TELEVISION / Both inside and out

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The Independent Culture
MILWAUKEE looked nice - curvaceous houses, long lawns, big trees. But that was just the suburbs. Down in the town, the streets were thick with violent criminals, prostitutes (or what one counsellor referred to as 'sex industry workers') and drug dealers (or rather, perhaps, narcotics consumption assistants). These were worlds designed not to meet, but the documentary series States of Mind (BBC 2) claimed they were starting to fold together. People from downtown were increasingly coming out to have a look around. And frequently they were bringing concrete rocks with them, the better to gain admission through the patio doors . . .

States of Mind wants to show us American family life, so it hung out in some tastefully furnished kitchens, where the residents waxed worried about the rising crime rate. But the programme also popped away to where the action was (down in the centre with the police units and the drug workers). And just occasionally, you picked up a tremor from the drama the programme was aiming for - a conflagration spreading out from the centre, while on the outskirts middle-class America sits in its living rooms, watching it happen on television.

Meanwhile over here, innocent families sit trembling in their living rooms under threat from middle-class America's television programmes - or rather, much worse, British impersonations of them. Fighting Back (BBC 1) opens with one of those 'above all, I'm me' tunes which, at one stage in its life, may have hoped to make it on to a Coke advert, but didn't quite have the legs. 'Ladies and Gentleman,' says an unidentified voice, 'Lynn Redgrave.'

Now, Lynn Redgrave is too distinguished an actress to have even considered making it on to a Coke advert, whether she had the legs or not. So what's she doing here? There's barely time to ask before the audience is whooping and whistling in an implausibly heated manner while Redgrave makes her way down a staircase into a neon-lit Wendy House.

What she does there is talk to celebrities about being ill. This week the model Margot Hemingway opened up to Redgrave about her fight with bulimia. It stemmed, she said, from 'a family dysfunction' and resulted in 'very low self-esteem'. 'Gosh,' said Redgrave, looking hard for a tone between Hello] and the Lancet.

Away from the studio, Hemingway took us round a British bulimia clinic and even did a little occupational therapy to camera. Asked to provide a non-verbal representation of her state of mind, she crawled behind a chair, got up and went into a spasm. Moving stuff, but did we really need the slow-motion action replay? Still, Hemingway had contrived a way of baring her all and saving some face at the same time. She discussed her old bingeing habit with a qualified expert beside a tray of samples. 'It was like this,' she conceded, queasily eyeing a wad of hospital mini rolls and some grey Danish pastries, 'but the quality of it was about 20,000 times better.' That's the difference between bulimia and celebrity bulimia: with the latter, you get quantity and quality.

Redgrave wondered if Hemingway would change anything about herself now, as a post-bulimic. 'Not a lot. I'm pretty proud of myself.' It was our turn to throw up. Fighting Back is founded on the myth that illness is a learning experience. But sometimes life just goes to waste. What about a programme called Giving Up in which celebrities get honest for a change and confess how that long bout of illness brought them nothing but a bunch of meaningless bad times?