Last Night's Television: The Event: How Racist Are You?, Channel 4
Fearne and Peaches Geldof, ITV2
There's no pride in prejudice
Friday 30 October 2009
Jane Elliott calls herself "the Bitch" but, like most people who self-define ("I'm mad, me"), she doesn't really live up to her claims.
Frosty, yes. Bitch? Nah. In fact, she's spent the best part of her life trying to make people nicer – well, less racist, which is certainly nicer, in one way at least – starting in 1960s America, and now here, in a warehouse in modern-day Britain.
The Event: How Racist Are You? is the latest instalment in Channel 4's Race: Science's Last Taboo season. Elliott had asked for a group of volunteers willing to take part in a "psychological experiment". As soon as they arrived, she divided them up by eye colour: one group blue, one brown. The brown eyes, a mix of various ethnicities, she treated with a certain level of chilly respect. The blues, she sneered at, and sent off to be contained in a dark room for two hours. While they're left to pace their cramped room, she took the "browns" through the reasoning behind her experiment – the same one, more or less, which she has been doing around the world for the past 40 years. The only way to eradicate racism, she argued, was by teaching "white folk" what it feels like to be black.
It's more than a little simplistic, if not for 1960s America then at least for modern-day Britain, where racism assumes a far more varied and multilayered form than simple white-versus-black equations suggest. Immediately, the candidates started to throw up their various objections. One woman claimed that she didn't want to be a part of "putting other people down", several others walked out. In the other room, the kerfuffle is being watched by Krishnan Guru-Murthy and a pair of psychologists, who noted that the fuss is coming exclusively from the group's white members. They had a point. Are the protesters failing to understand, as Elliott appears to suggested, their own latent racism? It's tricky. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it's certainly interesting.
Far less spectacle in Wonderland, though perhaps a rather more genuine display of human emotion. The British in Bed is the first instalment in the second series of these quirky, kitchen-sink documentaries and it's excellent. For three quarters of an hour, we are presented with a sequence of brief interviews with couples who discuss, with astonishing candour, the intricacies of their various relationships.
We hear what they fight over, what they most dislike about one another, what makes them stay together and how frequently they have sex. What could be a creepy exercise in voyeurism turns out to be quite the opposite: a gentle, and rather moving portrait of human emotion. There's Alf and Miriam, aged 84 and 74, who still make one another giggle like teenagers (he likes the young girls "growing big boobies" on television, he says, but they don't excite him). There's Khadijah and Tariro, who are expecting twins and plan to get married shortly after the birth (despite, rather distressingly, the fact that he can't tell her he loves her). And there's Peter and Rumy, aged 67 and 48, who have only been married for a few years and like to think of themselves as "like a modern version of My Fair Lady". All of the couples are shot in their bed, sitting side by side. Some of them reveal feelings to one another that the other had no idea existed; others start bickering over past disagreements. And so it goes on; a riveting, touching and funny tapestry of contemporary life.
One final word, on part two of Fearne Cotton's ITV2 talk show, Fearne and Peaches Geldof. Against all expectations, this is actually something of an improvement on last week's offering, largely because of the irresistible awfulness of Ms Geldof's behaviour. It's like watching someone trip over; you can see it coming, you don't quite know how to react and, once it happens, you can't tear your eyes away. Fearne dealt with it all rather well; she's much better in standoffish mode than in the fawning "are we friends?" one affected in last week's meeting with Paris Hilton. Peaches appeared to think that she's some kind of social revolutionary. "I'm, like, really into awkwardness," she drawled, repeatedly, throughout the show. "I really, like, enjoy awkward pauses." Pressed on fame, she tended to respond with a sulky "I don't want to talk about it," claiming instead to prefer discussing science fiction. "I'm interested in Stephen Hawking's theories and the Large Hadron Collider", which may be true, but certainly doesn't prove a much better catalyst for enthusiasm (real or politely feigned.) She looks at Cotton the way your school Mean Girl might look at the fat kid in the corner – head to toe once over, eyes rolling. At one stage, she actually buried her face in the car seat, curling up in a ball with her back to Fearne. Yes, that's right, just like a sulky toddler.
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