Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Birds, Bernini and the blues

Small Boo's been getting well into semi-illicit TV downloads, unearthing old favourites (anyone remember The Changes?) and more current stuff (Torchwood, a show for anyone who quivers with delight at the notion of gay, Welsh Buffy).

But two things have got me stroking my chin in particular in recent days. One is The River Cottage Treatment, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's latest attempt to acquaint us with the gruesome reality of food production.

Ah, that word, "reality". Because yes, much as I like HFW, the vegetarian's favourite carnivore, this is reality TV. Sure, it's the OK end of reality TV, in the guise of Faking It (which James Blue Cat lauded recently), rather than such grotesque efforts as Myleene Klass's new vehicle, I'm A Celebrity, Have I Got Fantastic Tits Or What? But under the perfectly sound idea (Hugh tries to persuade people not to eat shite food), there's the same undercurrent of class-based bullying that taints Jamie Oliver (who, Cockernee mannerisms aside, is as resolutely middle-class as I am, if a few rungs down the ladder from Old Etonian Hugh) and his otherwise noble school meals campaign.

This dirty little secret of British society (we all know class differences are hugely important, but nobody wants to talk about it) threatened to bubble up, like the juice of home-grown damsons through a crumble topping, when Hugh was attempting to get his guests to vow never to buy factory-farmed chickens again. One of his guinea pigs held out, explaining that she had to feed several kids on a tight budget, and free-range chicken was just a luxury too far. "The real world, where I live," she said,"We haven't got chickens running around the farm that we can just kill when we want." She also admitted that she was unswayed by welfare arguments, because she thought chickens were horrible, as opposed to ducks, which are "really, really cute".

Which was the fulcrum for her choice to begrudge an extra quid for a free-range chicken, but to splurge over 15 quid on an organic duck.

And then I realised that this wasn't just a nasty, voyeuristic attempt by Eton 'n' Oxford Fearnley-Whittingstall to give the Essex pleb a holier-than thou thrashing, which he plainly didn't want to do. It was just showing us that the woman was an idiot.

Also on the list was another one of my pet hates, the documentary with dramatised reconstructions. These are OK when the reconstruction actually tells you something (say, how the pyramids were built), but when it just reinforces the script for the slowies at the back, it quickly becomes tiresome. So in Simon Schama's The Power Of Art, it's not enough for the quasi-beatnik don to tell us that Bernini had a cute mistress - we had to see her in the flesh (or at least an actress playing her). The effect was especially pointless, because we then saw the bust that Bernini made of her, which looked nothing like the actress. Most of the show seemed devoted to the soap opera aspect of the sculptor's life, with SS as one point describing him - partly condemning, partly in wistful admiration - as "a complete bastard".

But Schama redeemed himself when he got to the meat of the show, Bernini's Ecstasy of St Theresa. His main point was that Bernini was the first sculptor who was able to render life, in all its fleshly wonder, in marble - even with religious subjects. The Carmelite's face seems to synthesise religious and sexual ecstasy, and Schama was pretty convinced that she was enjoying a shuddering orgasm. And I suddenly realised that Bernini was one of the first artists to depict the creative tension between God and sex, between divine and erotic love, the dialectic that informs the work of Marvin Gaye and Al Green and Aretha Franklin and the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi and so much more. Gian Lorenzo Bernini and St Theresa of Avila as Soul Brother and Sister Number One? As James Brown so elegantly put it, "I feel good!"


Anonymous said...

There was a "Start the Week" on Radio 4 last month where Charles Saumarez Smith was lambasting Simon Schama for his graphic reconstructions. Schama got his own back towards the end by describing one of Smith's ideas as "complete bollocks".
It reminded me of Baddiel & Newman's Professors - "that's your face, that is!".

Anonymous said...

Looks more like indigestion than an orgasm to me, but what do I know I've never had indigestion.

Molly Bloom said...

I applaud your comments about HFW and JO. It's quite interesting that you can dip out when you can so easily dip in again.

I love the idea of Etonians, donning unwashed hair and climbing trees when they know that they can always get a job at the Corporation when they are 18.

One of my bugbears.

And when you see it every day of your life. The way that kids desperately try to make a change to their lives and eat well, but you know, it costs a lot. Every day, at the end of the day, we share tangerines and talk. It is really lovely. We listen to music and eat tangerines. It is a simple gift, but something so special. Oh dear...getting choked up. I hadn't really thought about it before. Every day...what does it cost? To share thoughts and to listen and to play music. And something as simple as a tangerine. It is lovely and we look forward to it. We have lost a common sense of decency and giving. I hope that simple acts bring it back.

I was watching kids dancing today at lunch in my room. Again, we had music and they had pieces of material and they were making up these incredible dances. Sometimes the simple notions of community and togetherness are lost and people do not 'see' the less empowered working together to do some good.

Listening to others, I learn so much. There is always a cupboard of food and drink where I work in my room. What does it cost me? A fiver each day...but means so much to me and, I hope, to them.

I sound like a twat. I'm sorry.

Billy said...

That woman was right though - ducks are cuter than chickens.

In the religious ectasty/sex crossover category I feel Take Me To the River by Al Green is the best example.

patroclus said...

Worryingly, I've always fancied Simon Schama, and now I fancy him even more.

Tim Footman said...

Murph - 'Start The Week' is just so Monday morning, isn't it? I mean, obviously, what with the title and all that. But everyone seems so grumpy and unhappy to be there. Except the bushy-tailed Marr, of course.

Doc: I've always liked the definition of an orgasm as a big sneeze, but from the groin rather than the nose; but I suppose a massively satisfying poo might have a similar effect.

Molly: Can I come and dance with your tangerines? It sounds like you teach at the grooviest school imaginable. The class/food thing annoys me, but she was a very silly woman, and Hugh was right in this instance.

Billy: I pinpoint the whole thing to Marvin's 'Too Busy Thinkin' 'Bout My Baby'... "Sheeee's some kinda wonderful!"

Patroclus: I don't think even the mighty ego of Schama claimed that he'd been able to propel a 16th-century nun to the acme of rapturous rudeness. But I'm sure the campus of Columbia University is littered with wanton sighs, broken hearts and discarded knickers anyway.

Spinsterella said...

Realdoc's comment made me laugh so much I've forgotten my actual point.

I've never had indigestion either.


It was probably something about being vegetarian. Or - Ask Hugh Fucking-Whatsisface to survive on £50 a week.

Tim Footman said...

HFW could easily survive on 50 quid a week. He'd pick dandelions and shoot squirrels.

simon said...

Have to agree with your point about dramatic reconstructions - "docudrama" is the most irritating TV genre since "reality tv".
As for Torchwood being a Welsh gay Buffy - if only it were that good...

Hel Fire said...

i don't like those excessive, overdramatic reconstructions in documentaries either, they really are patronising! i have to admit to liking Torchwood though - i know it's dumb, but it's fun! i watch it with my friends and we always joke about it the whole way through.
at the moment i know too well how hard it is to eat on a budget, i would love to eat organic/free-range food if i could afford it. i think it is good that TV is trying to educate people about healthy eating, but sadly for some people no matter how educated they are about a healthy/ethical diet they still cannot afford it.