TV UK, 20 March

Women giggling at male strippers are hardly discovering their dark side.

Dolan Cummings

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A Night Out With The Girls (ITV1, Tuesday) was an orgy of moral panic, promiscuously throwing together overblown concerns about alcohol abuse, sexual license and violence. Most impressively, the editorial narrative bore absolutely no relation to the actual footage of a group of factory workers from Mansfield having a night out in London.

A rent-a-psychologist from Minnie Mouse University warned that women are becoming more sexually predatory, and that the audiences for male strippers no longer see it as a bit of a giggle with the girls, but as a chance to assert the dark side of their sexuality. This theory was totally undermined by footage of several groups of giggling women pointing and shrieking at oil-drenched men twirling their body parts. If this is sexual, it is certainly darkly so.

The section on violent women was even better. American wrestling! That’s like illustrating a documentary about developments in the Middle East with footage from Aladdin.

I got the feeling that Tuesday night’s Everyman (BBC2) on the Exclusive Brethren wanted to be sensationalist too, but it suffered from the fact that the Christian sect isn’t that sinister. All right, they don’t watch TV, which is a little creepy, but the worst charge against them was that they shun people who leave to join us ‘worldies’. The suggestion that the sect is somehow responsible for the suicide of somebody in Australia who had left 30 years earlier was just desperate.

Because the Exclusive Brethren don’t watch TV, they imagine it is packed with anti-Brethren propaganda. After decades of resisting the devil’s medium, then, three Brethren priests agreed to appear on camera for the programme, and offered statesmanlike apologies for their ‘unchristian’ refusal to let ex-members see their families. It was a bizarre spectacle, since they clearly considered this to be a gesture of great import, and yet it was broadcast to an indifferent audience at 11.20 on a Tuesday night.

Devil’s Words: the Battle for an English Bible (BBC2) was scheduled late on Monday night, and actually appeared late on Wednesday night, so you probably didn’t see that either. That’s a shame, because it was all right, though I’m not sure if the whole Cold War thing worked. Much was made of William Tyndale’s secretive dashing about between London, Antwerp and Wittenberg, and the whole business of smuggling books into England. But the Sixties thriller soundtrack gave it a slightly comic edge.

This jarred with the dramatically reconstructed arguments between Tyndale and Thomas More (who never actually met, but that’s not the point), scripted by Peter Ackroyd. Some of the language was worthy of A Night Out With The Girls.

Most history programmes affect some kind of neutrality, but it is impossible to sympathise with More without writing off much of English literature and pretty much the entire modern project. And without William Tyndale, there would surely be no TV. More got what was coming.

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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