Television Review

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The Independent Culture
THERE IS a fine line between documentary realism and gratuitous porn. Any doubts that Fantasy Club (C4) was on the wrong side of it were finally dispelled at the point when young Sally displayed her newly enhanced breasts for the camera, and asked the producer if he liked them. He squeaked in amazement: "They're huge."

To be fair, though, it can't be easy to make an hour-long programme about lap-dancers without some appearance of salaciousness. The real problem here was not the way the film was made, though a purist might have objected to the large number of shots of girls wandering around their house topless, or the interviews conducted in the bathtub. The real problem was that it was made at all. There were some worthwhile points about the hierarchy of exploitation in which these women were trapped. They were exploited by the owner of the club where they worked; and, illustrating the proposition that everybody needs to feel superior to somebody, they exploited some of the men who visited the club, demanding "presents", then branding them "sad" for trying to buy love.

But I don't think this film was commissioned with issues like that in mind. A couple of weeks ago, Bremner, Bird and Fortune ended its run with a mock trailer for a Channel 4 season called "Four-nography", which caught the channel's ethos perfectly.

Meanwhile, over on ITV, we had Real Lives: Sex, Lies and Mobile Phones (not to be con-fused with Wednesday night's BBC1 documentary, Phones, Robbers and Videotape, which was essentially about people kicking in phone- boxes to nick change). This was ostensibly about the way that mobile phones have changed our lives, supposedly turning us into a nation of neurotics and liars.

There was the ghost of an interesting sociological study here, represented by the mildly spectral figure of Jimmy the emergency plumber ("Like a vampire, Jimmy's richest pickings are at night"). Thanks to the mobile phone - which makes it easy for him to get customers, but hard for them to hold him responsible for anything - he has thrived, charging upwards of pounds 110 an hour. In a recklessly extended metaphor, Jimmy described himself as a hunter, the mobile phone as his weapon, and his van as his horse; the adverts he placed were his snares, and when his mobile rang he knew the trap had been sprung...

Mostly, though, the program-me was about sex: a man who runs an escort agency (though he added: "Some of them do offer extra services, let's say") talked about the difference mobiles had made to his business. Another demonstrated the potential for deceit by undoing a stripper's bra while shouting down his phone that he was just photocopying something. There were also shots of strippers in which mobile phones were not visible. Now why would that be?

Next to these, The Dome: Trouble at the Big Top (BBC2) seems rather innocent, offering as it does the harmless pleasure of seeing the powerful squirm. The climax of last night's programme was the fall of Mandelson, presaged by a moment from the Messiah: "Behold, I tell you a mystery, we shall not all sleep, but shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." The same gentle sadism was apparent elsewhere - in the way, for instance, that remarks of Mandy's about his appetite for work were juxtaposed with footage of him nodding off in a meeting.

But the real fall-guy here has been sponsorship culture, with the Dome's "zones" being revamped and turned upside-down to satisfy the demands of business sponsors who then end up pulling out altogether. The public-private partnership on which the Government places so much reliance has rarely looked less attractive.

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