Tuesday 21 January 2014

Benefit of the doubt

Talking of Benefits Street, which I wasn’t because I hadn’t seen it till last night, the One Show isn’t the BBC’s only outlet for one-sided outrage at Channel 4’s vilifying of the unemployed.

What about the Big Questions? I know Craig can’t bring himself to watch it, but I have enough morbid curiosity for both of us.

First off, as people sometimes say when they’re about to reel off a list, this is why I watch it.
I like the way that people always get interrupted when they’re in full flow. I like it when people talk over each other and I enjoy watching shows where the weighting is so unbalanced that individuals with the wrong opinions are humiliated, squashed, mortified, obviously wish they’d never agreed to come on the programme, or that they’d never been born. (When I say I ‘like’ these things, ‘like’ means what I want it to mean.)

Second, the choice of contributor is evidently wholly dependent on his or her potential ability to make sparks fly. Doesn’t matter if he/she is mad, bad and ugly. The madder, badder and uglier the merrier.

Third, it’s always left-leaning. 
Fourth, the audience is always as assorted as a bumper tin of Quality Street.
Fifth, the audience is always LGTB or similar acronym, multi religion, with one hippy and a few fatties.
Sixth, a minimum quota of Muslims must be in evidence.
Seventh, a Jew and/or a rabbi (or an actor wearing a kippah.) (It struck me that there’s a dressing-up box on the way in.)

Eighth, a gay reverend who, when angry, bears an uncanny resemblance to Devil Baby.

Fourth, the questions are loaded in such a way (unfairly) so as to predetermine the outcome.

This week the first question was about Benefits Street.  The gist of it was fairly similar to Paul O’Grady’s gist, which Craig kindly posted in his piece below.  
“It’s one of those programmes to get middle England ‘up in arms’. These people are the sacrificial lambs on the altar of light entertainment and they have gone willingly: a smart tongue has got them to say all sorts and it is a very unfair representation of unemployment in this country. A lot of people do not choose to be on benefits and this is portraying everyone on benefits as doing it because they want to, not because they have to - it's shocking.” 
O’Grady knows just how the unemployed and middle Englanders feel, I’m sure.
Is ‘middle England?’ another word for Daily Mail readers, or what?
Perhaps ‘a smart tongue’ alludes to the way “the TV” exploits the lure of fifteen minutes of fame, the promise of which might tempt the underprivileged and disadvantaged to shoot themselves in the foot for our delectation.

Certainly, TV producers can approach potential subjects with persuasive words and promises, and the footage can be edited later in whatever ratings-friendly ways the editors see fit.  But the unemployed and the underprivileged are telly savvy. I bet they know what they’re letting themselves in for. Bet you.

But  does the programme actually show a bunch of scroungers? I suggest it showed something slightly different. In a way it glamorised naivete and ignorance. It romanticised ingenuity born of desperation.

So, what was the Big Question?
Should scroungers receive welfare? Not really. The question was: “Are the poor being demonised” My answer was “No.”

The resounding answer in the studio was implicitly  “yes!”

“This programme has made children from the street afraid to go to school.” said an indignant spokesman for the street, assuring us he was not speaking for ALL the street.  “It has demonised the working-class underclass who want to work.” said nearly everyone else. ”The real problem is tax fraud” said the lobby for the redistribution of wealth. “Take money away from the stinking rich and give it to the poor” said several of Robin Hood’s merry men. 
“Well,” said someone, “they squander it on gigantic flat-screens and fags.” “Boo” shouted the audience. “No!” disagreed nearly everyone, “use income tax to pay the poor!”  “ People on benefit have fallen on hard times and those who say otherwise are right-wing Daily Mail readers.”

The scapegoat was a capitalist, Charlie Mullins of Pimlico Plumbers. He thought we should use welfare money to generate work. One lady said “I wouldn’t be surprised if he reads the  Sun”

Charlie Mullins

“Guess what percentage of benefit claims are fraudulent. Guess, go on, guess! You think it’s 20% don’t you, you capitalist bastard? Well it’s not. It’s  nought  point something percent so there, you bloody Sun reader.” said Nikki, putting on his glasses and takingthemoffagain. 

I paraphrase (throughout) by the way.

The spokesperson for (not all of) the residents of the street said he has arranged a debate with Channel Four, but the good people of the street are afraid that what will happen is that they will be put into a goldfish bowl, and people will be brought in to disagree with them and put them down, and they’ll be made to look like losers and benefit cheats. Smidgeon of irony there? 

I did watch the B.S. programme last night. In the line of duty. 
In comparison to The Big Questions it came out on top. It was much more entertaining and slightly less predictable. 
That particular episode seemed to concentrate on a couple with two small children whose behaviour completely defeated them. The young dad kept on philosophising in an unconsciously humorous way, which the programme makers obviously took advantage of. I’m not sure if that was unkind. It probably was. 
The absence of any skills whatsoever proved an unsurmountable obstacle to getting a job, until the poor chap took on the role of a door-to-door salesman, based on 100% commission. He made a jolly good salesman dressed in a dark suit and white shirt apart from the fact that he wasn’t actually selling anything, just asking people to donate to a charity, which no-one would. No wonder he gave it up; but he had momentarily been transformed.  What might have been; but it was back to the old tracky bottoms and T shirt for him. His partner seemed too bright to be doing what she was doing. 

There was no proper demonising. There were quite a lot of shots of a lady with a baritone voice - just sitting, lounging or slumped; dispensing wisdom from a sedentary position. That might have been a bit cruel. The social workers were made to look gormless. I wonder if they felt demonized? I wonder if they really were as gormless as they looked -

I see Caitlin Moran has written something about this in the Times. She says she’s from a benefits background too, so she’s qualified to speak about these things. That means I’d better shut up.  


  1. As well as making me laugh, Sue, all that's done is to make me even less likely to watch 'The Big Loaded Questions'.

    Block capitals are needed here: I CAN'T STAND THE PROGRAMME.

    It's the bear-pit atmosphere, the programme's so-obvious-it-could-be-sculpted-onto-Mount-Rushmore preference for heat over light, the invariable leftwards tilt, Dame Nikki's prancing around the studio (to quote an old favourite of ours at B-BBC), the colour-by-numbers-and-colour audience, the inevitable presence of a few ostentatiously bearded or burqad Muslims and, above all, the utter, horrible predictability of it all.

    The attacks on B.S. are a classic media feeding frenzy - with a strong dose of fingers-in-ears-and-tongues-stuck-out political posturing to boot.

    I remember my time on the dole (twenty years ago) and (as I'm the sort of guy, people - including out-and-out scrotes - feel at ease talking to) I remember very well how cocky and boastful some of them were about how they were successfully screwing the benefits system and how they gloated about getting one over on the 'idiots' who worked for a living (and paid taxes.)

    The Polly Toynbees of that time told me such people didn't exist. I knew otherwise.

    My sense then - and even then I liked to quantify things! - was that some 50% of claimants really wanted a job, some 30% were half-depressed, half-contented about being on the dole, and some 20% were hardened scroungers.

    Unless things have radically changed in the last twenty years, B.S. is undoubtedly onto something - despite Caitlin Moran's traumatic experiences.

  2. The One Show, which I must admit to only watching accidentally and segmentally, normally open-mouthed at its mindlessness, is surely one of the most biased of the BBCs programmes. Ostensibly, a frothy magazine for the teatime masses presented by Ken and Barbie, in reality it has a remorseless underlying leftist agenda every bit as naked as say Broadcasting House.

    Last night they had Andy Kershaw presenting yet another moving threnody to the mining community destroyed by the arch-fiend Thatcher, in the guise of a programme about the demolition of pithead baths.

    There was not only no attempt to hide the basic propaganda purposes of the feature, but also it was presented in an ahistorical way with blatant untruths propagated about the issues behind the pit closures, in favour of the very important leftists narrative (with considerable traction in the north): that it was an act of class-war industrial vandalism executed heartlessly by an evil monster.

    1. I think I might start tracking The One Show then. It's shorter than Newsnight and has considerably more viewers. The impact of its bias is therefore likely to be much stronger.


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