This week I want to put the boot in to Gogglebox (Channel 4, Fridays). Not the mostly likeable, everyday version, whose stars include our very own and much-loved Dear Mary, where ordinary-ish people are filmed reacting amusingly to the week’s TV. I mean the recent celebrity special, featuring former Oasis singer Liam Gallagher, a cricketer, a footballer, Ed Sheeran, Ozzie and Sharon Osbourne, the actress formerly known as Jessica Stevenson and Jeremy Corbyn.
The last couple were filmed together sitting on a yellow sofa at a smart-looking terrace address in Edinburgh. No explanation was given as to what the leader of the Labour party was doing with the former star of Spaced — Jessica Hynes, as she’s now known. Perhaps the producers were hoping we’d go: ‘Oh, how nice. Two old, old mates, probably, hanging out, as you do.’ But to me it all seemed very rum.
Corbyn didn’t exactly help himself. Though he’s clearly had a lot of media training in the past year — his dress is snappier, he’s less tetchy and defensive — he still comes across like an early-model replicant where the programmer couldn’t quite get the ‘normal’ function right.
No, The State (Channel 4) wasn’t a recruiting manual for the Islamic State, though I did feel uneasy about it throughout the four episodes. The fundamental problem is this: if you’re going to make a watchable drama about bad people doing terrible things, you inevitably have to humanise them. And from there it’s just a short step to making them sympathetic.
Peter Kosminsky’s drama followed four British Muslims to Syria to join IS. Shakira, a black convert with a nearly-ten-year-old son, wanted to apply her skills as a doctor; Ushna was a teenager seeking to be a ‘lioness for lions’; Ziyaad was an amiable lunk looking for adventure; and his mate Jalal was a ‘hafiz’ — someone who has memorised the entire Koran — who wanted to follow in the footsteps of his dead brother and witness the Sharia in its purest form.
Needless to say, each was horribly, brutally disabused. But already you see the problem: here were some quite likeable characters — kind, sensitive Jalal, especially — a million miles from the hopped-up, insensate, savage killers we now see roughly once a fortnight bombing, shooting, slashing, van-murdering innocents for the crime of living a normal western life.
Milo Yiannopoulos has been banned from speaking at his old school, Simon Langton grammar in Kent.
Not by the teachers – who were naturally eager to hear his views on Donald Trump, free speech and the alt right (quite topical at the moment…). Not by the children, more than 200 of whom had already signed up to hear his talk. But by a hitherto unknown section of Britain’s Department of Education called the “counter-extremism task force.”
So secretive is this “counter-extremism task force” that it is now denying responsibility for the ban which it effected.
Here’s the weaselly statement issued by the Department of Education:
When concerns are raised by members of the public following media coverage in advance of an event, the department would contact the school as a matter of routine to check they had considered any potential issues. The decision to cancel the event was a matter for the school.
Hmm. That isn’t what the teachers are saying. They wanted Milo to come, apparently, but were overruled by this mystery section of a government ministry which presumably – to judge by its name – was established mainly to protect children from dangerous terrorists.
It’s true that Milo does advertise himself as “dangerous”. But he is using the term ironically in order to mock the hypocrisy and hysteria of the regressive left – and its ludicrous belief that anyone who doesn’t share its political outlook must therefore be a fascist and a menace to society.
The real problem the liberal-left has with Milo – and I entirely understand this fear – is that he is so eloquent, charming, well-informed and articulate. They cannot rebut his arguments so instead they demonise him.
His recent encounter with Channel 4 newsreader Cathy Newman is a case in point. For the last few days, Cathy – an ardent feminist – has been crowing about all the tweets she has been sent congratulating her on having performed so well against this terrible person.
Channel 4’s What British Muslims Really Think will come as no surprise to the British public, says James Delingpole.
‘Our findings will shock many people,’ promised Trevor Phillips at the beginning of What British Muslims Really Think (Channel 4, Wednesday).
But the depressing thing is that I doubt they will, actually. I think the general British public have known for some time what Phillips’s documentary professed to find surprising: that large numbers of Muslims don’t want to integrate, that their views aren’t remotely enlightened, and that more than a few of them sympathise with terrorism. It’s only the establishment elite that has ever pretended otherwise.
As former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Phillips was very much part of that elite. He commissioned the 1997 Runnymede report that popularised the word ‘Islamophobia’. The fact that so impeccably liberal a figure is now issuing a mea culpa like this speaks volumes about how dire the situation has grown. ‘Everyone who has pinned their hopes on the rise of reforming and liberal British Muslim voices are in for a disappointment,’ said Phillips. ‘These voices are nowhere near as numerous as they need to be to make an impact.
Here are the stats to prove it: 52 per cent of Britain’s three million Muslims think homosexuality should be illegal; 39 per cent think a woman should always obey her husband; 18 per cent sympathise with people who take part in violence against those who mock the Prophet; 4 per cent — that equates to about 100,000 Muslims — have ‘sympathy for people who take part in suicide bombing to fight injustice’. Oh, and if any of them knew someone was involved in supporting terrorism in Syria, just one in three would report it to the police. The other two million, then, would keep schtum.
Normally the PC response to these surveys is to shoot the messenger, as the BBC and the Guardian and the usual dhimmi apologists did last year, when the Sun revealed that one in four British Muslims sympathised with the motives of the Charlie Hebdo killers. They’ll find it harder this time, not just because Phillips is black and probably reads the Guardian, but also because the survey was so thorough. It was conducted, face to face, by people of the same religion. And when it came to the really tricky question — the one about terrorism — a blank envelope was provided for the answer, so that respondents felt freer to say what they really thought.
The British Muslim community has responded in the usual way…
Smear the polling company
“Lets not forget ICM is one of the polling companies that wrongly predicted the 2015 general election. The stats just don’t hold enough weight.” (Nazia, 35, W. Yorkshire)
Cast doubt on the methodology
“Other issues include the fact that the study targeted areas that were at least 20% Muslim and a large chunk of the sample were born abroad. If the study was conducted where English is not widely spoken, how do we know the participants fully understood what they were being asked?” (Nazia, 35, W. Yorkshire)
Hint that even asking these questions is divisive and Islamophobic
What is going to happen to our stated desire to build robust social cohesion if we keep singling out British Muslims as unique special cases? And what is it that is really underlying such constant scrutiny? (Rachel Shabi, Al Jazeera)
Nothing to do with Islam. It’s ‘cultural’, innit?
Moreover, Trevor Philips and the show portrayed segregated schools as an Islamic problem, that somehow where a school finds itself admitting children of a certain colour, that it is a religious issue. I would argue that this is a cultural and geographical issue and conflating religion with state school segregation is ridiculous. (Ibraham Ilyas, 18, Birmingham)
There’s no such thing as a ‘Muslim’
Being a Shia Muslim I wish Wahhabi or Salafi elements of society weren’t able to answer on my behalf. (Zaynab Mirza, 32, London)
I have a degree in social sciences, majoring in grievance studies
Benefits Street: if anyone’s being exploited here it’s the taxpayers who fund these bludgers.
My favourite scene in the first episode of the new series of BenefitsStreet (Mondays, Channel 4) — now relocated to a housing estate in the north-east, but otherwise pretty much unchanged — was the one where the street’s resident stoner and low-level crim Maxwell has to attend a court summons.
Really, if the whole thing had been scripted and faked by the film-makers (as I’m sure it wasn’t: no need), it couldn’t have worked out better. With just 15 minutes to go before Maxwell’s court hearing seven miles away, his brother turns up to give him a lift on his motorbike.
But there’s one small problem. Maxwell’s brother is still under the influence of the vast quantities of diazepam he’s carrying with him in his bag. ‘I took ten last night. I don’t even know what day it is.’ The sensible solution, they decide, is to park the bike at Maxwell’s house, neck a handful more pills, and make their way to the court by bus. Unfortunately, en route, they are assailed by an urgent need to stop for a lollypop called an Ice Bucket. From inside the newsagent, the camera captures the bus they should have taken whizzing past. Maxwell and his brother appear mildly affronted by the stubborn failure of Reality to accord with the plan in their heads. Increasingly delirious, they stagger on…
I suppose if you were a Guardian reader — or indeed Maxwell’s local MP Alex Cunningham, who has been trying to get mileage out of this issue — you’d think this was exploitation. Here are ordinary non-working folk being wheeled out like performing monkeys for Channel 4’s latest ratings-grabbing exercise in ‘poverty porn’.
Actually, though, I think if anyone is being exploited here, it’s those of us who have to fork out for these epically useless scroungers’ welfare bills. Their housing benefit alone — in Stockton-on-Tees’s Kingston Road and its equivalents across the country — costs us nearly £24 billion a year. Add to that the disability benefit paid for dubious conditions like Maxwell’s — he suffers memory loss: not altogether surprisingly given the acres of weed he smokes each day — and the cost of his various court cases and you can’t help thinking that the bread and circuses of shows like Benefits Street are the very least we deserve in return for our compulsory generosity.
Anyway, the new gallery of characters in this latest Benefits Street don’t feel they’re being exploited, so what’s the problem? Not only — it’s quite clear — do they relish the opportunity of becoming the next White Dee, but actually the portrait the programme paints (when it’s not having a snigger) is of a community admirably cheerful and resilient in the face of hardship.
The street is bound together by its two matriarchs Sue and Ju — with 11 children between them, one severely disabled and very lovingly cared for. Yes, they’re all on benefits, but they’ve created a thriving micro-economy based essentially on barter and favours: free hair-dying for free roast dinners, and so on.
How accurate this slightly rose-tinted portrait is, with its tasteful soundtrack and its sometimes flattering photography — Sue and Ju, bathed in sunlight, spirited, indomitable and proud — you can never quite be sure. Well, actually you can: you know it’s a lie because all documentary series like this are, be they Benefits Street, Geordie Shore, Made in Chelsea or The Islandwith Bear Grylls.
There’s been controversy recently over The Island (Wednesdays, Channel 4) because it turns out that the pristine and remote islands on which the two groups of survivors (one male, one female) have been cast away aren’t quite as authentically wild as Grylls’s rugged, sweating pieces-to-camera suggest. Well, not in the case of the girls’ one, anyway. Those ‘wild’ pigs we saw the girls accidentally stumble across: the reason they’re so tame and acquiescent is that they are domestic animals that were put there by the producers to give the girls something to hunt and kill.
As a massive fan of the show, I can’t say I’m too affronted by this cheat, not least because of the hilarious light it has enabled the series to cast on the quintessential differences between men and women. On the boys’ island, the men have quickly found their feet as Lord of the Flies savages, successfully trapping and killing a quite big crocodile (an endangered variety, apparently, but tough). But the starving girls, on encountering two cute piglets, decided to make them their friends. They named them Sage and Onion and cuddled them in bed at night like teddy bears. Only later did it finally occur to them that if they didn’t get some protein soon, they’d all die. Cue a heartbreaking moment of double petricide…
One thought on “Benefits Street: if anyone’s being exploited here it’s the taxpayers who fund these bludgers”
FHA says:16th May 2015 at 12:44 pmOnce again, another begrudging Middle Class conservative invokes a false solidarity with ALL workers / tax payers when it comes to the issue of ‘welfare’. James Delingpole would have us all to believe that a well paid pen pusher is at one with those elements of the working population for whom social security exists. That the capitalism he is in love with allows wealthy landlords to feed off people’s basic biological imperative for warmth and shelter does itself represent parasitic behaviour, far more so than the injustice of ‘welfare’ he decries as a crime against ALL workers.In actual fact, the reason social security exists is to protect those who would lack the financial means of keeping body and soul together should they find themselves on the scrapheap of capitalism. So that means its existence is in the interest of those IN WORK (at the lower end of the pay scale) as well as those currently out of work. There’s nothing more laughable (and contemptible) than listening to Millionaires’ row on the Tory front benches talk about how they represent workers as one collective group. Be in no doubt, the minimum wage slave who must whore himself at the holy alter of capitalism and be grateful for his crumbs has more solidarity with the benefit ‘scrounger’ than he does with the whinging hard done by middle classes.
If those words mean nothing to you then I have some excellent news.
If not, then you’ll already be aware that I have failed you totally. And not for the first time, either. I was about a series (sorry, ‘season’) late to Game of Thrones; not much quicker into Breaking Bad; and now here I am again belatedly drawing your attention to something we all really should have seen last year if we were to consider ourselves even halfway in the loop…
Anyway, for what it’s worth, the show is Utopia (Channel 4, Tuesdays) and I can’t remember when I last saw a British drama series open so strongly. Probably, like, never — for how often is it, even on Channel 4, you come across a series so edgy, uncompromising and assured that it actually allows one of its main (and most likable) characters to have his eyes gouged out with a teaspoon in the first half-hour? (It’s the kind of initiative of which — one for my father-in-law, this — Tony Blair would surely have approved.)
Utopia, you can tell from the start, is not afraid to break the rules. Or, rather, it’s dementedly eager to play by the new rules as previously established by Game of Thrones: no one is safe; everyone is expendable — including cute kids; all bets are off as to where the plot might go, a) because the creator, Dennis Kelly (previously best known for co-writing the hit musical Matilda), probably doesn’t know himself and b) because even if he did, he’d deliberately do what you didn’t want just to frustrate and annoy you.
I love it and so, if you can stomach the ultra-violence and the insufferable hipness, will you. We were introduced to it by our quite straight lawyer friends from London, who don’t generally watch much TV and who infuriated us by arriving at our annual summer holiday let in Wales last week saying, ‘Sorry. Can’t play bridge for long tonight. Got to catch the final episode of Utopia.’
Read the rest – including my parody of Made in Chelsea – at The Spectator.
Benefits Street, Channel 4’s hit, fly on the wall documentary about a Birmingham street full of welfare claimants, is a gross distortion of reality.
We know this because a group of charity heads has written to the Telegraph to say so. They claim to speak for more than 100 charities and community groups, all of which are “calling on Channel 4, as a public service broadcaster, to review how this damaging and grossly unbalanced programme came to be shown.”
Apparently the series focuses on “an unrepresentative minority”, “reinforcing harmful stereotypes where the most extreme examples are presented as the norm.”
Gosh. I wonder how they know. For example, when I checked the annual accounts of one of the concerned charities, I couldn’t help noticing that its top paid employee – presumably the chief executive who signed the letter –
gets between £100,000 and £110,000 (plus benefits). This is not remotely abnormal in the lavishly pampered charities sector; I expect the other signatories of the letter do similarly well. So at a guess, none of these people lives in roads anywhere like the one featured by Channel 4 – James Turner Street in Birmingham. They can just flit in and out of poor people’s lives, like Mrs Jellybys, feeling virtuous about the good they do (often courtesy of the taxpayer who gets stung, willy nilly, for so much charity funding these days) – and terribly echt too, what with some of the, ahem, earthy types they meet – while never actually having to engage with the real consequences of our bloated, demeaning and destructive welfare state.
I suppose their ideal programme might have shown someone like Radek Stakhanofski, the heroic Polish tractor driver who gets up before dawn, ploughs a thousand acres, and sends the money to his apple cheeked children in Wroclaw, none of them on UK benefits, of course. And the jolly Roma family in their delightful painted caravans who scour the fleamarket every Friday to look for suspected stolen goods which they spend the rest of the week trying to return to their rightful owners. And Doreen, Brummie born and bred, who has never worked a day in her life because of her terrible, crippling and genuine back pain but will never claim benefits – “more than moi loife is worth, arkid, I’m tellin yow” – because her pride just won’t permit it.
Problem is, these people don’t actually exist – and even if they did, they’d hardly be representative. Not in a street where, we learn,
90 per cent of residents living in the 137-house street claim one or more benefits ranging from £500-£900 a month in free hand-outs.
Of course, I can see why these charitable bods are concerned about Benefits Street. They admit it in their letter:
Such portrayals skew the public debate about benefits and cause distress for many of the millions of people who need this support.
That’s lefty speak for: “If working people ever get to discover where their tax money really ends up, at a time when they find it tough enough to feed their own families, let alone those of workshy scroungers, then that’ll be the end of the line for our welfare state gravy train.”
(Oh – and that phrase “millions of people”. Millions. Scary, no?)