If ever there was a TV programme to leave one ranting at an invisible audience and lamenting the various ills of the age, it was this week's Famous, Rich and Jobless. Unfortunately, the ills affecting my blood pressure weren't the soul-destroying trap of unemployment and the difficulty of escaping it, as they should have been. Instead, it was the meaningless ubiquity of celebrities symbolised by Not Famous, Rich and Clueless – as it should have been called.
For anyone who had better things to do with their time, such as stuffing a mushroom or watching paint dry, here's a rough idea of what it entailed. Four people about as famous as long-forgotten Eurovision entrants agreed to spend a few days away from their posh houses, to live on the jobseekers' allowance while roaming the streets looking for work. With a camera crew, as you do.
Around 24 hours in, a creepy duo of experts charged with charting their progress became anxious about some of the quartet's mental health, because after all, the poor lambs had been forced to buy electricity by the meter and wear some unflattering non designer clothes. Suitably humbled, the quartet are then sufficiently prepared for their terrifying encounter with some real live unemployed people, whom they aim to lead and inspire, rather like Z-list Gandhis.
This wasn't a so-bad-it's-good guilty pleasure. There was something deeply patronising and depressing about the fact that, instead of interviewing people with interesting personal stories to tell about the pain, humiliation and fear that can be caused by unemployment – as a documentary buried in a later time slot did – their voices were given to people who actually had nothing to say.
It's toe-curling enough watching soap stars lurch around the Strictly Come Dancing studio in Liberace-style outfits, but wheeling on a bunch of so-called celebs to explore serious, sensitive topics is deeply crass. For the purposes of mainstream television, it seems to be assumed that in Aspirational Britain every viewer is more likely to identify with Meg Mathews, ex wife of Noel Gallagher and recipient of a hefty divorce settlement when the pair split, than someone on benefits, recession or not. With a rash of similasr programmes such as The Duchess on the Estate, Tower Block of Commons, and 7 Days on the Breadline, it's as if we can't see anything clearly unless its viewed through fame-tinted goggles.
TV isn't the only area of life where celebrities are taking over and preventing people with genuinely interesting stories, expert opinions or talent from being heard, though. Take celebrities as charity spokespeople; why focus purely on a deserving issue when you can distract potential donors with an angelic image of said famous face basking in their glow of their own halo? Then there's publishing. Biographies about nonentities and celebrity advice books take up publishers' budgets and space on bookshop and supermarket shelves that could be devoted to more rewarding and original reads. Then there's the celebrity penchant for dispensing dodgy alternative health advice, and "designing" fashion collections.
The key emotion driving this obsession is fear. The fear of facing unpalatable truths with no happy endings, of turning viewers off by showing them people who struggling financially and aren't satisfied with a string of hopeful platitudes.
It's the fear of not wanting to buy a book when you don't recognise the name on the cover or of stepping outside the comfortable M&S ad cosiness of familiar faces, voiceovers and ghostwritten words. A subject as important as unemployment deserves a more authentic response than reality TV.
How the classical concert can loosen up
Listening to live classical music ought to be an uplifting experience. And when you go as infrequently as I do, in other words about as often as there's a solar eclipse, expectation of something a bit more refined than the local multiplex is particularly high.
Apart from a surprise rendition of the national anthem before a recent performance of Verdi's Requiem at The Barbican, the performance lived up to my hopes. Until, that is, the first movement ended and a split second of exquisite calm was ruined by a cacophonous chorus of coughing, throat-clearing and spluttering. It was like listening to every conservative peer in the House of Lords vent his guttural disapproval of a particularly radical Bill at once.
So bravo to music critic Alex Ross of the New Yorker, who has suggested that audiences should break with tradition and clap between movements at classical concerts. During a lecture at the Royal Philharmonic Society he said he would prefer to hear "a smattering of applause than be subjected to that distinctly ugly, unmusical, coughing, shuffling, rustling noise." I'll put my hands together for that.
What colour tie should I wear, darling?
Samantha Cameron is already an unofficial speechwriter for her husband. She apparently helped the Tory leader come up with his "there is such a thing as society, it's just not the same thing as the state" line. Now, it seems, she's also his stylist.
The would-be PM has admitted that his wife, who is the creative director of the luxury stationery and accessories line Smythson, also chooses his clothes. "She just sort of locks me in the dressing room and heaves bits of clothing under the door," Dave quipped on Absolute Radio. "I've never actually seen the inside of a shop."
Clearly after the suggestions of airbrushing on his campaign images, Cameron is at pains to prove how utterly free of vanity he is and how baseless those persistent accusations of style over substance are. It's a sneaky strategy – blame the Saville Row suits, or any fashion mistakes, on 'er indoors. But if Sam Cam is to make it as a stylist she needs to up the ante and learn the lingo. She needs to bombard him with self-help clichés, and coin some catchphrases, such as "you look Cam-tastic" if she wants to compete with Gok Wan.
Gok Wan was recently invited to Downing Street, and tweeted afterwards that "Gordon Brown asked if I was there to make him over". Apparently not, but what a great election sideshow Sam Cam versus Gok Wan would be.Reuse content