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The Independent Culture
"Hello - this show's about what you shove in your mouth," said Ruby Wax, introducing the second episode of Ruby's Health Quest (BBC1) with characteristic delicacy. She's a credit to her finishing school is Ruby - deportment, diction and decorum, a glowing testimonial to the Stockyard Ladies Academy of Chicago. I might as well confess here that I am a fan of her Carborundum manner, rasping against all and sundry. I can't account for this taste, let alone excuse it, but there you are. Even though I know that it's distasteful to accost Muslim women in the street and ask them about their work-out regime, I laugh. And though it seems the height of impertinence to watch someone's open-heart surgery while making a great pantomime out of your queasiness ("Is there anything that's going to fly out over here?" she asked the surgeon anxiously as he began his incision), I keep coming back for more.

I can think of some pleas in mitigation: for one thing, though her hectic gabble appears rude, there is something oddly mollifying about the intimacy of her attentions. "Karen!... look what the cat did!" she said, picking up the proud centre-piece of a raw food vegan's evening meal. The raw food vegan giggled happily, sharing the joke. For another she can be genuinely funny when let loose.

I'm not so sure, though, that it's a good idea to have her trying to communicate serious information, an ambition which hovers uneasily in the background here, like a bore at a party waiting for an introduction. Last night, for instance, she conducted a question and answer session with a panel of nutrition experts while posing as a check-out girl in Asda. You were, I think, supposed to listen to the sage advice being handed out - something that became increasingly difficult as Ruby remonstrated with customers trying to pay for food and the whole thing degenerated into synthetic chaos. Neither element was quite what it should have been and the whole was a good demonstration of the dangers of using jesters as educators.

The last time Big Science (BBC2) was on our screens, it too suffered from an anxiety about information - employing two comedy writers to jolly you through its account of the friction points between science and society. Now back for a second series, it's nice to report that it has sobered up a bit and left the pig's bladder at home. David Malone, the programme's teen-idol frontman, is much better too, having dropped the rather synthetic "communication skills" which marred his presentation last time. During pieces to camera he sensibly locks his hands to something immovable nearby, which actually allows you to concentrate on what he's saying.

The subject matter, as before, is fascinating. Last night's items included a report on research into aggression in America, where responses to middle- class fear of crime are at a premium. Researchers have discovered that low levels of serotonin in the brain correlate with aggressive behaviour in monkeys. They also discovered that the genetic predisposition could be considerably altered by upbringing but, needless to say, conservative politicians have ignored the latter finding (potentially very expensive) in favour of the former (cheap). They are now toying with the idea of redressing serotonin levels in offenders, in other words simply tranquillizing the inner city, rather than solving its problems. Senator Orrin Hatch didn't explain how he was going to get the drug into recalcitrant citizens - dart guns presumably, wielded by Washington's white hunters.

The programme also included a wonderfully timely report on the connections between health and one's perceived position in a hierarchy. Apparently relative differentials in the pecking order are what matter - which means that fat cat bosses really are making us all sick.

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