ARTS: underrated the case for Trash TV

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Indy Lifestyle Online
When Marcus Plantin, director of the ITV Network Centre, accused BBC1 of being too commercial only a few days after the demise of The Word was announced, proponents of Trash TV began thinking about the purpose of the medium. Only for a moment, of course, but then that's the nature of Trash. Trash TV is essential ephemeral, valueless TV without any redeeming features and with only one intention: entertainment.

To say that Trash TV - which describes an arc from wacky breakfast TV shows, via third-rate game shows to the peak of Saturday-night viewing - is the very bedrock of modern television may sound strange, but it is no mere post-modern posture.

Trash TV is good because it does not know it is bad. Or rather, it doesn't care because it attracts huge audiences. Take the current supreme example: the Saturday Night Lottery Show. Streamlined lately by the rightsizing of Anthea Turner's sidekick, the big bloke who did nothing but distract from her spell-binding cheeriness, it is so popular that it is credited with causing a serious decline in cinema attendances.

That a show that features fourth-rate celebs, members of the public who have had middling wins on the lottery and the presenter who can hold the same ear-to-ear smile for 15 minutes should be held responsible for the fall of the British film industry is surely testament to the power of Trash.

Trash aficionados will shortly have their loyalties tested when Blind Date returns opposite the Lottery Show. Blind Date - as its huge audience testifies - has been Trash at its most popular for the past decade. The format is simple: all those people with severe ego problems are mindlessly entertaining. Cilla Black, the epitome of Trash, does sometimes hint at irony with her sarcasm about some of the contestants but, on the whole, is warm and friendly to everyone but the posh or the intelligent, who are fair game for her underclass wit.

The notion of Cilla Black as an ironist is unsettling for Trash TV supporters, but not nearly as alarming as the tendency Ulrika Jonsson has shown over the last series of Gladiators to make fun of those inflatable men in silly costumes who have stolen the hearts of pre-teens and Trash fans everywhere. Gladiators does what TV should do best. It offers engrossing viewing of something that is entirely pointless and - incidentally - a reductio ad absurdum of the sporting ethos. The muscle-bound male Gladiators, their thighs rubbing together (won't those tight shorts chafe?) are to athleticism what Mariella Frostrup (a Trash icon) is to serious film criticism.And then there are the competitors who, for example, climb into large spheres and roll around the arena colliding with each other. You have to love the glorious absurdity of it.

John Fashanu, spouting banalities, is in the great tradition of lousy emcees (Ted Rogers is the presiding deity). Ulrika, however, is worrying. No bimbo she. (Though bimbos have their value: who can ever forget Dani Behr's filthy back-of-the-classroom guffaw?) She has been known to poke fun at the Gladiators and the silly games they play. Closet post-modernism in Gladiators? Now it comes to mind, the Stonehenge-like structure in the grandiose introduction to International Gladiators did look too obviously papier mache.

Ironic post-modernism is the death knell of Trash. That's why shows like Eurotrash, Jonathan Ross, the Big Breakfast or Don't Forget Your Toothbrush do not fit in to the genre. They aren't trash, they're rubbish.


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