Television Review

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The Independent Culture
RICHARD DAWKINS once suggested that astrologers should be prosecuted for fraud, which sounds harsh but, until stupidity is outlawed, may well be the only viable course of action. But to be fair to astrologers, they do at least offer the semblance of a rational belief system: the idea that the stars shape our characters and destinies may be loopy, but it is internally coherent. It is to astrologers' credit that you can contemplate prosecuting them at all - the very suggestion implies that they can be pinned down to defined, falsifiable claims.

What is far more worrying is the spread of New Age spiritual beliefs in forms so vague and incoherent that prosecution would be inconceivable. What claims does a feng shui expert make that could be held up in court? What would count as evidence against feng shui?

Looking Good (BBC2) last night looked at the benefits of applying feng shui to your wardrobe. For this demonstration, they acquired the services of one feng shui expert ("We need to consider the principle `Bless this wall'") and one hopeless shopaholic with a very messy and overcrowded cupboard. The expert then used the principles of her ancient Chinese philosophy to explain that it is easier to find things in a less cluttered cupboard, and that to get rid of the clutter it would be sensible to throw away clothes that the owner was not particularly fond of ("Now remember, whenever you let something go, something new will come in. That's the law of the universe"). Feng shui teaches us, also, that the wise man puts his winter clothes in a suitcase in the attic and hangs his shoes from a shoe- organiser sold by the Holding Company. Furthermore, she who does not have to sort through too much mess in the mornings has more time to do the ironing.

This was blatant common sense disguised by a thin veneer of oriental-sounding twaddle. The only obvious silliness came when the expert started to analyse colours - too many blues and blacks, she noted, and "Blues and blacks relate to money, they relate to career" (a self- evident truth: just look at the late Roy Orbison; look at any vicar). What the victim needed to do was put something red in "the relationship area of the wardrobe".

That this sort of nonsense is getting the endorsement of the BBC is shocking. Or it would be if it wasn't in the context of a programme based so firmly on the assumption that women will swallow anything. In the course of half an hour, new "Millennium" trends were handed down as the word of God ("Fashion designers have decided that white is going to be the colour of the new millennium - it's both Space Age and spiritual"). A feature on the detoxifying, healing powers of mud parroted manufacturers' claims of efficacy with no semblance of criticism or objective evaluation; and, turning to the gym, the viewer was advised to wear something she felt comfortable with: "You'll need all the confidence you can get when Little Miss Perfect walks past".

Thirty years of the women's movement have brought Looking Good to the conclusion that fat is indeed a feminist issue, and that women should therefore devote their lives to shedding it and covering it up. Thirty minutes of this patronising drivel brought me to the conclusion that I would like to walk all over Lowri Turner in spike-heeled boots. Fortunately, I now know where to buy these, having watched the first episode of a new series of Trouble at the Top (BBC2). W J Brooks of Northamptonshire has been manufacturing traditional men's shoes for a century, and while the firm has had it ups and downs, things have always evened out - "If winkle-pickers stop selling, creepers start." Feeling desperate after a disastrous 12 months, managing director Steve Pateman was hunting for new markets, and thought he had found the answer in fetish shoes for men: thigh-length, patent-leather, steel-reinforced stiletto, "whip" boots...

This was a charming sketch of an amicable culture clash, as the unassuming Steve ("I live, I eat, I am shoes") met his customers - at a London erotica fair. An enthusiastic transvestite customer plumped for the PVC, "but in red for me. I'm such a tart." But it was also an object lesson in how to save a business: find a gap in the market and plug it for all it's worth. Kinky boots turned out to have a fair old kick.