Television Review: Seeking Pleasure

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The Independent Culture
WHERE OTHER countries have sociology, we get by with snobbery. Seeking Pleasure (BBC2) was described in the Radio Times, a little pompously, as "how people utilise their leisure time to define their identity"; and the first film, on wedding lists, was prefaced with a quotation from the anthropologist Margaret Mead: "To the Manus tribe of Papua New Guinea, trade is the most important thing in life. Marriage is thought of in terms of dogs' teeth, shell money, pigs and oil." For a moment it looked as if we were in for some plonking sub-academic analysis; but the fear soon died: Susanna White's film turned out to offer a far more subtle and plausible view of what a wedding-list can say - and in particular, what it says about our class.

The class element was at its most blatant with Edwin and Sarah, concerned to rebut the charge that having a wedding- list at Harrods was "nouveau". Although they worked in London, they lived in the country - Edwin's view being that if you can't be in Kensington, Chelsea, Pimlico or, at a pinch, Battersea, you clear out altogether. The main reason for having the list at Harrods was that it was the one place they could find the Hermes place-mats that Edwin had fallen in love with.

Anna and Steve, from Sheffield, were snobs of a different variety. They prided themselves on their individual sense of style - they called their flat "minimalist", though your actual John Pawson would have found their collection of twisty candlesticks, their matching shiny black puffa jackets and their Japanese four-wheel- drive jeep distinctly cluttered. Their list included a variety of chrome and brushed-steel objects which, their relatives gently complained, didn't look as if they cost nearly as much as they did.

By contrast, Trevor and Jenny, from Romford in Essex, seemed to want to use their list as a kind of social camouflage, a way of blending in. Everything on it came from Argos's Eternal Beau range - a pattern of red roses and pink ribbons tied in bows (or, I suppose, Beaux) which you can get on anything from curtains to sandwich-toasters. Trevor said, "Everybody had it to some degree or other. Our own friends Carol and Malcolm have got a small quantity of Eternal Beau... It's nice to look at, there's nothing really to dislike about it." Trevor's aunt and uncle, Fiona and Bill, disagreed, and bought them a realistically croaking frog for the garden.

Finally, Anna and Paul, a bicycle-riding couple from Leicester, had decided to ask people to contribute to their tree-planting project ("The Wed Wood", Paul had christened it). We saw Paul phoning the Small Wood Association for advice: "Hello, Russell." Or possibly that was an imperative: "Hello, rustle!"

This was all very amusing, but also quite chilling: every one of these couples was not simply furnishing a house, but buying into - or getting their friends and relatives to buy them into - a social group and a lifestyle. If the government really does want to achieve a classless society, the first thing it has to do is ban wedding-lists; and the second is ban documentaries like this one. Only, on this showing, it would be nice if they could wait until the end of the series.