Reality TV show producers are getting really desperate for topics. On the face of it, this would seem unlikely, given that reality is infinitely interesting, but to run out of ideas you have to redefine “reality” in a novel way. You have to take the word “reality” to mean “Start from an absurd premise. Gather a few people with moderate to severe psychological problems. Put them under pressure until they break.”
Granted this sounds like the actions you’d expect from a cult. So, it’s appropriate that a new UK Channel 4 “reality” show is called Make me a Christian. A crack team of four types of Christian try to change a comically diverse set of subjects.
Charlie Brooker’s introduction to this series in Saturday’s Guardian said more or less all you ‘d want to know about it.
In true oversimplified TV-conflict tradition, it’s a clash of absurd extremities. The Christians, for instance, consist of an evangelical preacher, a lady vicar, a Catholic priest and – very much heading up the pack – the Reverend George Hargreaves, founder of Operation Christian Vote, and the Christian Party, and the Scottish Christian Party, and the Welsh Christian Party. If it’s Christian and a Party, chances are George is its figurehead. He scatters Christian joy like a muckspreader flings shit: indiscriminately and everywhere.
Said Christians are pitted against a group of volunteers containing the following widely representative social types: a lesbian schoolteacher, a tattooed militant atheist biker, a white Muslim convert, a boozing fannyhound who claims to have slept with over 150 women, and a lapdancing witch. Nice work, C4. I’m sure we can all learn from this. Let battle commence.
The atheist (militant, tattooed, biker, yada, yada) complained about brainwashing. He refused to even go into York Minster, on the grounds that it was built just to keep the peasants down and had nothing to do with the “love” that this programme is supposed to be about. Well, this may have been pretty a statement of fact, but his attitide didn’t exactly endear him the other volunteers. The others hated him for his strident opposition, seemingly becoming more responsive to the evangelical message just to prove that their manners were better.
While the evangelists were cleaning out the suspiciously generic items of decor in the lesbian’s and lapdancer’s homes, the Catholic priest was bringing fresh kitsch to the home of the 17-year-old lapsed catholic father-to-be. A terrifying picture of the Pope, for instance. Some icons. You know the sort of thing. The participant’s girlfriend drew the line at one item of sculpture. “I don’t think that a dead man hanging on a cross is a nice thing to have hanging up in your house.”
When I say that the decor was “suspicious,” I mean this in the sense that the mansions of minor rock stars are suspcious on MTV Cribs. Just as the owners of many Cribs don’t seem to have ever walked through the front door before the start of filming, these people’s homes seem to have been madeover in special “reality” mode. They didn’t seem to have a book or a photograph that didn’t fit into their TV programme persona. You didn’t see the random trash that turns up in real people’s rooms. The witch’s books seemed to have been bought by the yard from the New Age section of Waterstone’s. It looked as if none had ever been opened.
She didn’t really seem like a great reader. For a start, she’s a lapdancer and would-be glamour model who has had her chest and nose cosmetically enhanced and who owns thousands of pounds worth of hideous and expensive shoes. Call me a godawful snob, but there is nothing in that list that you would usually associate with the profile of a deeply philosophical thinker.
She was a great crier, though. She was sobbing at the first suggestion from her selected christianiser that her lifestyle may not be ideal. Well, he put it much more forcefully. He said she was chasing the false idols of materialism and demonic powers and was on a trajectory to hell.
Her achievements to date don’t suggest philiosophical depths, but they do suggest a pretty low level of respect for herself and an excessive willingness to please. So, she seemed to me to be fair game for a conversion.
Her evangelist clearly felt the same. He said “She is a broken lady … but it’s a good place to be to welcome Jesus into your life.”
How transparent is that? The more fucked up the person, the more likely that the Christian can get them to accept Jesus into their lives, yada yada. What was it the biker chap said about brainwashing, again?
The religious converters have been recruited as a spiritual makeover team. The equivalent of those TV presenters who tell receptive morons how overweight they are, how filthy their houses are or how badly they are dressed.
It’s exactly in tune with standard reality tv – a messed-up person is encouraged to fall to bits on camera for the entertainment of the masses. In return they get access to the magic of fame and, if they are really lucky, a couple of years in which they are mildly interesting to the readers of Heat and can earn good money for nothing.
I tried to come up with good arguments for why the existence of a religious makeover show is even more disgusting. But I’m not going to bother. It just somehow seems even more repellent when religion comes into it.