Joey Essex: TV’s noble savage

Jane Sandeman

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My whole family are big fans of ITV’s I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. We’re always glued to the TV when it is on; we even watch the follow-up programme with Joe Swash on ITV2. And I, like millions of viewers, am rooting for Joey Essex. I think he seems like a really nice lad who has stepped up to the plate, taking on the formidable ‘bushtucker trials’ so that he and his camp mates can have some kangaroo sausages for tea.

But part of the attraction of Joey, for us as viewers and for his camp mates, is his complete lack of knowledge about anything. He can’t tell the time, he doesn’t know the meaning of most words and he has no cultural knowledge whatsoever. Hell, he doesn’t even know the dance moves to ‘YMCA’.

In some ways, this is his attraction. He is like a latter-day noble savage – his instincts seem to us to be better because they are direct and immediate. He seems to lack any self-consciousness and that comes across as sweet and authentic; as such, he seems more likeable than the overly conscious Matthew Wright, who is continually aware that I’m a Celebrity… is a show being watched by millions of viewers.

But the saddest thing is that Joey doesn’t know that his ignorance also means he is caged and limited. You can see there is an understanding from him that there is something more out there, and that having no reference points does make you a laughing stock, even if those chuckling at him are doing so in an affectionate way.

So, in the end, watching Joey makes me uncomfortable. In all the fawning over him there is a hint of a culture in which we’d rather celebrate the ignorant, as the last bastions of child-like innocence in an otherwise complex world, than urge them to better themselves and engage in the society around them. Rather than merely being cooed over for being so clueless, Joey should be encouraged to find his way out of his own personal wilderness.

Jane Sandeman is convenor of the Institute of Ideas Parents’ Forum.

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