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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Television is dull…

…but not all the time. If you don’t look at the listings page and life’s busy schedule halts the urge towards the sofa, then television may take up two hours tops a week, unless Euro 2004 is on. The invasion of reality programming provides no real attractions. Big Brother, Survivor and the Sex Diaries of Ayia Napa don’t entice. (The last one is made up but the outline is on my desk, if there are any budding producers out there!)

The only time that couch potato indulgences come into play is on holiday. A recent vacation in Visby provided insights into the enthusiasm of Swedish tv for US sitcoms. Square eyes are developed after a couple of snifters before hitting the clubs (pre-season doubles of scotch are obligatory given Swedish beer prices). It was during these preparations that I came across the programme, Swag.

The series was first introduced on porn-lite, history heavy Channel Five in 2003, under the auspices of Guy Ritchie, and involves enticing the criminal element and potential lawbreakers to demonstrate their stupidity on camera. Some of the celebrity stunts are clearly staged but others demonstrate a naive verisimiltude that only chavs could provide. In the first series, one likely lad was so enraged at being trapped in the car, he stabbed a cameraman with a screwdriver.

Two examples of the programme will suffice: an open lorry with boxes of goodies, tempting for the greedy, and transforming into a cage which is driven around calling upon onlookers to look at the imprisoned thief; or the driver, who took a disabled spot, and returned to find her car encircled by a chain of wheelchairs.

Reality television has included a number of themes over the past decade: preying upon the self-indulgence of the would-be famous, manufacturing celebrities out of the public and wielding the intrinsic voyeurism of documentaries. Ritchie has demonstrated that this medium can also tap into other basic human reactions: the anger that people feel when they see a clear transgression such as theft, and a sense of justice at the comeuppance of a budding criminal.

3 comments to Television is dull…

  • And the new series of Swag has a new gimmick: they interview the criminals afterwards. It’s brilliant. It just doesn’t dawn on them that anything they say might be viewed negatively by viewers.

  • Guy Herbert

    That’s actually the weakness. Rather than (as it superficially appears) punishing these scum by playing practical jokes on them, the program actually rewards their behaviour an appearance on TV and an opportunity to self-reinforce in front of the cameras. (Bear in mind they probably have to sign releases for the material they are involved in to reach the screen.)

    That Ritchie was involved, if he was, is not completely surprising. Swag represents another branch of the disgusting British popular love affair with dim and vicious petty criminals as amusing, loveable cheeky chappies ” ‘oo never did any ‘arm to ordinary people”, that he has exploited so well.

  • Apparently, Ritchie came up with the idea as a response to Madonna’s bike being nicked.