Square Eyes #4

Posted in TV
By Mansoor Iqbal on 27 Jan 2010

Most people I know who don’t belong to my parents’ generation have smoked cannabis. Many of them, ranging from those who could be in Cypress Hill (if they could rap) to those who just like to relax at the end of the night, still do. Of course, statisticians are well aware of this and have produced the expected numbers. These figures could be used as evidence of an ingrained part of the culture of the young (and young-ish), or as a dangerous epidemic of shameful disgrace.

A program about it runs the risk of preaching to the converted, whatever side it comes down on, and enraging the other side to the point where all they can do is smirk. Cannabis: Britain’s Secret Farms (BBC3, iPlayer until 01/02) remains on the fence, but in doing this succumbs to the other potential danger – telling us what we already know. Pointless.

One of the things that we all know is that smoking can give you the fear. That’s exactly what I get when I watch a sketch show. Years of Little Britain and Catherine Tate and other efforts aimed at yokels have not left me with high expectations. Unguarded moments have even found me yearning for the Fast Show, hardly the holy grail of, well, anything. So when I saw Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson were in Bellamy’s People (BBC2, episode 1 iPlayer until 28/01) I thought maybe I could at least avoid vomiting/crying. While watching it I found myself making a strange noise. Was it the vomit? It was more alarming than that, I was laughing. It’s clever but not too clever (no danger of that), and does a wonderful job of caricaturing Britain’s idiots. I’ve previously mentioned I dislike racial stereotypes in American primetime programs. Bellamy’s People somehow manages to get away with it, perhaps as it conveys an important truth – that at the end of the day, being an idiot is largely a personal decision.

What do you know about Winnie Mandela? For that matter, what do you actually know about apartheid in South Africa, except that it happened? If the answer to those questions is ‘lots’, than you can skip The Real Winnie Mandela (BBC4, iPlayer until 01/02), as the hour it lasts only permits a tiny glimpse of a fascinating and tragic life. It manages to contain an impressive amount of troubling moral questions, many of which pierce beyond the scope of the particular circumstances, and allows us to see the extremes that oppression can push people to. The old news footage is a delight, and serves as a good introduction to how truly brutal apartheid was. It also serves as a welcome reminder that our idiots are no match for the pricks that were allowed to run South Africa for so long.

A History of Christianity (BBC 2, episode 2 iPlayer until 28/1) was first shown last year. I wish I had watched it, as going by the Catholicism episode, it’s pretty interesting. Maybe that’s because of the spread of this imperious branch of Christianity reminds me of Star Wars – it really helps that Benedict XVI looks like Emperor Palpatine. That aside, seeing how Catholicism took shape and came to be the largest branch of the Christian faith is certainly quite illuminating.

Illuminating is certainly not what the first episode of The Bible: A History is (Channel 4, 4od until 05/02). I respect Howard Jacobson for trying to find the middle ground between religion and atheism. Religion certainly has value beyond its practise. The problem is his harping on about art and literature doesn’t really get us anywhere. It’s ineffectual in the face of zealous atheists and sycophantic in the face of the properly religious. If you were trying to reconcile the two worlds, I’m not sure this would bring you any closer to a resolution, apart from that it’s definitely more fun listening to religious folk saying ridiculous things than watching atheists get in rage.

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