Last Night's Television - Blood, Sweat and Takeaways, BBC3; True Stories: Kenya Murder Mystery, More4
Too much on their plate
Wednesday 20 May 2009
"I'm an anarchist... abolish poverty," Manos shouted at the camera. But Manos, a politics student, is either joking or he hasn't been paying attention in class, because this political credo doesn't exactly square with his next announcement, on the ethical dilemmas of cheap food. "If that importer/exporter is exploiting another person so that my price is cheap, then so be it," he said cheerfully. "It's a dog-eat-dog world... it's inevitable." Manos doesn't eat dog, or at least not knowingly. He eats fast food and he's quite insistent that he doesn't give a toss about its human cost. Which makes him perfect raw material for Blood, Sweat and Takeaways, in which six young Britons are introduced to the less savoury aspects of the modern food chain. Ignorance and insouciance is the important flavour here. There must be countless young people, informed about and interested in developing-world issues, who would have leapt at the chance to find out where our tinned tuna and cheap supermarket prawns actually comes from, but the BBC has carefully sifted all the good apples out to leave us only with the spoiled ones, those whose education will come as a kind of rebuke.
Quality control wasn't perfect on the picking line. Somehow, Stacey, who describes herself as a "concerned consumer", got through to the final six, and then effectively demonstrated how flavourless the thoughtful can be, in television terms. She didn't whine and moan about the conditions, she didn't dry-heave when she was shown the shanty-town toilets (as Manos did), she just got on with things and did her allotted job reasonably well. Which isn't the point at all frankly. We want hissy fits so that the learning and hugging, when it comes, is all the more piquant. Lauren, I'm glad to say, was much better value, grizzling sulkily when she had to lose her nail polish (and manicured fingernails) to work in an Indonesian tuna-packing plant and then fainting after just 10 minutes on the line. As an occasional consumer of tuna I'm glad to say that the hygiene standards looked extremely high, though I won't ever open a tin as blithely again after seeing how labour-intensive the process is. "When do we finish?" asked one nervous novice as they were being prepared for their first day. "We finish when the fish is finished," replied the supervisor.
This opening episode took an unexpected diversion into the psycho-pathology of weight-lifters, when Olu, a Tottenham lad with a big white-meat intake and some serious anger-management issues, took a dislike to Manos's cheery banter and decided he was entitled to cow him into submission. "Manos, are you scared of me?" he asked menacingly, before grabbing him by the shoulders and pushing him through a nearby glass panel. The rest of the team decided that while they didn't mind braving fish-guts and squat lavatories they drew the line at assault and voted to send Olu home. The remaining two boys now understandably unwelcome at the packing plant went to sea with a tuna boat, where they could grumble about sea-sickness and the sleeping facilities (six foot of deck under an open sky). For those who aren't doing it out of curiosity, a two-day fishing trip will earn around 3. Predictably, the callow "am I bovvered?" attitude to developing-world welfare began to melt immediately. Manos withdrew his opening statement: "It makes me look like an idiot saying things like that," he said before apologising to a mildly bemused group of fishermen, who were presumably hoping that his new found conscience wouldn't actually stop him buying their fish. If there is a problem with Blood, Sweat and Takeaways it is that it doesn't make it terribly clear what practical steps a British consumer might take to improve conditions of people half-a-world away boycott tuna or buy more of it? But it makes a pretty persuasive case that the question should actually matter to us.
True Stories: Kenya Murder Mystery, a documentary about the trial of Tom Cholmondeley, the white Kenyan recently found guilty of manslaughter, after shooting a poacher on his estate, opened with a slightly unnerving remark from the film-maker. "My father and Tom's father were step-brothers," she explained, suggesting that this might rather straightforwardly be the case for the defence. It was a partisan and unsatisfactory account of the incident in many ways, full of gaps when it came to explaining crucial details of the evidence or the past history of the Delameres, a landowning family with a volatile reputation in Kenya. But through the holes in Fiona Cunningham-Reid's film you could see some interesting things: that the case was certainly a little more complicated than a simple matter of a gun-happy colonial toff blithely shooting one of the locals, and that ancient and modern injustices overlapped in ways that were bound to cloud the pursuit for justice. It was, in a way, about colonialism, too, and how faded and tattered it looks after years without repair.
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