TELEVISION / The wheels of society go round and round

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The Independent Culture
TECHNOLOGY may advance, but not those who take advantage of it. Man's tendency to use his means of transport as a barometer of self-esteem has not changed since Jane Austen carted her characters about in landaus. In fact, the birth of snobbery can probably be dated to the day caveman first harnessed beast in order to give his legs a rest. One day in the next millennium, when transport will simply be a matter of beaming your atomised body down a telephone wire from home in suburbia to work in the metropolis (or to a beach in the tropics), people will doubtless measure their self-worth by the brand of flex they use.

By then, the works of the director Nicholas Barker will be set texts for students of anthropology, and none more closely studied than From A to B: Tales of Modern Motoring (BBC 2), which has just completed the fifth and final leg of its hugely diverting journey. The series motored off over the horizon with a look at the familymobile. If you imagined that the owners of cars big enough for 2.4 children are less prone to anxious self-examination than, say, the company-car drivers excoriated last week, then you'd be wrong.

We met the couple who are profoundly guilty about owning a Mercedes estate, the couple who are obsessively proud of their Volvo, and the couple who fondly believe that they don't stick out in their Land Rover. We also sped past the Range Rover driver who extolled the car's rather marvellous versatility: you can take it to Twickenham, and you can take it to Glyndebourne. Now there's an adaptable motor for you.

A visit by the Land Rover family to Longleat neatly encapsulated the point of the series - to observe how humans behave in captivity. In the end, the cage is immaterial; the monkeys are what matter. For the first time we caught an extended glimpse of the offspring, and were able to study the complex rituals of communication between the front and rear of the car.

Among the scenes that could be played out in any car were the ones of the children rolling their eyeballs as the breadwinner at the wheel tunelessly sang along to Madness; the small boy telling his parents his first breast joke; the girl shutting out the drone of the Volvo talk with a game of Tetris.

The first rule of the family car is that there is an invisible electronic panel between driver and junior passengers which translates the words 'Be quiet]' into 'Do please persist in this delightful racket, it doesn't wind me up in the slightest.' Two delightfully silly parents in a Renault Espace - 'The ultimate breast-feeding car', in case you didn't know - had worked a way round this perennial problem by being even more childish than their children. They chanted to their small son the ineffably irksome words, 'Stanley is a bogie face, Stanley is a bogie face.' Must try that one soon.

One of the wonders of this series is that it has offered so much entertainment and enlightenment in such a confined space. Barker must have calculated that the claustrophobia of filming in a vehicle would cause a release when they were interviewed. Having cooped himself up inside cars for the making of this masterpiece, Barker has now earned the right to do a long series on safari, where he obviously won't need the assistance of David Attenborough.

There's not much you can say about Beavis and Butt-head (C 4) - an animated film in which two grunting, brain-dead dorks freak out on the sofa with MTV on - apart from to express open-jawed admiration of its sheer audacity. This hilarious portrait of what it is to be a moron is the work of MTV itself, which must have a fair number of viewers who would recognise themselves. Beavis - or is it Butt-head? - stuffs his hands down his shorts whenever a semi-naked babe appears on screen (so, practically every other frame); Butt-head - or is it Beavis? - plays a mean air guitar. Could any other channel get away with such brazen self-parody?

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