Terence Blacker: We are the real savages of the show

Related Topics

The celebrities-in-a-wood show is back on TV. A Page Three girl has eaten a kangaroo's testicle and was worried, rather touchingly, that she might become pregnant. The show is a sort of annual ritual which follows a predictable routine – the pretty one in the "jungle" strips down to a bikini, the mad one gets madder, the presenters giggle on the sidelines, and so on. Outside, familiar controversies are revisited, too.

The RSPCA has claimed this week that there is "no excuse" for the way animals are harmed or distressed for human entertainment. In response, the production company behind the reality show has explained "qualified and experienced animal and insect wranglers" are on site throughout the programme.

The more interesting, wider debate is not so much about cruelty as wildness. The point of the programme is to take a group of pampered, metropolitan celebrities, put them in a TV jungle – in reality, an outside set in a compound near a hotel. They are then pitted against the terrors of nature: snakes, rats, "creepy-crawlies", testicles.

The RSPCA is right about the exploitation of animals – the most experienced insect-wrangler in the world is of limited use when the insects are being eaten – but there would clearly be no programme at all if nature were not presented to those in it, and to those watching it, as being savage, poisonous, scary, dangerous.

As the late Roger Deakin wrote in one of his notebooks, recently published as Notes from Walnut Tree Farm, these programmes do harm by presenting nature as a threat, "compounding the couch-potato problem by actively alienating nature".

When the wild is reduced to something scary, full of "creepy-crawlies", then it is unsurprising that animals are seen as a source of entertainment. The idea that creatures have their own moral integrity, that it is simply wrong and undignified to film some semi-famous idiot eating them, or being crawled over by them, would never occur to those providing the entertainment.

Those people have not, as yet, claimed that by using animals in this way they are adding to popular understanding of wildlife and conservation, but that moment cannot be far off. Fraudulent arguments about education and the environment are regularly deployed by those exploiting wild animals for their own gain.

This week, when the Atlantis Hotel, said to be the world's most luxurious, opens for business in Dubai, its enclosed Dolphin Bay will, according to the owners, be the country's first rescue centre for dolphins. The truth is a little more complex. The bottle-nosed dolphins with whom guests can enjoy "shallow-water interaction" were bought in the South Pacific and shipped to the Middle East. The Whale and Dolphin Preservation Society have rightly pointed out the hypocrisy of Atlantis's claim to be committed to conservation and animal welfare, while supporting the international trade in dolphins. The same hotel had, until a row forced a change of plan, announced that an aquarium containing a 13-foot shark would be in the lobby.

There is a connection between writhing, giggling celebrities in their fake jungle and Dubai's Dolphin Bay. For both, wildness is excitingly alien, a source of thrills and laughter to be exploited for jaded, sated human appetites and for profit. A few clichés about animal welfare and conservation will divert critical attention away from the squalid and greedy acts of exploitation which are taking place.

As a result of their efforts, there is less understanding of, and sympathy with, the way the natural world works. It is the humans – tourists, television viewers, insect wranglers – who are being demeaned, not the animals.

The new Jim Davidson – only not as funny

Anyone who has become confused by the great debate over what is permissible in the area of public humour after the Brand/Ross debacle might usefully study remarks made by the painfully ambitious jokester Jimmy Carr in an Independent interview this week.

Asked to justify a string of wife-battering jokes, Carr explained that members of his audience "recognise a liberal, slightly over-educated man telling jokes and playing with what you can and can't say".

This superficially subtle argument is utterly bogus. A comic routine about beating women up is not rendered harmless by the self-proclaimed liberal niceness of the person telling it; if anything, it reveals the cynical ambition of someone who wants to get dodgy laughs while retaining his credibility. As for the tired old "playing with the form" line, that has been deployed as an excuse for too much unreadably self-conscious fiction to be taken seriously.

Carr rejected a comparison with Jim Davidson – an incomparably funnier comedian, incidentally – on the grounds that he had no respect for him. If this passes for reasoning among the over-educated, our universities are in worse shape than we had thought.

Westminster plays humbug

Glad tidings for all men: there will be no need to hark the herald angels singing outside Debenhams on Oxford Street this year. Westminster Council has ruled the soundtrack, which normally accompanies the store's Christmas window display of moving reindeer and snowmen, is a form of noise pollution.

Here is the first sign that hard times might just possibly encourage a new, more contemplative Christmas, with the vulgar marketing racket turned down, less bloated consumption and a reduction in triumphalist, aggressive carol-singing. You do not have to be Scrooge to welcome these things.

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: Sales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued expansion, an ...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£65000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A long-established, tech...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Software Development Project Manager - Kingston Upon Thames

£55000 - £60000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Experienced Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: Most powerful woman in British politics

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
All the major parties are under pressure from sceptical voters to spell out their tax and spending plans  

Yet again, the economy is the battleground on which the election will be fought

Patrick Diamond
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders