dirtiest programme I have seen for a very long time.” I imagine several Daily Mail journalists reluctantly endured the same level of filth while searching for the sexiest looking screengrab they could find from December’s X-Factor. Poor souls.

Also talking about the Bailey Review yesterday was Tory MP Nadine Dorries. She took to the airwaves to speak to a slightly bemused-sounding John Humphries on Radio 4’s Today programme, where she once again dribbled a load of vague, outdated statistics about pre-watershed sexual references on TV. The exchange went as follows:

Dorries: “In terms of the watershed, at 9pm, there are 1.8 references to sexual intercourse before the watershed in the evening. Many more sexual innuendo and other references…”

Humphries: *interrupting* “Sorry? 1.8…say that again. There are 1.8…”

Dorries: “There’s recently been a recording of sexual innuendo, references to sexual intercourse…and there’s a whole list of comments made before the watershed. 1.4 references to sexual intercourse before the watershed at 9pm.”

You can listen to the full interview here, but Dorries’ comments are typically confused. Firstly, she quotes two different figures relating to pre-watershed references to sexual intercourse on TV, which strongly hints that she doesn’t have the first clue what she’s talking about (it’s also a different figure to the one she cited in Parliament in May). And secondly, the figures she regurgitated (“recently” recorded, apparently) had already been whisked off to a lab and carbon-dated to the early 1990s, where they’ve apparently been doing the rounds on American Christian websites for years.

You’ve almost got to give Nadine Dorries some credit. Securing yourself a slot on Radio 4’s flagship news programme to confidently spout woefully inaccurate twaddle is impressive. Disturbing, but impressive.

Referring to the prime-time filth on our screens, Dorries also claimed that “young boys want their young girlfriends to behave like the women they watch on X-Factor,” which perhaps insults young people’s intelligence slightly.

When I was a kid, I once found two books in my mum and dad’s bookshelf which made my eyes widen with delight: one was Ronnie Barker’s Gentleman’s Relish, which was a collection of Victorian nude photographs and saucy postcards, and the other was a cocktail recipe book called Rude Cocktails, featuring nude photography by David Thorpe.

If dislodging those books had caused my parents’ bookshelf to suddenly revolve, transporting me into a magical, Narnia-like world, I still probably would’ve just sat there studying every nude picture intently, while rudely ignoring the attentions of a charming woodland satyr.

Based on Nadine Dorries’ assumption that young people are impressionable to the point of having wildly inaccurate expectations of the opposite sex, I probably should have grown up believing that foreplay would come with a free champagne cocktail. Or maybe I should have expressed confusion when my first sexual experience wasn’t preceded by my girlfriend posing against a scenic backdrop, holding a parasol.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree that kids should be kids. I don’t want to see little girls dressed up as if they’re starring in a school production of Band of Gold, and I obviously don’t want young kids surfing the internet for hardcore porn. But some of the anticipated recommendations in the Bailey Review range from the painfully obvious to the worryingly meddlesome.

The Advertising Standards Authority should discourage the placement of billboards with sexualised imagery near schools and nurseries or other areas where children are likely to view it. Also, no bear traps should be laid in school playgrounds. And children should not, under any circumstances, be issued with crossbows during assembly.

Lads’ mags should be moved to the top shelf or sold in covers. Fair enough. No children should have to see Danny Dyer’s smirking face superimposed over the nipples of a curvaceous blonde. If you’re moronic enough to buy such mags, you’re probably tall enough to reach them.

A single website to be created, to act as “an interface between parents and the variety of regulators across the media, communications and retail industries”. What’s this website going to be called? Mumsnet Extreme? Will the media, communications and retail industries be able to keep up with the sheer volume of complaints they’ll receive from all the parents they’ll most certainly be offending in various ways across our vast culture? And how will that work exactly? Is there going to be a Blue Peter totaliser that will set off a vibrating alarm in David Cameron’s trousers when a complaint receives a certain level of support? “We’re only 80 complaints away from having Bill Turnbull arrested for saying ‘boob’ on BBC Breakfast this morning. Here’s how you can get in touch, parents!”

A clampdown on sexualised and violent images shown before TV’s 9pm watershed. This is another no-brainer. But here’s the thing: if pre-watershed TV is sanitised to create acceptable, clean family viewing, then post-watershed TV should cater for an adult audience and be strictly off-limits to anyone complaining about the effect it’s having on their children (who shouldn’t be watching anyway).

I distinctly remember watching Die Hard 2 at gone midnight once, when “frickin'” was still being dubbed over every use of the F-word and John McClane’s famous “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” line was changed to “Yippee-ki-yay, kemosabe”. (Although, the American dubbed-for-TV version changed the line to: “Yippee-ki-yay, Mr Falcon,” so maybe we got off lightly.)

Of course, with the advent of Sky+ and internet television the watershed is somewhat irrelevant these days anyway. People can watch whatever they want at whatever time of day they choose. Prime-time TV can be toned down and sanitised to a point where the only programme available is a cartoon of Alan Titchmarsh playing Hungry Hungry Hippos with a kitten, but there will always be content that’s naturally inappropriate for children of a certain age.

As such, regardless of the government’s various reviews and recommendations, parents are always going to be the first and best line of defence in terms of what their kids are exposed to.

With the Bailey Review condemning what it describes as the “sexualised images used in public spaces and on television, the internet, music videos, magazines and newspapers,” it’s called for public space to become more family friendly, thus changing “the wallpaper of children’s lives”.

Let’s just hope that Nadine Dorries and the Daily Mail aren’t decorating.

[UPDATE: Only a few days after I published this post, the Mail Online ran a photo-heavy article about two girls from Channel 4’s Made in Chelsea series, which showed them cleaning cars and bouncing on Space Hoppers….in bikinis. It surely won’t be long until Loaded or FHM magazine comes as a free supplement with the Mail.]

17 Comments

Filed under Comment, Politics, Rant

Ken Barlow…pooing at Paul’s

I was watching season five of 24 a few nights ago (for the second time), when I clocked something weird that I hadn’t noticed during my first viewing of ‘Day 5’ back in 2006.

As President Charles Logan and other prominent political figures gathered at an airfield to receive the flag-draped casket of assassinated former President David Palmer, it cut to a shot of Logan’s (and formerly Palmer’s) Chief of Staff, Mike Novick, sombrely watching the funeral procession pass before him. Admittedly, there was nothing too weird about that. But what I found slightly jarring was the fact that Mike then looked down at his mobile phone [cut to a close-up of his Sprint mobile’s colour screen], where coverage of the very funeral he was attending was being live-streamed by Fox News.

The only thing missing from this scene for the DVD release (aside from a presidential wake catered by Burger King® on the extras disc) was a news ticker, reading: “We don’t just cover fictional presidents. Why not check out Fox News’s live-streaming service on January 2nd 2007 for the state funeral of former president Gerald Ford, available in high-resolution colour on all Sprint® mobiles!”

I wasn’t impressed.

In later episodes, I feared we might see Jack Bauer torturing a terrorist with a fountain pen swiped from a nuclear scientist’s desk in a wood-panelled study. Plunging the pen into the terrorist’s brachial plexus, Jack would shout over the man’s blood-curdling screams: “I can do this all day, you son of a bitch, because this pen’s virtually indestructible iridium nib won’t suffer any damage as a result!” Jack would then gulp down a Coke®, wipe the chilled aluminium can across his forehead, then impressively stab the blood-stained fountain pen clean through it.

Eyeballing his terrified captive, Jack would then snarl: “You’re going to tell me the exact location of the nuke. And even though you’ve just seen me abuse this JML Classic Pen, I’m going to use it to write down the coordinates you give me…with no loss of ink flow or blotting whatsoever. Now talk!”

As I’ve now seen all eight seasons of 24, I’m happy to report that no such scene ever transpired. Thankfully, Mike Novick watching live-streaming of an event at which he was present was as stupid as it got. But I guess that’s product placement for you. And it’s something that we Brits are going to experience more frequently from now on.

On Monday, This Morning became the first British TV show to feature product placement, with Nescafé reportedly securing a £100,000 three-month deal for their Dolce Gusto Espresso machine to appear in the kitchen area of the studio.

I suppose it’s easier for the show to begin this era of product placement with a harmless inanimate object. Imagine how uncomfortable it would be for Gino D’Acampo to talk viewers through a tasty meatball recipe while under the watchful gaze of the Birds Eye polar bear. Just picture the indignant look on D’Acampo’s face as Willem Dafoe’s hypnotically sinister voice pipes up off-camera: “What about the Chicken Dippers, Gino? Dippers! Do you really think meatballs can make you happy? Oh, Gino. Your recipe makes me so sad. I don’t like to be sad.”

Product placement on British television is sure to herald a new era of annoyance for viewers everywhere. (Although, playing ‘spot the obvious product placement’ game might be mildly entertaining for a short while.) However, there are rules.

According to Ofcom: “Product placement will be allowed in films (including dramas and documentaries), TV series (including soaps), entertainment shows and sports programmes. But it will be prohibited in all children’s and news programmes and in current affairs, consumer advice and religious programmes made for UK audiences.”

“European legislation also bans the product placement of tobacco (and related products) and prescription only medicines in all programmes. In addition, UK legislation bans the product placement of alcohol, gambling, foods or drinks that are high in fat, salt or sugar, all other medicines and baby milk in programmes made for UK audiences. Ofcom has also prohibited the product placement of products and services that cannot be advertised on television, such as weapons and escort agencies.”

So we can all sleep soundly in the knowledge that we’re unlikely to see Aled Jones introducing hymns on Songs of Praise while firing a Heckler & Koch XM25 from the pulpit. And the episode of Something Special, where Mr Tumble secures the expensive services of a curvy escort to accompany him to the zoo, will never see the light of day.

Actually, you can scrub those examples from your mind anyway, because under the terms of the BBC Agreement product placement is not allowed in programmes made for BBC licence fee funded services. However, it’s entirely possible that BBC series repeated on commercial channels could have brands digitally inserted later on. So we may yet see Doctor Who defeat the Cybermen by maliciously inserting Snack-a-Jack® rice cakes into their CD-drive bumholes while they sleep. (I’m not an avid watcher, as you might have guessed.)

I’m not entirely comforted by the fact that there are ‘rules’ governing product placement on British television. It’s a bit like instructing a pride of lions not to stalk, attack, maul and kill a group of playing children, before releasing them into a playground.

A few years ago, it was reported that McDonald’s products had been introduced into some regional news programmes in the States (described by the Guardian as the “tentacle-like growth of clandestine advertising in American TV”), with anchors on Fox 5 News in Las Vegas presenting their morning shows from behind two large cups of McDonald’s iced coffee.

Maybe the product placement in that instance was designed to take the sting out of Las Vegans’ local news. So when a newsreader solemnly reads the headline ‘32 dead as fire sweeps through childrens’ party’, viewers will have forgotten how sad they are by the time the anchor has finished mesmerising them with a noisy, satisfying slurp from a branded vat of iced coffee.

(Actually, seeing as the iced coffee in question was just a bogus liquid with fake ice cubes, the news anchors didn’t even chance a sip during their news bulletins. It was all just an illusion.)

Still, how long before the rules are relaxed here and it becomes the norm for Jon Snow and Krishnan Guru-Murthy to announce grim headlines while sucking on Soleros® or diving into a ‘More to Share’ bag of Maltesers®?

Of course, the rules state that there must be ‘editorial justification’ for a product to be placed in a programme, which means the product must be relevant to what the programme is about. According to Ofcom: “The content of programmes shouldn’t seem to be created or distorted, just to feature the placed products. Programmes also can’t promote placed products or give them too much prominence. So there shouldn’t be any claims made about how good a placed product is, or so many references to a product that it feels like it is being promoted.”

I hope advertisers and programme makers abide by these rules. Because the moment Ken Barlow marches out of the Rovers Return after declaring that he’s going to do a poo at Paul’s – before a scene in which he’s shown happily crapping in a dreamy fog of Glade® Touch ‘n Fresh – there’ll be no turning back for us.

6 Comments

Filed under Adverts, Comment, Television

The Skins trailer from four years ago that reminded me of that thing from 18 years ago

I wasn’t writing this blog when the first series of E4’s teen drama Skins hit our screens in 2007, but if I had been, I probably would’ve written about how it bore no resemblance whatsoever to my experience of teenage life.

In many respects that’s probably a good thing. As a teenager, you could’ve locked me in a room for a week with nothing but the complete series of Hallelujah! on DVD and I still would’ve ended up masturbating to a uniformed Thora Hird. Although I doubt you could get ten episodes out of that, and it probably wouldn’t pick up any Bafta nominations.

You might remember the original trailer for the first series of Skins, which depicted a riotous teenage house party taking place to the soundtrack of Gossip’s Standing in the Way of Control. It looked like the last days of Rome, but with more shaving foam and a formidable arsenal of Super Soakers filled with piss and alcopops.

Watching a load of teens vomiting on each other, then washing the technicoloured glaze from their semi-naked bodies during orgiastic shower sessions, made me think I’d missed out as a teen. Is that what I should have been doing all those years ago?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I was playing with Hornby train sets and watching Countdown when I was 17/18 years old. But the closest I got to a sexual experience during my teens was on a camping holiday to the Lake District with three mates in 1993. (And no, it didn’t involve a homoerotic game of Top Gun volleyball.)

As four red-blooded single males we were hoping that our lads’ holiday was going to be a blur of beer and women and sex, maybe with occasional breaks for Kendal Mint Cake to replenish our dwindling energy supplies. However, when we arrived at the campsite (I can’t remember what it was called; I assume it was something like The Hills Have Eyes) it seemed ridiculously quiet for the height of summer. There was just us, a family of four from the North East, and a young couple in a tent.

As you can imagine, the collective disappointment was palpable.

Nothing much happened for the first few days of our holiday, except for the owners of the campsite accusing us of letting off fire extinguishers around the place (even though we were completely innocent). And to add insult to injury we couldn’t even shop the real culprit because he had the perfect disguise: he was about 8-years-old and was staying with his parents in the caravan next to ours. He would no doubt go on to become an excellent Skins teenager, just as long as he remembered to always expel a fire extinguish over a girl in her underwear.

Things finally started to look up when, on a typically quiet summers evening, two coach-loads of Czech Girl Guides rolled into camp quite unexpectedly. It was like waking up in my very own Robin Askwith Confessions film, and I naively anticipated finding myself in a variety of saucy situations over the remaining days of the holiday.

Even before the Czech coach drivers had killed their engines, our caravan was engulfed in a fog of deoderant spray. It looked like a special forces assault team had tossed a couple of Lynx Java grenades through the window to smoke us out, but we really didn’t need any encouragement.

We first attempted to harness the Guides’ attention with our skill and athleticism during an impromptu kick-around with a football. But perhaps unsurprisingly, that failed to generate any interest whatsoever. Our second wave of attack saw us walking around the campsite smoking cigars under the misguided assumption that the Guides’ bedrooms back in the Czech Republic were adorned with lipstick-kissed posters of George Burns.

We eventually called time on our futile efforts at wooing the opposite sex and returned to our caravan, where we drank beer, played cards and took it in turns to read the Mayfair and Club International magazines we’d jointly bought at the start of the holiday. We were down, but by no means out.

However, by early next morning, when my mate returned from an unscheduled run (which he’d planned as a third attempt to get noticed by the Czech Girl Guides), he reported that they’d vanished without a trace.

I always felt that the sudden appearance of those Girl Guides was like our version of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man; the physical embodiment of our collective, sex-obsessed thoughts. It took us a whole day to get over the news of their departure.

Why have I told you this story? Because I have absolutely nothing to write about at the moment, that’s why. Still, that’s 800 words in the bag. 800 useless words.

Incidentally, season five of Skins (the third generation cast) started on E4 a couple of weeks ago. In the trailer for the new series all the characters are naked and falling to earth at high speed, as if they’ve just been ejected from an Easy Jet flight at 30,000ft for trying to replicate season one’s house party on board.

Good thing, too. Because if I didn’t get any as a teenager, neither should anyone else.

8 Comments

Filed under Memories, Personal, Television

@GoldfishEatingMan

I recently watched a programme called Smile: This Was Candid Camera, which marked the 50th anniversary of the hidden camera show’s first screening in Britain.

It was basically a clips show with a cast of ITV-centric talking heads, some of whom were bafflingly irrelevant. For instance, we had Vicky Binns and Alan Halsall (who play Molly and Tyrone in Coronation Street, apparently) who provided fascinating insight into Candid Camera’s most memorable moments. There was also Jeremy Kyle – the man with a face clumsily welded onto a frown – who was presumably hauled in to talk about the show’s famous paternity test prank. We also heard from the lighting gaffer on Wild at Heart, the guy who Windowlene’s the cube in The Cube, and someone who once offered John Nettles a cup of coffee and a Hobnob during some downtime on the set of Midsomer Murders.

(A lot of that last paragraph was made up, yet it still sounds like a plausible line-up.)

Thankfully, however, the programme also featured the original performers from the British and American versions of Candid Camera, the daughters of presenter Peter Dulay, and fleeting interview footage of the late, great Jonathan Routh (whose eyebrows should’ve been on the protected species list). So all in all, it balanced out quite nicely.

The British version of Candid Camera ran from 1960 to 1976, but a lot of the classic clips that were shown in ITV’s programme seemed to be from the seventies. They were a joy to watch, but it left me pining for simpler times.

Admittedly, the “simpler times” I’m referring to was a decade defined by hardship, strikes, rolling power cuts and three-day weeks. But everyone just seemed so bloody nice in those days! Everyone either spoke like Tommy Steele or sounded, not just like they were speaking with plums in their mouths, but like they’d swallowed an entire fruit bowl. And everyone seemed so wonderfully patient and willing to help.

In the famous ‘Birdman of Basingstoke’ clip, when Jonathan Routh, wearing a winged costume, asked members of the public to hold his guide rope rigid so that he could take off from Wimbledon Common, two old ladies and an old man on a bicycle genuinely attempted to help him. “Don’t worry if I go over your heads and can’t say goodbye,” said Routh reassuringly.

Those people would’ve been the Second World War generation. With such endearing naivety and the ability to see beyond a patently bizarre situation, it makes me think that if the Luftwaffe had dropped troops into the English countryside dressed in elaborate birdman costumes, they might’ve received a cup of tea, directions to London and enthusiastic guide rope assistance. But what a lovely way to be invaded! To be victims of our own kindness.

Are we still kind? Or are we cynical, distrusting and outwardly suspicious of anyone asking for (or even offering) help?

During the recent heavy snow over Christmas, I volunteered my 4×4 to help the West Midlands Ambulance Service transport stranded nurses to work. The nurse I picked up said: “Thanks so much for doing this. But why? My daughter was fretting that you might be a murderer.” As worthy as this may sound, I told her that I was doing it because I wanted to do something useful. I simply wanted to help. To be kind.

Of course, her daughter’s concerns were completely understandable. When you think about it, all the horrors of the world are only a mouse-click away on the Internet, or repeated endlessly on 24hr rolling news channels. Her daughter probably knows more about the ‘Crossbow Cannibal’ than she does Hannah Montana.

I loved the innocence and politeness of the people in those Candid Camera clips. Perhaps the simplest prank involved Peter Dulay approaching strangers in the street and speaking with them as if he knew them. One man, who was so embarrassed that he couldn’t recall who Dulay was, repeatedly invited him into his home. Typically, comments from the modern day audience on YouTube suggest he must have been some kind of predatory homosexual. But I like to think it was just case of impeccable manners from a very different time.

There’s also a clip where a Candid Camera performer stops a man in the park to ask if he’ll give him “tuppence for a cup of tea”. When the man kindly offers the money, the performer then produces a cup, saucer and teapot, and pours the man a drink. “Well, this is a surprise,” exclaims the man. “Are you touring?” He then politely drinks the cup of tea and passes the time with a conversation about tea bags. It’s just delightful!

Frighteningly, I found it impossible to watch these clips without feeling some kind of Daily Mail tumour developing in my brain. Or like the spirit of Richard Littlejohn had squeezed his pasty, corpulent frame into my soul and was compelling me to decry the state of modern British society. Many of those Candid Camera clips wouldn’t work today, and probably wouldn’t achieve the same reactions from the public. Isn’t that sad? For the love of god, what’s happened to us?!

Once I’d exorcised Littlejohn’s spirit (which involved forcing out a huge, obnoxious shit), I began to think clearly again. Of course times have changed; it’s inevitable. But we’re probably every bit as kind and good natured as we used to be. In fact, I know we are. After all, I see the kindness of strangers every day on Twitter. Thousands of people – who’ve never met – enjoying each other’s virtual company, laughing at one another’s jokes, chatting like old friends, uniting to fight common causes, and offering advice, reassuring words and support to each other in times of need. So we’re still the people we used to be.

I have no doubt that if Peter Dulay’s goldfish-eating prank was attempted today, and was witnessed by a member of the public walking past the pet shop, a Twitpic of the stunt would instantly appear on Twitter, “goldfish” would trend globally, a parody account called ‘@GoldfishEatingMan’ would start churning out 140-character hilarity, and several thousand Facebook hate/support groups would be created. But that doesn’t make us bad people. It shows that we care!

Anyway, I’ll finish this blog post by instructing you to return briefly to the seventies once again, which will take precisely 8 minutes and 14 seconds of your time. This clip is just the loveliest thing I’ve ever seen, so I would ask that you watch every second. I won’t spoil it for you. But I’m sure you’ll agree, the extent of this man’s patience and good nature, and his willingness to help a stranger, is a rare thing indeed – whichever decade you’re looking at.

6 Comments

Filed under Comment, Television