by Shane Thomas

As a child, one of the personal highlights of my week was being allowed to stay up late to watch Spitting Image on a Sunday night. The show used caricatures of puppets to satirise and lampoon those in the public eye, especially Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government.

Not long after David Cameron was elected Prime Minister in 2010[1], a friend was trying to find a silver lining. He mused that at least we would get a shedload of great art. His reasoning being that the actions of a draconian government would produce a ferocious reaction of resistance from the nation’s artists.

While I suspect my friend was trying to soothe himself with this argument, he made a decent case. However, a look at the television landscape shows a barren terrain for programmes that tell the stories of those under the thumb of modern day Britain.

Not to have a “La Vie en Rose” remembrance of the 1980’s, but during that era, Britain produced programmes such as Boys From the Blackstuff[2], A Very British Coup, and The New Statesman[3]. These shows weren’t just borne from the politics of Britain, but were also an act of sheer anger against those who were running the country.

And when you look at Britain today, there’s more than enough to be angry about. Despite a vulnerable economy, tax evasion remains a huge problem, yet one the government seem reticent to fix. However, they have no quarrel with training their spotlight on the comparatively less pressing issue of benefit fraud – unless it’s one of their own, of course.

Then there’s our policing. It’s not only America that has a problem with the institutionally racist treatment of black people. Not to mention the misogynoir towards its own officers. Statistics for the crimes of rape and intimate partner violence also reveal the quotidian prevalence of violence against women in our country.

The Lord Mayor of the City of London's annual Dinne
The Lord Mayor of the City of London’s annual Dinner

Trying to find affordable housing – especially in London – is now a trial of Herculean proportions, being even more difficult if you’re not white, and lest I omit our worrying attitudes towards migration.

Televised depictions of the working poor once had genuine warmth and empathy in shows like Only Fools and Horses. Now, we demonise and shame them with programmes like My Big Benefits Family. This is all underpinned by huge social inequity, and the way that hegemony is represented in our media.

It’s a veritable cauldron of atrocity, and by no means covers the totality of Britain’s faults. While America is hardly a progressive utopia, people like Melissa Harris-Perry, Jon Stewart and John Oliver have outlets to speak truth to power. So, where are the British equivalents[4]? The people who shine a light on our country, and say, “This is absolute bullshit”.

For clarity’s sake, when I evoke anger in this piece, I don’t mean indiscriminate fulminating. I mean fury of the righteous kind, that attacks the core of injustice. Take a look back at history: the Stonewall riots; the March on Washington; the ANC’s fight against apartheid. They didn’t spawn from an atmosphere of tea and candyfloss. They all began from a place of anger.

But British television has lost its anger, and with it, much of its potency. Despite the expansion of channels, and the multitudinous platforms to watch our favourite shows, the television remains the closest thing we have to a communal experience. It’s never “just the telly”. It’s one of the most significant authors in the story of Britain.

The NHS was butchered by the government with barely a flicker of anger in our prominent media. You can barely move for coverage on the perils of ISIS or “Jihadi John”, but the everyday blight of Islamophobia produces a negligible response.

Of course, the people who want to use television to address social inequity haven’t disappeared. But they’re being shut out from television’s mainstream avenues, as channels seem terrified to do anything that might get themselves on the wrong side of advertisers.

There’s always been a struggle between art and commerce. And now, I’m telling you, art is getting its ass kicked” – Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

Far too much of our television exists as a distraction from our lives, rather than as a reflection of them. From reality TV to game shows to cookery contests, has anaesthetised apathy filled the space where anger once resided? The only regular exception to this is the, at times uneven, but often scorchingly acerbic The Revolution Will Be Televised[5].

To reverse this current state of affairs, British TV needs to look at the inequity in our country, and get angry again. Anger on its own won’t make the change. But positive change can’t be made without it.

[1] – Well, I say “elected”.

[2] – If you’re a Lord of The Rings fan, and thinking the guy in that clip looks familiar, here’s why.

[3] – Anyone else getting remnants of Nigel Farage in that speech?

[4] – It’s embarrassing to think that Oliver had to leave Britain to get free rein to show his talent.

[5] – It’s a show put through a white, cis, male prism, but co-creator Heydon Prowse seems to have the good grace to acknowledge his privilege.

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TWOWEEKSNOTICE “Two Weeks Notice” is Shane Thomas’s bi-monthly column encompassing. Pop culture to sport, and back again

A mixed-race film graduate, Shane comes from Jamaican and Mauritian parentage. He has been blogging about sport since 2010 at the website for The Greatest Events in Sporting History. He is also a contributor to ‘Simply Read’, the blogging offshoot of the podcasting network, Simply Syndicated. A lover of sport, genre-fiction, and privilege checking, Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).

 

 

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