Friday, 22 January 2010

Pointing the finger

If you subscribe to the Richard Littlejohn worldview (and if you do I can recommend some powerful anti-psychotics), you probably think the world's going to hell in a handcart. You take a look at the youth of today, and you see a general lack of respect, work ethics and comprehensible dialect.

So whose fault is it? Well, obviously not the parents, because that causes some uncomfortable questions to be asked.

It's much easier to pass the buck and blame someone else. And today's easiest scapegoat is reality TV, particularly Big Brother and I'm A Celebrity...

A recent survey of 800 teachers found that the vast majority feel that reality TV shows have had a negative impact on pupils' behaviour. Reporting on this study, the Daily Telegraph rather cleverly picked out one quote from Robert Holroyd, Head of Repton School in Derbyshire, who said that "teachers should encourage pupils to watch the news and read quality papers including The Daily Telegraph to provide a reality check."

According to Holroyd, "An increasing number of young people think that celebrity status is available to everyone, usually through television." But I think he's missing the point. The fact is, celebrity (in its current incarnation at least) has indeed been democratised and devalued to the point that people can be elevated to that glittering status simply by remembering to turn up for work.

Thankfully, not all 'reality' shows are in his bad books - he clearly has some time for Britain's Got Talent: "At least that may make children look at their own performance and think 'what would Amanda Holden or Simon Cowell say about me?'"

So fly-on-the-wall shows are bad, but it's OK for young children to spend time worrying about how that notable icon of talent and tenacity, Amanda Holden, might judge them.

After a couple more well-chosen shout-outs for the Telegraph, the article points out that this study follows "research from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers which warned access to inappropriate TV was turning young children into Vicky Pollards." And that's precisely the problem with studies that are quick to place the blame for these kinds of social issues on popular culture.

The reason Vicky Pollard resonated with TV viewers is that, like most comedy grotesques, she represented a painfully familiar truth. Vicky didn't create chav culture, she simply reflected it.

Whether you're blaming faux-documentary formats for unsustainable ambitions for our young people, or using outdates comedy characters to define society's ills, it's clear that reality is in the eye of the beholder.

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