I haven’t watched all of ‘Benefits Street’, just parts of it and I have to admit it wasn’t very entertaining. However, I have seen the responses to it via the world of Facebook and Twitter and this is really what made me slightly concerned. From death threats to a broad generalisation of everyone in this country who claims benefits the general public have been successfully brainwashed by Channel Four’s poor choice in broadcasting.
At this point it seems important to address the reasons as to why Channel Four actually exists. It began broadcasting in 1982 and was set to be an alternative to the existing BBC and ITV channels. With the station not having to worry about funding it was free to appeal to people on the fringes of society, those that it today seems to exploit, and seemed set on broadcasting more liberal, politically challenging material in the years that Thatcher dominated. It was a platform for independent film making and British Realist Cinema and appealed to a more minute audience as opposed to the mainstream. But importantly it gave a voice to those members of society who were generally otherwise silenced.
In 1993 however this was all set to change as Channel Four had to begin to find their own funding, which was mainly to come from advertising on the station. This therefore meant that it had to begin to appeal to the mainstream, in order to boost ratings, as opposed to continue it’s commitment to the marginalised and minority groups.
However, even if this is the case does it justify some of the absolute rubbish they now seem to broadcast on a regular basis? There’s a whole string of programmes, all dubbed as documentaries which seem to satisfy nothing more than the existence of something I’ve come to call ‘Tabloid Telly’. Shows such as, ‘Big Fat Gypsy Weddings’, ‘Benefits Street’, ‘Educating Essex’, ‘Educating Yorkshire’, ‘Skint’ and ‘The Undateables’ all seem to simply serve to exploit the minorities they claim they are accurately portraying and give the general public something to be apparently entertained by. This is not documentary TV, adding an omniscient narrator does not make something a documentary, rather they are seemingly bizarre or exciting stories (or so the titles suggest) that take up an hour of our precious lives to do nothing more than take advantage of the people they portray.
Something such as ‘The Undateables’, just to take one example, seems to come down to pure exploitation. I think it’s the title they’ve given the show that makes me so angry. To make a programme based around the concept of individuals with a disability starting to date and then naming it ‘The Undateables’ seems shameful. What is it about these people that make them ‘undateable’? The last time I checked having a disability doesn’t make you any less loveable than anyone else. This is Channel Four giving a sensationalised name to a programme, just as something like ‘The Sun’ gives a sensationalised headline for an article, in order to lure the general ignorant into passive viewing or reading. In the same manner as tabloid papers and how they portray their stories, this ‘Tabloid Telly’ and the way in which they name their programmes actually have little to do with the actual content that is then broadcast.
Similarly ‘Benefits Street’ doesn’t seem to have informed or educated anyone about the way in which these people are forced to live, rather has incited hatred and anger among the general public due to clever editing and the way in which Channel Four choose to portray these people. This is a far cry from what Channel Four initially existed to do. As opposed to display the circumstances that made these people the way they are and the way in which society has possibly let them down they simply choose to make entertainment out of them for people like you and me to sit at home and be disgusted at or simply amused by.
Quite simply Channel Four seem to be letting themselves down. The documentaries, and I use the term lightly, they now wish to broadcast are far from being factual and unbiased. They simply exist in order to briefly entertain a bored and unchallenged public, which seems to be reinforced by the idea that most of them only have a ‘one off special’ status. As opposed to continuing to represent people at the fringe’s of society Channel Four has taken their once loyal viewing category and turned them into what it is they use to entertain the masses. It almost seems reminiscent of freak shows, Channel Four seems to have stooped to this level, taking minority groups and displaying them in front of everyone in the mainstream for nothing more than their general amusement.