Terence Blacker: Why have family life, when you can just watch it?

The way we live: Hardly a day goes by without more evidence being provided that humanity is increasingly finding virtual life more comforting, exciting and satisfying than physical reality.

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There are signs at last that, as promised so often, the recession is inspiring people into finding creative new ways of making money. Filming intimate moments in the family kitchen or garden and putting them on the internet, for example, has turned out to be a good little earner.

Not so little, in fact. Howard Davies-Carr, an IT consultant and, more significantly, a dad from Buckinghamshire, has so far earned more than £100,000 after posting on YouTube a few moderately cute incidents featuring his three sons, Harry, Charlie and Jasper. His greatest hits "Charlie Bit Me – Again", "Charlie Bit My Finger – The Accident", "Just Charlie" and so on, have been so popular that the website agreed to share advertising revenue with the Davies-Carrs. Hundreds of other families are making big money by sharing their home videos, according to YouTube.

The full peculiarity of this trend only becomes apparent when one sees the clips in question. They are not, to put it politely, exceptional. The boys are being moderately amusing and sweet in the manner of normal, nicely brought-up children all over the world. Yet a 56-second film of a baby sitting on his young brother's lap and biting his finger has been viewed 387 million times – the equivalent of every man, woman and child in the UK watching six times. Another even more ordinary clip of the boys eating chips has been watched 27 million times. What on earth is going on here?

Unsurprisingly, the online popularity has been exploited financially – or "monetised" as the polite new phrase has it. Apart from the ad revenue from YouTube, there are Charlie Bit Me T-shirts, a Twitter account, articles for camera magazines and an online blog containing more ads.

A touch gracelessly, Mr Davies-Carr has complained on the blog that British journalists are obsessed by the money he has made, unlike their nicer, kinder counterparts from Brazil who see his family values as the big story. The cash, he adds, is incidental and is not particularly needed.

In that case, this domestic exhibitionism seems even stranger. It is a very unusual child who is not endearing at some point and, if a camera is rolling during family meals, capturing those moments is not difficult. To make a business out of promoting them on computers across the world, bringing the children celebrity of a weird and possibly unhelpful kind, would seem a slightly odd thing to do unless there was a desperate need for cash.

It is the viewers, though, whom one truly worries about. Hardly a day goes by without more evidence being provided that humanity is increasingly finding virtual life, seen on the screen and experienced in the head, more comforting, exciting and satisfying than the messy, physical reality.

Just as porn reduces the complexity of relationships to people thrashing around on a bed, so the fashion for heart-warming videos of kiddies and pets doing the darndest things provides a pared-down, simplified version of family life without the rows, the silences, the niggling and yapping over the kitchen table, the boredom.

It is a grim thought that among the 387 million views of "Charlie Bit Harry Again", many millions will be by parents working late at the office or lingering upstairs on the computer while their own children sit in front of their own screens in another room.

The gurgling idealisation of family life has been one of the 21st century's more bewildering trends. The more stressed and confusing real everyday life has become, the more adults take refuge in the edited fantasy of a home video. In the past, dimpled, sentimental views of family life were the province of amiable sitcoms and commercials for washing powder or lavatory paper. Now everyone can play the game, and even make money out of it. Childhood itself is being turned into a reality show, given a celebrity makeover.


Nancy offers us the charms of sex with an Italian accent

Not before time, Nancy Dell'Olio is to write a lovers' guide. Representatives of the mysteriously famous Italian are said to be currently in negotiation with publishers for a three-book deal, with some kind of sex guide as Nancy's first foray as an author.

An opportunity is being missed here. If The Joy of Italian Sex is to be published, its co-author, offering an unapologetically male perspective, surely must be Silvio Berlusconi.

Italian sex, as embodied by Nancy (50) and Silvio (75), has much to recommend it. In a youth-struck age, this pair have shown that sex becomes gamier, more generally interesting, with age. They have both demonstrated that exhibitionism, perhaps even a touch of erotic boasting, has its place in relationships.

While others remain furtive or drearily decorous as they become famous, these two great Italians have become more than themselves, by bringing an operatic sweep and scale into the drama of their everyday lives. They may both be laughable, but they have persisted in playing the great game long after most of their contemporaries have dropped out and opted for an easier life.

Nancy is no longer thundering around the dance floor. Silvio has given up running his country into the ground. Together, they can bring The Joy of Italian Sex to the world.


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