Cast-iron nannies June 28, 2007Posted by Zenobia in class matters, food, media.
Today I’d like to talk about a certain type of reality TV show: the kind that follows a group of people, over several weeks, in a quest for self-improvement and a better life.
Let’s start with the above beaming benefactress, Gillian McKeith. For those of you who don’t know, she is a holistic TV nutritionist, who believes that chlorophyll is good for you to eat because it’s full of oxygen. On the plus side, thanks to her we have more delicious, tasty blueberries and cranberries in the shops. On the downside: everything else about her and then some is terrible. Her usual schtick is to get a bunch of people on a show, either celebrities (such as Pop Idol winner Michelle McMannus) or regular people, in order to reform their dietary habits. She then shows them a table full of a week’s worth of their diet – typically reddish brown and oozing with grease. She then shows them a table full of what she would like them to eat in a week – more of it, and it’s all green and delicious-looking. Except the contestants are always futile ignorami who don’t like vegetables, so she persuades them that vegetables are nice – not by steaming them lightly with a bit of butter, but by grinding them, raw, into smoothies, and making people drink them.
But first things first: she needs to examine stool samples, which she then badgers the contestants about, telling them in no uncertain terms that they are bound for premature coronary meltdown. In the case of Michelle McMannus, she actually got a trolley full of pig fat to show her how much excess weight she was carrying. I don’t know if she does that to anyone else.
Over the course of the next few weeks at the price of much effort and bullying, our heroes will stoically and virtuously shed at least some of their excess weight. I seem to recall poor Michelle cried (although it’s hard to remember, she seems to cry very easily), and wasn’t allowed parsnips or a glass of wine on Christmas day. I was quite amazed at her willingness to be humiliated by this dietary Thatcherite, but then again she did go on Pop Idol.
I find these programmes strangely magnetic, and very hard to resist, whether McKeith is involved or not. I can think of two more quite memorable ones.
One time I saw this programme on Channel 5, where this club owner named Marcella was being reformed by two very stern ladies vis-à-vis her dietary habits. When Marcella was around, she was all sheepish and apologetic about her body and her eating habits – one thing she was chastised for was her fondness for cheese, and her chaotic sleeping pattern. When she wasn’t around, the two stern ladies poked long sticks at a blown up image of Marcella’s underwear-clad form, pointing out the various folds, flubbery bits, her yellowish skin colour. Interestingly, they attributed foot fungus to poor circulation due to being overweight. And there I was thinking it was, well, a fungus. I mean, it’s called “athlete’s foot”. And Marcella didn’t look all that athletic, but neither was she exactly what you would call fat. Anyway, the weeks went on, and she was found to be lacking in willpower to follow her diet – always the voice of the cheese calling from the back of the fridge: “I am eeeeevil! Come and eat me!”. So one of the stern ladies dispatched herself to Marcella’s house. I think I switched channels then, but you could tell by the click of her heels on the pavement that she meant business.
The other programme I saw on TV at a hotel in London. I think it was on ITV. It had little to do with diet, in fact the mealtime advice dispensed seemed more conducive to an early grave than most things I’ve seen on TV. But who cares! Because this lucky family were going to win a trip to Florida! That is, learn how to manage their finances in order to afford such a trip.
Enter the family: mother who works as a part-time cleaner, father of indeterminate profession (possibly a factory foreman), a little boy and girl, and an evil, selfish blonde teenage daughter (estimated household income: not much). They think they can’t afford to go on holiday in Florida, but they’re wrong, because they are being visited by a lady TV presenter (estimated income: oodles), who is going to teach them how to budget properly (cause that’s how rich people get their oodles of cash: they’re not stupid, unlike poor people). The first thing is to reform these people’s shopping habits.
A trip to the supermarket reveals that the selfish husband and kids are too reliant on brand name foods. These are to be banished in favour of value tins of baked beans. But think of that lovely, tacky resort in Florida, which will prove that you are paragons of virtue! Next, the kids need to get jobs. The two younger ones do quite well, and the teenage daughter already has a job in retail. But she commits one huge act of selfishness: she spends £50 of her own earnings on a dress for a party. Thankfully, she is being stalked by the TV presenter, who catches her in the act and tells her off in front of the whole shop. The mother gets a second job as a flower-arranger (cause that is the kind of job you can just walk into as a part-time cleaner with no qualifications). The father agrees to be a little less of a male chauvinist pig and helps out around the house a bit.
Result: they prove themselves, only just, to be worthy of a trip to a resort in Florida that’s worth maybe a week of the presenter’s pay. They’ve abandoned those vices of the working classes: a healthy diet, and free time. They’ve learned to be better people and care for each other. They’re stupid, so they needed a TV presenter to come and tell them.
Yeah well, it was ITV. But there is something distinctly Thatcherite about these programmes. If you’re fat or sick, it’s because you’re ignorant or stupid, not because you can’t afford good food. If you can’t afford to take your family to a resort on holiday, it’s because you’re weak-willed and incapable of budgeting, and you have vices: you spend £2.50 on a pint sometimes, or at the most £50 on a dress. And what’s with all these bossy alpha females, telling women what to eat and do, poking sticks at images of their cellulite like they’re a map of a possible exploratory trip to the volcanoes of Iceland? And what’s this telling mothers they’re too soft with their kids? Why is the TV covered in these cast-iron nannies from TV-Land telling people how low and unsophisticated they are? You’ll also notice that the women in these shows are distinctly less liberated than their TV-presenting counterparts. But that’s because they have bad habits because they’re poor. See? Equality is a privilege, not a right: some are born with it, others have to live on baked beans for it, or possibly rob the sperm bank in order to produce a nice rich people’s baby. If more people understood this, they would live richer, fuller lives! Or maybe they’d finally start throwing pies at those interlopers poking through their garbage.