Last night's viewing - America on a Plate: the Story of the Diner, BBC4; Money, BBC2

 

How's this for an idea? You go to America. Go on. Get a nice shiny red car, drive around. Zoom through the streets of Manhattan with the top down, nip south to Nashville. And eat. Lots and lots of hearty American fare. Diner fare. All the while getting paid for it, because this is work – or it is if you're Stephen Smith, the lucky sod. "On my travels I intend to eat nothing but honest-to-God, home-cooked diner chow," said Smith, if not quite with relish then at least a level of sardonic satisfaction. He has something of the Louis Theroux about him only, in this instance, it's hamburgers he's talking about, not crystal meth. He also says chow a lot. At least four times in the space of an hour. That's quite a lot, isn't it? Chow. As in, "cowboy chow". Or politicians on the election trail visiting diners to "negotiate chow." Chow. There we are, four in one paragraph.

Diners are welcoming places, contended Smith in America on a Plate: the Story of the Diner. They're also lonely, sad, desperate, attracting drifters and loners long into the night, fireflies to their neon flames, strip-lit havens where stodgy comfort food is doled up in hefty portions with a side order of pathos. Few depictions capture that spirit quite so accurately as Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, a characteristically stylish depiction of a diner late at night, empty but for three customers and their white-hatted waiter. Smith tried to track down the Nighthawks diner, but to no avail.

Still, it's an interpretation repeated time and time again. The diner as a haven has permeated the work of Norman Rockwell, John Updike, and countless film directors over the decades. Smith interviewed Suzanne Vega, she of "Tom's Diner" fame. Rather awkwardly, he got her to sing to her hit back to him while sitting, sure enough, in the diner where it was written (Tom's Restaurant, as it happens). But the most interesting encounter of the trip, really, came when he met participants of the 1960s sit-ins that marked the Southern civil-rights movements. Deprived the right to sit down and eat at lunch counters across the South (but permitted to shop in the general stores to which they were often attached), African-Americans took to non-violent occupations, entering en masse and quietly sitting at the tables. More often than not, they were greeted with legalised violence by the waiting white men. But occasionally, just occasionally, they got to order a burger.

The idea of going to school and getting a job is the most destructive one in your brain," said Robert Kiyosaki. Not, in fact, a teenage rioter caught in Currys but rather the multi-millionaire author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, the book that promises to help you Begin Building Your Passive Income. Passive income was the chow of Money. A bit of a buzzword. It's not just Kiyosaki and his equally prosperous wife who were raving on about it. There's Maria, the self-made millionaires who realised her abilities while working as a PA. And there's Marcus and Fredericka who have lots and lots of money but don't like spending it so seem to live in a virtually unfurnished flat (perhaps we'd all be rich if we didn't bother with tables). And there's David and Shirley, who left their jobs in the public sector to teach Kiyosaki's method. They may not have struck gold just yet, but they're doing all right.

Unfortunately, there were plenty of Kiyosaki casualties, too. Like Janice, the wild-eyed devotee who wakes up at dawn every day to chant things like "I am a millionaire" while windmilling her arms. She's not a millionaire. In fact, she's in debt. So are Reese and Sarah, the teenagers who've managed to raise £500 by spending far more than that on convention-centre courses and wealth-management tuition. They're the Poor Dads to Kiyosaki's Rich Dad, I guess. God forbid they go to school and get a job.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam