Too much interference on our televisions

The schedules are full of bossy women invading other people's lives. They're not helping, says Amol Rajan, they're just bullying
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The Independent Culture

I thought, when we exposed Gillian McKeith's questionable PhD as a sham, that the hard work was done. I thought we'd no longer suffer television in which designated saviours rushed to apparently help the poor and downtrodden, while actually helping themselves to prime time. I thought we'd seen the last of her type. I thought wrong.

You remember Gillian, don't you? She was the "doctor" revealed not to be a medical doctor at all. She inspected what others defecated and pronounced on their lifestyles accordingly. You Are What You Eat, with Dr Gillian McKeith is how they described her show, before force-feeding her with humble pie and then relieving her of the "Dr". Then they dropped the show altogether. Where is she now?

She lives on, alas, in the dastardly intentions of her anointed and usually female successors. It is impossible, surveying the television schedules, to avoid the conclusion that a significant portion of national evening time has been colonised by a new boss-class of women. Some of them constitute a salivating sisterhood whose members acquire sudden celebrity through their invasion of poor people's lives, and their promise – often unfulfilled – to bring relief where there is misery, and satisfaction where there is longing. As a political crime this is bad enough; but it is compounded by the aesthetic felony of filling our airwaves with utter tripe.

The Founding Queens of this movement, the crusading Cleopatras, were Trinny and Susannah. I've never considered myself qualified to comment on the voguishness of that which they comment on, and given the wealth they have acquired doubtless they have as much to teach me about finance as fashion. But these two women have entered your life because of their ability to publicly spy on rich people (celebrities), decipher what common folk would aspire to in them, and preach to the latter about the former accordingly.

They have in common three things with their boss-class comrades: epistemic authority on a particular subject; a desire to evangelise about it; and a compliant commissioning editor. It's true that there are men who perform a similar role, and not just in fashion (think Gok Wan). Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares is really a euphemism for Life Lessons with Gordon, after all.

But can you reasonably doubt it is a sisterhood that is in the ascendant when, recalling your recent visits to the sofa, you settle on such patronising fare as Supernanny (Jo Frost), Ruth Watson's Country House Rescue, How Clean is Your House? (Aggie MacKenzie and Kim Woodburn), and Mary Queen of Shops (Mary Portas)? All these dispatch overbearing women into the domestic difficulties of people whose lives are more recognisably yours or mine. They presume them stupid, re-arrange their futures, and collect their cheques. They purport to be ambassadors of altruism, when in fact they're slavishly devoted to their own advancement: hypocritical harridans, hell-bent on their own march into fame.

The worst of it is, their shows are rubbish. When I worked in television, on a low-budget show, the onus was on production, which is a half-journalistic, half-technical attempt to create interest and drama. Those who commission programmes for the boss-class of women commit the most specious of all the intellectual crimes intrinsic to reality TV, of thinking production superfluous. I'm sure the producers do spend hours in the edit; but their shows stand or fall on the capacity of their chosen conqueror to lord it over their victim, not the nuance of their observations.

The presumption is that the viewer is gripped most when the discrepancy in power between victim and saviour is greatest, and the dependency of the former on the latter at its most severe. But this isn't The Secret Millionaire: if you think about who has really won when the credits roll, you wish Radio Times had been more honest, and prepared you for what this actually is: prole porn.

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