Benefits Street, Celebrity Big Brother - for the benefit of entertainment?
Inside Television: More poverty porn on the bill as sex (sort of) sells in CBB
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Thursday 09 January 2014
Another year, another controversial doc about people on benefits. Following BBC3's People Like Us, Channel 4's Skint and Channel 5's On Benefits & Proud, new series Benefits Street debuted this week on Channel 4 and has already set two separate police investigations in motion.
In fairness, TV producers can't take all the credit for the continued success of poverty porn. Viewers are obviously entertained by the details of other people's misery, but acknowledging this voyeuristic instinct rightly makes people feel guilty.
So instead we collude in pretending that a programme like Benefits Street is a serious social document with something important to say about welfare. It isn't: it's just telly.
Lionel brings the house down
No sex please, we're Big Brother viewers and we've seen it all before. That hasn't stopped Channel 5 filling this year's Celebrity Big Brother house with the kind of contestants Alan Partridge would describe as "sex people". There's glamour model Casey Batchelor, celebrity mistress Jasmine Waltz, swinger Luisa Zissman and Dappy, a pop star whose idea of small talk is describing his own appendage in detail. Only a localised outbreak of Weil's disease could keep this bunch from frolicking in the hot-tub from dusk till dawn.
It's revolting, but the real shame is, sex was never what made CBB interesting, anyway. It's about the random interactions between unlikely – but fully clothed – companions. Lionel Blair name-dropping furiously, despite blank looks from his younger housemates is gold. Sorry, Sammy Davis who?
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