Wednesday, February 16, 2011


The best programme by a country mile on TV in 2010 was Swingtown, an exploration of the sexual anomie brought on by suburban boredom in 1970s America, starring Molly Parker and Jack Davenport among others. Like The Ice Storm but without the nuance, stunning aesthetic or complex performances.

Swingtown posits that every female during the era looked like a bargain basement Sissy Spacek.

My fella and I largely became addicted to this programme on the basis of Jack Davenport's APPALLING Amercian accent. From week to week we could barely wait to see what parts of the script he would murder next in a generalised US drawl. He was obviously so self-conscious of how bad it was that sometimes he just didn't bother at all. Witness the phrase 'out and about' in the clip below:

You'll note Davenport's characteristic performance mode in the clip is smug; as if a leering conceitedness will detract from his foundational failure to adequately portray an American. You will also note that every weekend is Studio 54 time in Swingtown. The plethora of cliche and stereotypes in the show was mind-boggling. The one thing it was missing was sex - strange for a show which titularly entices through suggested orgies. Don't be fooled by images like this:

It was more like this:

But with flares.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Big Fat Gypsy Weddings

About time I addressed this sure-fire hit from C4 which enjoyed the third documentary of the series last night. I always get excited on Tuesdays that it's on, but actually found myself a bit bored by the end of yesterday's episode, wondering how much more they could say about this particular minority. The constants in each episode have been a repressive gender formation in which female travellers do the housework while the men bring home the bacon, and the hilarity of the tacky weddings of the traveller youth (I mean youth. The girls are all aged between 16-22) - the key joke being the huge, ridiculous, fairytale/Disney/burlesque/sex show dresses.

The dresses sum up the paradox of traveller femininity. The girls are sexually oppressed; forbidden from having pre-marital sex which leads to teenage marriage and such cultural activities as 'grabbing' (females being dragged off by males and coerced - sometimes violently - into giving up kisses). At the same time, the clothes and the dancing and everything else that surrounds adolescent courtship is hyper-sexual and overt. And it's not just adolescents...we've seen tiny little girls bumping and grinding. Imagine Princess Price bogling.

Actually don't.

Herein lies the problem. The viewpoint of the audience is clearly imperialistic. In line with a thousand other C4 'documentaries' we are expected to laugh at this economic underclass and their funny ways, and we are encouraged to do so by the ubiquitous 'plinky plonky', pizzicato, comedy-doc music constantly (and tiresomely) used to turn media subjects into laughing stocks.

The other problem is that we've been shown no resistance, no challenge to the overarching sexism of traveller ideology. The closest we've come was last night's Violet-Ann who managed to hold off marriage until 22 through working, and so was granted a longer period of independence before the inevitable role of housewife and mother. Let's hope that Violet-Ann doesn't marry a Violent Man.

But there is no hope really, not according to what C4 are showing us. There's no space for change. Racism has hardened the cultural mores of this group and made them cling on to their difference from settled people. That traveller doctrine is so entrenched makes this rather gloomy to watch. And in the absence of really critical journalism, I'm finding the condescending 'gaze' uncomfortable.

Not that there haven't been jaw dropping moments, like the revelation that 50% of gypsies have a a life expectancy of <50. Now that is something about which questions should be asked. That, and WHAT THE HELL do travellers do with those wedding dresses after the big day? There's no room for them in a caravan! Is there a warehouse somewhere full of gypsy wedding dresses? I need answers!

Friday, February 04, 2011

The small C

Who on earth watches Children's Hospital? Or Jimmy's? It can't be parents with sick children, can it? Is it? Or is it people with healthy kid/s who want to see what it's like to have a sick kid? Such a disturbing thought. Or worse, is it people without children who want to see what happens to sick children? Weird. Or maybe it's people who just like to watch hospital-based reality docs, regardless of the age of the drugged, diseased or dying patients? I don't, and I really like medicine.

What's undeniable is that people are watching them. LOTS of people. Documentaries about hospitalised creatures, human or animal, have appeared on weekdays and weeknights for years. For longer than Big Brother. And extra special prime-time points go to sick youngsters. Logically though, the star of the genre would be called Sick Baby Pets and perhaps presented by Kirsten O'Brien.

Villified as I sometimes am for liking brainless reality programmes, and loathe to criticise the viewing habits of others, those hospi-docs - for me - are the worst sort of television you could possibly watch. The ones about children especially.


Thursday, February 03, 2011

January/February reality slump

There is a dearth of reality TV at this time of year (especially sans Celeb BB. Sigh).

What have we got? Dancing on Ice, which is stretching the definition of celebrity to the very utmost, ELSE. I've even been watching a bit of Hell's Kitchen over on ITV 2 despite the atrocious Ramsay. His wife was on Dancing on Ice a couple of years and it's a wonder they've got all those kids because she moved as if devoid of sexuality.

Anyway, super-jazzy and very expensive BBC ads herald the coming of Masterchef! And I LOVE Masterchef. Things are looking decidedly up.

Which reminds me, I have fallen head over heels in love with Lorraine Pascale who shows us the Easy Way to Bake on BBC2. Oooh lordy, she's my kind of chef. Cheesy pastas, herby breads, fruity pastries, chocolatey cakes...she's a heart-attack and heart-ache rolled into one. I wish she lived in my kitchen.