Monday 11 December 2017

I'm A Celeb hits a vile new low

* I'm A Celebrity, UTV Ireland
* Ireland And The Terror Threat, TV 3

Bush tucker trial: Ferne McCann on I’m A Celebrity...
Bush tucker trial: Ferne McCann on I’m A Celebrity...
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

So, we're done with this year's I'm A Celeb, which continues its demented quest to find justifiably obscure micro-celebrities and foist them into the zeitgeist.

The problem isn't just that the show is so clichéd, tired and formulaic - this is an ITV production, after all, and the network that once produced some of the finest dramas ever made, has been a creative and artistic vacuum for what seems like aeons.

Look at it this way, their two biggest cash cows are I'm A Celeb and The X Factor. Both programmes have a lot of similarities - they are largely self-funded through the wizard wheeze of getting stupid people to call premium-rate phone lines to cast their vote and, ultimately, that is really what they're all about.

Both shows have also significantly contributed to the great dumbing down of popular culture. The X Factor, particularly, has helped to create a generation of morons who think emotional incontinence and mental fragility are laudable traits, and it's virtually impossible to watch Simon Cowell's preening, self-satisfied face without being reminded of a Roman emperor placating the masses with bread and circuses.

It's all deeply depressing if you think about it for long enough - although I've been brooding on this for weeks, so bear with me if you don't share my exasperation.

Essentially, what we have is a situation where the lumpen plebs are mercilessly milked for what they're worth through those phone lines and they're sold a myth. This myth tells them that they are important to the programme; that they matter and have a voice.

Of course, they don't matter in the least. They're merely cash cows for the producers. But as irksome - okay, bloody infuriating - as these cynical programmes truly are, there was a new, and genuinely unpleasant low, struck on the finale of I'm A Celeb.

I'm no fan of PETA and the sundry losers who tend to gravitate to the more extreme ends of the animal-rights movement. But you don't have to a be a crank to be pretty revolted by the sight of Ferne McCann eating a live spider for entertainment. The treatment of insects has long been a source of consternation on this show, but there was a callous element to the bush tucker food trial that left a deeply unpleasant taste in the mouth, but presumably not as bitter as the aftertaste left by the spider.

There was a time when we used to laugh at extreme Japanese shows such as the legendarily awful Endurance.

But while people like Clive James made a lucrative career out of mercilessly lampooning that sub-genre of extreme TV, Endurance now looks positively tame.

Yes, yes, I know. Spiders are neither cute nor cuddly, and you're never going to have celebrities fronting a charity campaign urging people to be nicer to our eight-legged friends. But they feel distress and the whole point of the exercise involved McCann freaking the creature out so it would curl up into a defensive ball - thus making it easier to chew and swallow.

In a weird way, I admire her moxy, because I can't stand spiders: they're one of the reasons I've never been to Australia to be honest with you. Some of arachnid horror stories I've heard from Oz have given me sleepless nights. Also, I understand that she wasn't given a task which involved her munching down baby dolphins or hunting and killing her own polar bear. But this was still, fundamentally, a deeply unpleasant and utterly unnecessary piece of animal cruelty, which involved eating a live creature on television, purely for the grotesque and ghoulish enjoyment of the viewers.

The producers have pointed out that it's not uncommon for people in South America to regard certain spiders as quite the prized delicacy.

But those people live in the Amazon, for heaven's sake, where you better take your food where you can find it. They're not desperate Z-listers willing to do whatever it takes to boost their profile.

Actually, I've just thought of a similar programme much closer to home than the fabled Endurance - it was that slot on late night 90s Channel 4 yoof show The Word, which featured a segment called 'The Hopefuls', who were desperate wannabes doing desperate things to get five seconds of fame.

We had contempt for such people back then, yet Ferne McCann is now due to earn millions. It's a funny old world, and all that...

Is Ireland a potential target for a terrorist attack? The answer is, obviously, yes - simply because every Western country is a target and it would be an act of spectacular naivety to presume otherwise.

Ireland and the Terror Threat was TV3's contribution to the debate and, refreshingly for a TV3 documentary, it wasn't entirely terrible. It wasn't particularly great, either, but was still a cut above some of their previous outings.

The Ballymount broadcaster sometimes appears to have the image rights of every closed circuit TV in the country, such is their reliance on grainy footage of eejits battering each other. But this was a more sober assessment of any potential threats and benefited from a relatively broad scope of interviews, even if some of those interviews looked as if they had been heavily edited, possibly for legal reasons. It's well worth catching on TV3's Player.

Irish Independent

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