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16 June 2003

A guest columnist in the Guardian with the delightfully improbable name of Cherry Potter (apparently she is an author of what I call Pop Novels, but of her output Deborama remains blissfully unaware) has written a little piece on the latest genre of "Humiliation TV". This is not pure Big Brother but travels under the guise of self-improvement. I am not sure if my readers outside the UK (or indeed in the UK) are familiar with the concept so I will encapsulate: "What Not to Wear", where two women confront bad taste in clothing and offer the object of their ridicule a make-over; "How Clean Is Your House", where two women enter a filthy abode, expose it, clean it, etc. and "Would Like To Meet" where two women and a man observe an inept single in painful social situations, criticise him (or her), coach him (or her) and then send him (or her) out to (try to) snag a date with someone they fancy. You probably recognise the formula - it is a slightly sadistic version of the "House Doctor" formula, where a fatally hip estate agent analyses why a house is not selling and then fixes it up, usually accompanied with hearty doses of scathing critique and personal derogation. And these new shows are more sadistic, and more voyeuristic. You can't help thinking it will all end in tears. Indeed there is another show, that Ms. Potter did not mention, possibly because for one thing it does not fit her formula, because the presenter is a man (admittedly a very camp man, but stop me before I slide into Political Incorrectness here) and for another thing because the presenter, Alvin Hall, does not humiliate his subjects so much as shame them, and sometimes even comfort them. This programme, "Your Money or Your Life", has in fact moved me to tears on several occasions. In some ways, YMOYL is halfway in between the basically benign and helpful House Doctor and the frankly catty and unhelpful What Not to Wear, but in another way, it transcends all of these other programmes in that it addresses a very core emotional issue in peoples lives, far more important than their dress sense or even (I can't believe I'm saying this) how clean their house is.

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