TV UK, 27 February

Britain BC claims that the Romans robbed ancient Britons of 'our' self-esteem.

Dolan Cummings

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Is it wrong to care about television? Is it wrong to believe that it matters? Is it wrong to fantasise about brutally murdering TV executives?

These are profound questions, and this is not the place to answer them. Suffice it to say that for weeks I have been irritated by billboards advertising Channel 4’s new Saturday evening gameshow Boys and Girls, which starts this week. I have to admit that purely in terms of design the posters are quite brilliant. One look is all you need to understand exactly what the show is about: somehow they conjure everything from the hyperactive jingle to the obnoxious presenter.

The billboards are in garish pink and blue, with a variety of stupid questions: ‘Boys! Before a date you can only wash one body part: teeth or genitals?’ ‘Girls! Would you ditch a long-term boyfriend for your dream job?’ ‘Boys! After a night’s drinking do you prefer a curry or a kebab?’ ‘Girls! Do you spit or swallow?’ All right, I made the last one up, but it would be perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the thing. This is the sort of thing that gives vulgarity a bad name.

The Channel 4 website announces that, ‘We’re still looking for hundreds of lively, outgoing and competitive boys and girls aged between 18 and 35. If that sounds like you, contact us NOW!’. Wow! Pass me the phone!

Last week somebody accused me of deliberately cultivating an ‘old git’ image by describing my Saturday morning routine. What-ever. I was tempted to devote this week’s column to telling you how young and crazy I really am, but you wouldn’t believe me. Anyway, some things are simply beneath me.

I’ve never been convinced by those people who say, ‘It’s great TV’, when what they really mean is, ‘It’s embarrassing rubbish, but isn’t that what TV is supposed to be like? I mean, it’s only light entertainment’. No, that isn’t what TV is supposed to be like, and actually, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is light entertainment. Look on her works, ye mighty, and despair.

A similarly slack attitude to civilisation has been displayed in Britain BC (Channel 4), a revisionist account of pre-Roman Britain. This is a riposte to the BBC’s What the Romans Did For Us, and it has a lot in common with Channel 4’s own Barbarians (1). Francis Pryor argues that Britain had a ‘perfectly good’ civilisation before the Romans. Well yes, they had a language, they had roads (after a fashion) and they even had trade, but didn’t the Romans conquer them and leave a legacy that endures today? Weren’t the Romans more civilised? Uh, yes.

Even more disturbing than his apparent willingness to settle for iron age civilisation, is Pryor’s insistence on referring to ancient Britons as ‘we’, and his palpable pride in their modest achievements. In what sense is the ancient history of these islands ‘our history’? Even if ancient British genes still survive along with Saxon, Norse, Jewish and Bangladeshi genes, what does that have to do with the political and civil institutions that shape our lives? This approach reduces history to local pride. In fact, Pryor argues that the Romans robbed the Britons of ‘their independence, their self-esteem’.

I won’t settle for such a diminished conception of civilisation any more than I will put up with the spectacle of (35-year-old) boys and girls answering stupid questions for money, and call it entertainment. This is rubbish. I want better. I am 28.

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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spiked-issue: TV

(1) See TV UK, 11 July 2002

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