Harriet Walker: Glossiness is next to emptiness

A A Gill’s mistake is to class Mary Beard in with his own tribe, whose gloss speaks for them

Share

It's a strange paradox given television's obsession with reality programmes that its presenters have risen to ever glossier, preternaturally groomed heights. There are no spots, no snaggle-teeth, no bushy eyebrows in broadcasting. The medium most suited to showing us life complete with the proverbial warts and all is the one that requires its protagonists to wax, buff, bouff and crimp more than any other.

Perhaps it's so we can more easily separate the professionals from the wild-haired plebs who make it on to Big Brother every so often. Or perhaps it's because those professionals can't bear the idea of us seeing what they really look like.

But there's a difference between personal standards and ideology. Do TV presenters have a duty to look good on screen? It depends what they're talking about, doesn't it? Should someone turn up to commentate on Strictly Come Dancing in last night's make-up and cardigan covered in egg, no doubt the hi-shine, sequin-obsessed diehards would be a little put out.

It's a point that critic A A Gill raised last weekend when he remarked on the academic Mary Beard's appearance during her latest series on the lives of the Romans. "If you are going to invite yourself into the front rooms of the living," he wrote of Beard, "then you need to make an effort."

Let's just skip the fact that any man suggesting a woman ought to scrub up should be put to death by hair-straightening, and focus on what he actually means. Gill makes it sound like Mary Beard is striding into our sitting rooms, lashing us to the sofa and making us listen to her – in which case, my first reaction still would not be to ask her to brush her hair. I would shut up and take notes, actually. Having attended lectures by Beard at university, I can attest she's the most charismatic, warm and humorous person to have ever spoken about people who have been dead for a bajillion years and a language that nobody speaks any more.

And that is where Gill has gone wrong. He's classed Mary Beard in with his own tribe, whose gloss speaks for them and whose socialising relies on the smug shine of sophistication and strenuous cleansing. I've been to parties with these people, and they're much less fun than the ones where everyone looks a bit bedraggled but is fascinating and makes you laugh. That's what I want from telly. And I don't think I'm alone. The great scheduling divide these days seems to be between things like The Only Way Is Essex, whose players strut and fret in tiny clothes and enormous hair only to impart absolutely nothing of any interest, and programming with more substance and a lot less hairspray.

Television is not so different from real life then – in that those who take longest to get ready are quite often the ones you wish you hadn't invited into your sitting room.

h.walker@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor