Last Night’s TV: ‘Life Stripped Bare’ and ‘The United States of Hate’
Life Stripped Bare, Channel 4, 9pm
Even the best social science experiments are bit contrived and false, necessarily so. The notorious – yes, I think that is the right word – one that was conducted in the 1960s that turned hippies into sadists, inflicting pain on their fellow psychology students just for the fun of it, springs to mind. Telly experiments are even worse. The best have some approximation to usefulness, like making a Tory MP (Matthew Parris, from memory) spend a month on benefits or something. The worst disappear up their own assumptions.
Life Stripped Bare plainly sought to tell us something about the nature of materialism and what makes “you” “you”. It failed, and took an unconscionable time doing so. The premise was promising. Take three sets of people and strip them of their belongings for three weeks. Including their Shreddies. Then ask them to keep calm and carry on, and return just one of their chattels each day. They’re allowed to buy food, drink and other essentials of life, but no more. I did wonder if this ban included loo roll, but no-one seemed to mention it. Almost as disturbingly, soap and toothpaste were verboten. One of the participants was described by a “friend” as “a bit feral”, and I’m not surprised.
This overlong TV experiment was supposed to reveal what possessions meant to these twenty- and thirty-somethings. The problem was that the one thing these overgrown kids didn’t possess was insight, and there were no talking-head head-doctors to lend them one. The nearest we got to some sort of wisdom was the threesome in the flat-share who decided, having recovered a few clothes, some speakers, a fridge and a car, that they’d have a party in their otherwise empty digs for 40 people, that is with no glasses or cups to drink from (a single saucepan was used as a communal bowl, like something you’d see in a documentary about Papuan tribespeople. But this was in Chorlton-cum-Hardy). So friends matter, in case you didn’t know that. Then there was Heidi, who has approximately 800 bits and bobs, including a mighty 68 vinyl records, who told us, while trying to control her boobs, two precious items she couldn’t be deprived of, that “my stuff defines me”, though she seemed remarkably indifferent to the loss of her Ikea furniture and was happy owning sod all.
Laura and John, who live and work together, but curiously are not a proper couple, looked pretty lost without their creature comforts, and only settled down after they got a mattress each, circa day 6. Auburn-haired Laura owns 200 beauty products and hasn’t been without lipstick since she was a schoolgirl. In her adolescence, she tearfully confided, she felt compelled to use make-up because otherwise she would want literally to tear her freckled face off in a frenzy of self-loathing. But instead of now realising that her natural prettiness required no enhancement, she asked a workmate to apply a black marker pen to her eyelashes. A bit sad, that.
Otherwise there were far too many gratuitous glimpses of lily-white naughty bits and embarrassed bodies scampering down busy streets wearing nothing more than a cardboard box: not revealing, in anything other than a literal sense.
This hour and a half of viewing did confirm some interesting stereotypes about young Britons. The first item chosen by three out of the six was their onesie, a garment unknown to their parents; yet they lived without underwear for the best part of a fortnight. They managed without their smartphones for about a week.
The United States of Hate, BBC1, 10.45pm
If The United States of Hate is to believed, America is the land of the free and the home of the bigot. The US has far fewer laws on race and religious hate than most of Europe, which may explain why in some parts of the US the true nature of Islam and the Koran are so willfully misunderstood. The Koran provides no basis for hatred and violence, or least no more than the more fundamentalist bits of the bible, for example. After all, it was an interpretation of the Christian Bible – the same book beloved of Bishop Tutu and Pope Francis – that was used to perpetuate apartheid in South Africa and its equivalents in the Deep South, lynchings and all. In the right/wrong hands The Cat In The Hat and Noddy Goes to Toyland could no doubt be used to justify bombing a mosque or blowing up a plane. On reflection, forget I mentioned that.