Why I hate the...the World Cup
by Chris Hirst
You've had a really terrible day. The only thing that's got you through the mire of frustration, arguments and cock-ups is the prospect of plonking down in front of the box to watch a spot of stimulating entertainment. Finally, you get to click the switch, but instead of University Challenge or Mastermind, you're faced with John "Motty" Motson posing one of the greatest questions ever faced by humanity: "Will Trinidad and Tobago be playing their diamond formation or will they be going for the Christmas tree?"
Though it only seems to have happened last month, the wretched World Cup is with us again. However much you try to ignore this utterly spurious and inane competition, it seeps in round the edges of your consciousness. Cars whizz by flying the pallid flag of St George. Some fly two or even four flags in a display of uber-patriotism. At Marks & Spencer, once a class act on the high street, customers are offered the chance to purchase a range of "footie-themed fun memorabilia" including oven-gloves, babywear and a water dispenser in the England colours.
Dashing instead to Sainsbury's, you'll find the supermarket proudly flaunting its "football fever" in the form of a prodigious outpouring of patriotic tat including an England mini- coolbag, an England inflatable chair and an England musical bottle opener. McCoy's crisps is offering a "limited edition Wrighty megaphone" to cheer on the lads. On investigation, this turns out to be a reference to BBC commentator Ian Wright, a man so devoted in his patriotism that his sole comment following a recent England defeat was: "I'm not saying nothing."
At least we can ignore the seedy offerings of the supermarkets, as opportunist as any ticket tout. But we are legally obliged to cough up £131.50 per year for the BBC's wall-to-wall football coverage. I detest this presumption of shared enthusiasm. I hate the way that Sven, Roo, and Rio dominate the national psyche. These are not interesting people. Yet why do I know about Posh and Becks' £500,000 World Cup party this weekend? Or that the girlfriend of Sven's new signing is known as "Melons"?
As insidious as fog, the atavistic lure of football has transformed a nation once renowned for its stiff upper lip and understated nationalism into a scary, flag-waving mob. A few years ago, I was dismayed to find my own emotional buttons being pressed by football. In a moment of weakness, I found myself watching a Scotland v France match. To my astonishment, I found my heart beating furiously when Scotland came near to scoring. There I was, a conscript in the tartan army. If just a dozen of them were to come down the street towards me, I'd cross the road, but my blood was cheering with them. Weird.
The fact is that when football comes on the TV screen, your brains go out the door. And for most of June, though it will seem like a year, very little but football is going to come on the TV screen. Listen to the window-rattling cheers and (it is to be hoped) many more collective groans booming through the pub walls in coming weeks. Actually, you'll have no option but to listen. That is the noise of cavemen and quite a few cavewomen. They're in charge nowadays.
Hours on air Coverage is shared between the BBC and ITV. The BBC will screen 50 hours until the semi-finals and ITV will show 62 hours. If England reach the semi-finals, both BBC and ITV will show the game. Both channels with show the final.
Additional coverage ITV screens a World Cup launch on Friday. Soccer Aid begins next week and there will be one-off football shows. The BBC also have a series of six one-hour documentaries on different countries' World Cup stories.
Merchandise Brands such as Coca-Cola, Gillette, Duracell, Braun are all offering the chance to win tickets.
Why I hate... 'Big Brother'
by Deborah Orr
In less than a decade Big Brother has become a British summer-time institution, as stately in its rhythms and predictable in its progress as the much-vaunted English season itself. The one difference, of course, is that while hardly anyone in the real world has ever been to Henley, Glyndebourne, the Chelsea flower show, or whatever, there are only a few towering individuals left who can claim to remain entirely unsullied by some degree of exposure to Endemol's addictive festival of trivia. Say what you like about Big Brother, but don't deny that it's got broad appeal.
Big Brother is, as its critics attest, exploitative, vacuous, crude, cruel and voracious. It is a nasty, petty, psychological circus that in its popularity exposes the nation as a bunch of superannuated schoolchildren, still childishly fascinated by the sight of an emerging pecking order, and still keen to witness a playground free-for-all in which the contestants are naked and exposed - generally, alas, without even a sharp wit to defend themselves. It enrolls the desperate, the deluded and the downright disordered, into a physical and mental wet t-shirt contest, and makes of its audience a leering, sneering bunch of pitiless, shameless, voyeurs. How I wish I could claim that I wasn't looking forward to it.
I probably won't watch Big Brother much this summer. But I'll watch enough to be able to take an active part in the conversation that sprouts yearly as it plays out. I wouldn't dream of missing the opening night.
It's true, of course, that the summer reality fest has been somewhat superseded by the winter celeb fest. When I watched the first night of the last Celebrity Big Brother, I was completely gobsmacked by what I was witnessing. When Pete Burns flounced out of his limo, I was blown away by his outlandish, grotesque caricature of glamour. When George Galloway, in his big, black coat, signed up for public exposure, blood actually thrummed in my ears.
Obviously, in ordinary Big Brother (as I believe is now the technical term), the impact is not so great and the individual folly not so immediately apparent. It simply doesn't possess the churning shorthand of disfunctionality that celebrity culture exists to supply. Summer Big Brother is the McGill postcard to winter Big Brother's Pirelli calendar. But the lazy pace of character assassination or dissolution, over the long summer weeks, has an exquisite langour about it that suit the season well.
There will never again be a Big Brother like the first one. It supplied the least self-conscious contestants, painfully ignorant of the manner in which their foibles and failings would be manipulated by the camera.
That first series now, though it caused no end of a furore at the time, seems looking back like the last summer of innocence. Years after the programme had aired, I saw Craig on a DIY show (he'd been a builder) and momentarily thought he was someone I'd been to school with. Craig, who came closest to guessing what was going on outside by suggesting that the show would be obsessively watch, turned out well. He won the series, came his money to his Down's Syndrome friend Joanne so that she could get a heart operation, then got on with his life.
He's a wiser, better man than the fools who line up to take part these days. Which is what provides the show's repulsive, slimy, evilly glittering fascination. In a better world no one would be shallow and silly enough to watch Big Brother, because no one would be shallow and silly enough to take part.
Reality TV check
Hours on air The longest ever Big Brother will run for 13 weeks. It begins with a 75-minute launch show tonight and will notch up around 110 hours including a nightly highlights show, live evictions, Big Brother's Little Brother and new live show Big Brother's Big Brain.
Additional coverage E4 will show virtually 24-hour coverage, with Big Brother Live running daily from 6am.
Merchandise Details will be released during the launch. Items will include t-shirts, DVDs, "uncut" footage and fitness videos from contestants in the months that follow the show.
Why I hate... 'The Da Vinci Code'
by John Walsh
All the reviews of the film will feature the same still image: Tom Hanks (mullet-haired Professor of Crass Symbolism) and Audrey Tautou (sensible-cardiganed, gamine babe cryptologiste) running down a Paris street as if the hounds of hell were after them. Non-believers in religious conspiracy theories may feel the same urgent need this summer to get away from a bombardment of the senses (and mind) that threatens to engulf us all: the assault of The Da Vinci Code.
If only it had been enough for 43 million people in the world to buy the book and digest its atrociously written pile of old rope in the privacy of their own homes. But now the film has premiered in Cannes, and that annoying poster showing Hanks, Tautou, McKellen, Reno and the mad-eyed monk played by Paul Bettany stares down from every hoarding in the country. The TV news, having already given blanket coverage to the plagiarism trial, will soon start reporting on how millions of tourists are flocking to Paris, Rome, Florence, Castel Gandolfo and Milan. The protagonists of the code don't go to Milan themselves, but fans of the book need to inspect the original Last Supper for themselves (monastery guides are already sick to death of being asked "Which one's John?" and "Is that Mary Magdalene?"). Meanwhile, the Da Vinci guides in London will usher lowing herds of imbecilic visitors to the Knights Templars Church at the Inns of Court, the library at King's College, to St James's Park and Westminster Abbey.
It doesn't stop, of course, with the book and its many spin-off volumes: the film, posters, TV coverage, websites, tourists trails, Silas-the-homicidal-monk dolls that will shortly be on sale. It's the way the Code leaves its tainting fingerprints on so many lovely things - most notably Leonardo da Vinci. Once he was inviolable, God-like, the genius's genius: an artist, inventor, seer and prototypical Renaissance Man. Now he's merely a bit-part player in a tawdry farrago of hazy symbols and threadbare conspiracy. Soon it will be hard for amateur art-lovers all over the world to look at a representation of Leonardo's beautiful Supper without wondering if St John the Beloved does look a wee bit feminine ... As I write, an air museum in Palm Springs is offering "The Da Vinci Experience" in which you can fly in replicas of his mechanical machines, as if he spent his waking hours in manned flight.
Even worse than all the desecration of genius is the sanctimonious tone of Dan Brown himself. "While it is my belief that the theories discussed by these characters have merit," he says on his website, "each reader must explore these characters' viewpoints and come to his or her own interpretations." Jolly nice of you, Dan, to "initiate a debate" and get us all talking about these subjects. But I'm not going to. None of us has the faintest intention of exploring your non-characters' cardboard viewpoints nor trying to "reach an interpretation". We have better things to do this summer. I myself am starting a novel. It's about the discovery, in a lost property office at St Pancras, a dusty manuscript that proves the "Hidden Imam" of the Islamic succession was in fact a forerunner of Wayne Rooney...
Running time The film lasts 2 hours 28 minutes and will be showing at 1,100 cinemas nationwide for at least three months which, at two screenings per day, adds up to 5016 hours.
Additional coverage A spokeswoman for Sony Pictures said they were expecting a large amount of additional media coverage around the film's release.
Merchandise A number of Da Vinci-inspired books and DVDs are already on the market, including Simon Cox's Dan Brown Companion, with Top Trump cards, games and a jigsaw set to follow.