The culture clash is one of television's big things. It's probably the ease with which telly can juxtapose things that makes it such an obsessive chronicler of difference. This is also why the Britain of TV is so much more cosmopolitan than Britain out-of-doors.
BBC2 had something of a culture-clash night on Wednesday. First up at 9pm was Living With The Enemy, the programme which throws together diametrically opposed people in the hopes of achieving either common ground or good telly, the latter being much easier to come by. Most people seem to emerge from the experiment more at ease with their prejudices than they went in. Previously the programme has featured a Tory councillor who went to live on a muddy traveller's site, and disgraced New Labour lobbyist Derek Draper playing host to an old Socialist for a few nights. This time it's gays v. straights, or "two rugby lads spend five days in London with two poofs", as Northern morons Mick and Wayne sum it up for their cab driver. The two rugby lads tackle their roles with such gusto that their double act amounts to a sort of blanket disservice - to heterosexual men, to Yorkshire, to the game of rugby and to the good people of Philistine. They stand side by side, agog, droopy of eyelid and slack of mouth, unable to believe that there exists such a place as Soho. I know they're from the North and everything, but where do people get off being this provincial? Don't they have televisions? With their perpetual drunkenness, big arms and talk of twatting poofs and aborting "faggot babies", Mick and Wayne maintain a rather artificial air of menace, but only a right pair of girl's blouses could be shocked by the teatime traffic in Old Compton Street. This point is put to them several times, but they only stare back blankly, looking as if their noses are about to run. In contrast Paul and Mark, the gay couple who've been assigned these charming charges, take open- mindedness to extremes, insisting that deep down Mick and Wayne have "good hearts" in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Paul and Mark clearly do have a television, and seem painfully aware of how they want to come across on it.
Although the four boys have a pretty hectic itinerary - there's a trip to a gay bar, an outing to a Hammersmith lap dancing establishment and a game of rugby against an all-gay side - the most interesting parts of the programme are the little domestic scenes. One can never over-estimate the strength of feeling attached to notions of hospitality. Even for Mick and Wayne being ill-mannered house-guests is a self-conscious struggle, and they occasionally lapse into civility. As time goes on Paul and Mark's increasing exasperation with them seems to have less and less to do with their homophobia and more to do with the humiliation of having to cook for two oafs who drink lager from "25% extra" tins. The final showdown between the two opposing teams went like this:
"You're the lowest of the low."
"No, you're the lowest of the low."
"No, you are."
There's more, but you get the idea. I can't remember who started it.
It's possible to imagine that the current template for all BBC programming is Changing Rooms, and that Living With the Enemy is a sort of ideological version. I couldn't help thinking that Mark and Paul and Wayne and Mick would have found more common ground by repainting a few end tables.
On Close-Up, which followed at 9:30pm, the culture clash was more subtle - and more manifold - as second-generation sons of Asian immigrant families bewildered their parents with their Western ways. At the outset an Asian woman spoke directly to the camera, translated by subtitles which said: "Could you please announce on the television that our shops are for sale". Her son Cave, it seems, won't take them over. He's only interested in his band. Another callow fellow, who goes by the name of Bobby Friction, embarrasses his mother by accompanying her to Southall with his hair all gelled up in spikes. He's a DJ, a profession which so mystifies his father that the old man refers to it simply as "show biz". A third son, Wajid, is also involved in music, which runs counter to his mother's hope that he will remain a faithful Muslim.
Although dealing with Asian families specifically, the programme touches on a universal generational problem: all children are assimilated into a culture their parents don't understand. For these boys the ties to the old world are still strong, and in two cases their music is heavily influenced by their cultural traditions, which perhaps make their rebellion even more difficult for their parents to comprehend. The stalemate between parental hopes and youthful ambitions could have been unremittingly gloomy, but the success of the programme lay in its ability to put you in the place of both parent and child. Cave's mother still hopes he will come back and run the chip shop, pleading that "we are old and we need your help". It's impossible not to be swayed by her deep-seated feelings of betrayal, even though you know you wouldn't go back and run the chip shop for her either. Cave's response is "I suppose that's mothers for you. It's not uncommon, I think", a reminder that breaking ties is a cruel business. Overall, Aysha Raefele's film is a serious and thoughtful piece of work, in spite of its shameless indulgence of its three young subjects' narcissism. There are too many moody shots of them languishing with fags dangling from their mouths.
One is left with the impression that for the young men, the film is little more than a way of furthering their musical careers, a feeling underscored by a postscript announcing that Cave and his band Narco have been signed by EMI.Reuse content