Richard Jordan: TV should think twice about its thirst for real-life panto villains
During recent weeks, it has seemed that the drama broadcast by television networks has often had little to do with new writing but is instead driven by celebrity meltdowns.
First there was the shouting match on ITV’s Loose Women between regular host Coleen Nolan and guest Kim Woodburn. Nolan cancelled her forthcoming tour, cried on This Morning and has taken a leave of absence from the show. It was car-crash television, but the casualties were certainly not the programme-makers who saw their show propelled into the headlines.
A week later and it was the turn of Channel 5’s Celebrity Big Brother, a show that often enjoys courting controversy. Television soap actor Roxanne Pallett accused fellow soap actor Ryan Thomas of assaulting her. She left the show in a state of high anxiety, and then realised she had made a terrible error of judgement about Thomas (who went on to win the series). She was subsequently paraded on TV and declared the most-hated woman in Britain.
I have found the public and press assault towards Pallett, as well as the fallout of Nolan and Woodburn’s spat, concerning. Both exemplified the toxic culture within parts of today’s entertainment industry, displaying both questionable attitudes and ethics.
Pallett clearly made a stupid mistake but the subsequent coverage was about seeing someone broken. Cynics might argue that this was her play-acting and a well-orchestrated publicity stunt that went wrong. But within these interviews, she has looked like someone who is vulnerable, mentally drained and desperately needs help – not hammering for the viewing public’s entertainment.
Various people she had worked with jumped on the bandwagon with their own attacks on social media, which has seemingly legitimised the bloodsport
Various people she had worked wit jumped on the bandwagon with their own attacks on social media, which has seemingly legitimised the bloodsport. This comes the same month as Ofcom has called for tech giants to be subject to greater regulation and that almost half of internet users in Briton have been subject to harm including online bullying.
Jeremy Vine interviewed Pallett on his Channel 5 show and was criticised by viewers on social media for not being hard enough on her. Meanwhile, over on his Radio 2 show, he had been debating the issue of self-harming caused through cyber-bullying and how the problem needs to be urgently addressed.
I have previously written about the need for better regulation of TV networks in their broadcast of reality television and in the after-support of its participants.
When it comes to celebrity participants appearing across any of these reality show, the public’s attitude seems to be: as the celebrity is getting paid, this makes them fair game.
The television executives behind these programmes are in the business of manufacturing pantomime-style villains. If that means the crucifixion of a low-list celebrity is required along the way, that’s simply collateral damage for the makers. Yet it really tests the old adage that there’s “no such thing as bad publicity”.
One thing: when we think of pantomime, we recall performances of jolly, harmless holiday fun. These shows may profess a similar attitude, but the cruelty and effects on real people say otherwise. The howls of “Get Roxy out” from fans outside the house didn’t have the joyous ring of “She’s behind you”; instead, they sounded like the mob at a hate-fuelled rally.
That’s not to defend Pallett, Nolan, Woodburn or others like them; their behaviour in the first place was unacceptable and makes them complicit. But I don’t know them personally and cannot make a proper judgement – and neither does the public.
What I do know is drawn from what the media chooses to tell us. Pallett claims to have turned her back on fame, and Nolan is taking a “break”. However, I am certain we will see them make emotional comebacks once the media has decided they’ve been kept out in the cold for long enough.
Within all this, the question must again be asked about the responsibilities of the programme makers. The public’s attention quickly moves on as one meltdown ends and another begins, but they are being increasingly played up because they make good television.
However, in these troubling times of growing social division, the consequences of TV’s impact, the examples that it sets, and its power to influence, should not be neglected.