Anger is now all the rage on television

Look at Gordon Ramsay and you see that familiar British figure: the school bully
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The Independent Online

There is, it seems, a particular circle in hell reserved for TV producers and programme-makers. Essentially an offshoot of the satanic marketing department, it offers executives the opportunity to buy into the franchise of the underworld and use the word "hell" in their latest low-budget, populist documentary.

There is, it seems, a particular circle in hell reserved for TV producers and programme-makers. Essentially an offshoot of the satanic marketing department, it offers executives the opportunity to buy into the franchise of the underworld and use the word "hell" in their latest low-budget, populist documentary.

Hell is hot right now, ratings-wise. Lazy-minded producers have discovered that, to make prime-time programme, all you need is a hidden camera, a few disgruntled members of the public, some CCTV footage and a title that contains the phrase "from hell" - Neighbours from Hell, Hotels from Hell, Taxi-Drivers from Hell and so on.

What is in this kind of programme for the viewer? The chance to snoop, of course, and the innocent pleasure of enjoying the misery of others. Above all, though, these hell-based programmes offer the opportunity to watch people losing their tempers, filling the soundtrack with amusing bleeps, and even, if we are very lucky, committing an act of crazed, intemperate violence.

Of all the Seven Deadly Sins that are celebrated and exploited in today's culture, it is Anger that has recently enjoyed a surge in popularity. Once rage was the stuff of sitcom; now somehow the made-up stuff - Basil Fawlty thrashing his car with a branch, Victor Meldrew seething with silly-old-man contempt - no longer quite cuts it. These days, it takes the real stuff to tweak the appetite of the public.

Enter Gordon Ramsay. For a while, it was difficult to see quite what this man, a former footballer now a chef, had to offer the world of mass entertainment. He was not the slightest bit funny, rarely said anything of interest, lacked any kind of charm and had a face like an orange. Then, gradually, the reason for his popularity became clear.

He does rage very well. He gets angry, he shouts and swears. The humiliation of others, preferably in front of a camera, appears to give him a genuine charge of pleasure. In promotional clips from his programmes, he is presented as our own Basil Fawlty - more scary, a lot less funny, but with real victims to take the place of jokes.

Having discovered that the British like nothing better than watching a person lose his temper and shout at people, ITV producers have gone one better, coming up with the ultimate in hell-related franchises, a perfect vehicle for Gordon Ramsay's showbiz talents, Hell's Kitchen. I had sworn off Ramsay since seeing him humiliate a member of the public who was running a restaurant and wanted the great man's help, but the publicity for his new enterprise has confirmed it has a brilliant formula. Not only does it involve cooking, still something of a craze among couch potatoes, but it has taken its cast of fall-guys from the ranks of the semi-famous (fading sportsmen, ex-celebrity girlfriends, soap actors). They work in a restaurant kitchen where Ramsay does his sergeant-major act on them. So far, the programme has been a TV producer's dream - that is, a complete, absurd disaster.

The kind of embarrassment in which the programme deals - tears, tantrums and, it seems inevitable, walk-outs - is not only demeaning to those who participate but seems to tap into the sado-masochistic mood of the moment. Take a look at Gordon Ramsay and what you see is that familiar British figure: the school bully. Grown up but still glorying in the power that he has over others, he has been given a playground in which he can amuse himself for our benefit.

It might possibly be argued that, just as porn violence is said to provide a harmlessly cathartic outlet, so TV bullying has the same effect. The involvement of minor celebrities as victims, after all, cunningly takes the sting out of the process, for the greater their indignity, the better the publicity.

There is another possibility. By turning the mockery of others into an amusing spectator sport, society makes real anger more acceptable. Bit by bit, what once might have been regarded as yobbish, unpleasant, petulant or anti-social has become cool, a sign that the aggressor has that all-important sense of self-worth. So when journalists reported that Jeremy Clarkson had tried to punch Piers Morgan, the story was told with a measure of indulgence, even approval. He was angry. We all get angry. Stylishly, Jeremy let his fists do the talking.

It is not completely absurd to see a connection between prime-time televised anger and the sort of mindset which causes road-rage incidents, or between popular televised bullying and its more brutal counterpart in, say, a prison in Iraq.

Unusually, it has been a solicitor who has best summed up the mood of the moment. A disagreement with his wife over a piece of garden equipment caused Mr Tim Moore to punch and kick her. "I was not striking out against my wife," he explained to a court this week. "I was striking out against the world."

With a wonderfully universal defence like that, he clearly deserves better than to appear in the "Husbands from Hell" programme which will inevitably soon be on our screens.

terblacker@independent.co.uk

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