Wednesday, January 18, 2012

REVIEW #3 'Saints and Scroungers' BBC One, 16/1/12

Happy New Year and welcome back to that loveable hub of procrastination, inactivity and broken promises, 'The Work Trials'. The first post of the year is a simulblog (if you will) with Tom May over at his 'Window On The World' blog, and consists of a running commentary on BBC1's daytime tabloid shitfest 'Saints and Scroungers' complete with a postmortem from each of us after the fact. Enjoy!

Saints and Scroungers (BBC1, 16/01/2012)

"Where they belong..."

David: Hello.
David: Trying to get comfortable, whilst enjoying the only source of heat in the house (gas fire)
Tom: Hi. Okay, nearly ready to go - time to switch over from what seems to be a fairly mediocre Griff Rhys Jones sketch show...!
Tom: Okay, some sort of countdown?
David: OK 5...

Tom: 4
David: 3
Tom: 2
David: 1, go
Tom: Yep
David: Oh fuck off about “the taxpayer” already.
Tom: Irritatingly perky-businesslike theme music.
Tom: So, who is the Rugby player-jerseyed, slap-headed host?
David: Dominic Littlewood. He always presents tabloid shit like this.

David: Consumer champion, apparently.
Tom: “They are our saints.”
David: Black and white world.
Tom: This gent, dispensing some sort of vigilante justice in typical tabloid TV style.
David: Ironically viewed in the majority by people on the dole.
Tom: “Earning an honest living”. In what context, Dominic? “Get rich at other people's expense”...
Tom: The standard £53 a week for a single person doesn't really seem like “getting rich” to me. (Of course, this is justifiably assuming that the programme is implicating the average benefits recipient in these crimes)
David: Sounds like good business-sense; their only crime was being caught.
David: I THINK I'm joking.
David: Oh fuck off you judgemental autocue-reading, self-righteous CUNT.
Tom: Those "alarm bells", they start to ring.

David: He's a bit wooden.
David: “Hatched a plot”, “Shady means”.
Tom: I don't believe in the veracity of this, oddly... the conventions of the show are just so ludicrous; it is tough to imagine Courtney Campbell as a reality.

The Guthrie Clan!

David: “Clan”?!
Tom: “CLAAAN”.
Tom: Terrible fucking incidental music as ever with these shows...
Tom: A low-key, Tesco's X-Files (the background music)
David: They're only bitter because they let it go on for so long without noticing.
Tom: “Than ahve ahd 'ot dinners!”
David: What's this, The Usual Suspects?
David: The smugness is unbearable.
Tom: Roll up, roll up! And round up yer Ricardo Guthries. Littlewood is intolerably smug, this would-be hard man peering about righteously, hands on hips.

Tom: “Robbing the system blind” - why blind?
David: 'Greedier'?
David: Fair enough, these are isolated incidents, but the underlying message is: 'We know you're all up to something'.
Tom: Yes, the assumption is to implicate a far greater number of people.
David: Coming from that most-respected and skilled profession, the daytime TV presenter
David: WTF is being blurred there?
Tom: Why the blurry screen?

David: The semi-detached house is innocent.
Tom: Ha-ha, ridiculous!
Tom: There might just have been some random gent on a bike, in the distance there.
Tom: “These GUTHRIES”. Not just “These Guthries”.
David: Approximately 0.00000001% of all fraud
Tom: Yes, indeed - a tiny percentage compared to corporate fraud and, of course, the bank bailout on our behalf.
David: I haven't heard “designer clothes” for a while.
David: The 'saints' segment is even more condescending.
Tom: Ah... those saints! Such lovely people down at The Dell.
David: The saints are coming.
Tom: Heart strings, dog stroking.


Tom: “So, you're true Londoner.”
David: Well, I wasn't going to mention it... [His disability] Didn't bother our Dom though!
Tom: Making a laboured point about it all, aye.
David: Prying bastard.
Tom: Interesting how little interest he took in the life history and characters of “these Guthries”. Condemn or pry, seems to be the dichotomy according to whether they have been deemed saint or sinner.
David: I forgot 100% of people were exclusively “good” or “bad”.
Tom: It is a childish view of human nature, this...
David: And it is licence-fee payers’ money that pays for this bullshit.
David: A true saint.
Tom: This person seems affable enough but then why should be held up like this on TV...?
Tom: His 'barriers'...? Ill-defined.
David: Why are no disabled people ever in the 'scroungers' camp?
Tom: Yes, but she [concerned woman] doesn't seem to understand how the economy works. IT'S NOT FAIR.
David: Plenty of able-bodied people have just as little luck.
Tom: “Finally, just when it seemed...” Cliched linguistic formulation from Dominic, in his voice-over there
David: “Light at the end of the tunnel”.
Tom: Little devil horns for the Scrounger in the title lettering. Utterly silly, but I suppose summarising the simple moral stance.
Tom: “Put under surveillance” - our genius host.
Tom: “The devious world of the scrounger”. Oh really? I was holding out for The Strange World of Gurney Slade, myself...
David: “Smile, you're on camera”
David: This is making me want to throw the laptop out in the street.
Tom: Scary... Come and 'ave a go if you think you're bald enough.
David: “The claimants they love to scapegoat”, more like.
Tom: Martial arts buffoonery from him now? [Littlewood inexplicably attired in judo gear]
David: “The poor people they love to harass”
Tom: Reconstruction of a woman crawling on the floor – absurd stuff...
David: Who decides on a career path that leads to the coveted position of DWP Fraud Investigator?
David: The ultimate job’s-worth.
Tom: “An anonymous caller”; now they're the "champ"!
David: The anonymous caller has some balls.
David: And certainly wasn't thinking of any sort of fiscal reward.
Tom: Well, they've got Littlewood on side, as some sort of Grant Mitchell enforcer.
David: Gorgeous complete invasion of privacy.
Tom: A doctor studying video footage constitutes a medical? There's not exactly a scientific method there.
Tom: Obviously, I don't want to prejudge the case (!), but the smugness of the programme’s tone is something to behold.
David: Dom starting to rival Kyle for odiousness.
Tom: More on the Guthries, apparently. Later.
Tom: Sensitive. Piano. Music (Sick-bucket, sadly out of reach).
Tom: “David's very own saint”.
David: Stop saying “saint”!!!!
David: This is lowest-common-denominato​r drivel, isn't it?
Tom: “Damien”? Thought the no-nonsense Estuary tones spoke the moniker “David”...?
David: “Damien”, ironic name for a saint!
David: I wonder if a “saint” is better than a “hero”.
Tom: That’s a tough call for the world of daytime television...
David: I thought the BBC were supposed to be impartial and above this?
Tom: Damien: “Nice hard work 'n' that”. Has he been fed those words?
David: He's had his arse exploited.
Tom: Being fed words by the host, again, there... Littlewood’s interview skills are definitely on a par with Frost in the 1960s!
David: Underlying message: Disabled people should go to work.
Tom: The significant travel issue for a lot of people (not just disabled) is briefly flagged up but NOT explored at all...
David: Acknowledged in passing.
Tom: I've stayed near Finchley Road several times recently - nice part of London. (Irrelevant aside!)
David: Don't worry, there's shite all of note to comment upon that we haven't already.
Tom: The slap-head gives his earnest “Congratulations!” to Damien upon getting a job – after the fact.
Tom: Two years after the fact.
David: Wrapped up in the usual, unlikely, fairy-tale style
Tom: It is repetitive and now utterly saccharine.
David: Bet he wasn't expecting that, certainly not with the camera crew that surrounded him.
Tom: “Mate”, and sundry blokeish uses thereof.

David: Now, Dom's turn to get a proper job.
David: “I liked the way he pronounced 'Guthrie's”.
Tom: Indeed, ha-ha. Who is he anyway? Ex-Rugby player, perhaps?
David: I saw him on The One Show first, but he's also presented things like Don't Get Done, Get Dom and Cowboy Builders on Channel Five, with that well-known consumer champion Melinda Messenger!
David: “Kingpin”!

"Kingpin" Riccardo Gardner

Tom: “Family members”.
Tom: "A minefield of misinformation and multiple identities": a militant milking of the alliteration there.
David: "Empire".
Tom: “Property Empire”, aye... Awww, they were only fulfilling Phil 'n' Kirstie's dream!
Tom: Why the blurring of the left part of the screen again...?

David: The anonymous house is back!
Tom: “Iwl-go'en gains!”
Tom: Criminal empire or property empire? They cannot quite seem to decide.
David: ”Little scam”? I thought this was supposed to be an earth-shattering pyramid of illegality!
David: Why do all job’s-worths look and sound the same?

"We've never dealt with anything this big before at Barnet council... The Niceday box-file just isn't sufficient"

Tom: The lexis used in this programme is often contradictory in the extreme... and yes, the seizers of evidence are incredibly bland.
Tom: “Was there no END to the Guthries' greed...? Apparently not”.
David: How lavish?
David: Cunting Nora!
Tom: “The Kingpin ’imself, Ricardo Guthrie!” This could be the melodrama of a WWF bout or soap-land East End punch-up.
David: “We're paying for it”?!!! You do fuck all, Dom!
Tom: He is portrayed as a moral majority arbiter, on behalf of us all apparently.
David: Autocue readers, the cunting lot of them.
David: Father Todd Unctious.
David: Father Curly Wurly.
Tom: Why do they have this type on the screen? The words are perfectly audible.
David: To make the words hit home with venom.
David: It's like John Stape all over again...
David: It never seems to be the end!
Tom: RECONSTRUCTION. Evil looking gangster types.

David: He really does find punishment rather moreish.
David: I'm just waiting to hear something like “justice is a dish best served cold” etc.
Tom: One of the Guthrie clan will get “160 hours unpaid work” – less than some on the government's "Work Programme" may face!

David: Public purse!
David: CUNT!
Tom: Indeed.
David: Great graphics.
Tom: Unsure how to describe those graphics, but basic – any old font on Word'll do – just about sums it up.
David: I enjoyed that, perversely.
David: Wouldn't want to watch it on my own like.
Tom: No, nor me.

The law is in my hands!


TOM: The latest UK unemployment figures show a rise to 2.69million (8.4%). This is the highest actual figure of those out of work since August 1994: the month before I started at comprehensive school. In many areas, the ratio of applicants to jobs available is astronomical. Yet the practical difficulties of the jobless are barely acknowledged by government or the media; Iain Duncan-Smith’s welfare reforms, involving unreliable re-classification of disability claimants, seem ill-fitted to real lives and the economy.

Our establishment increasingly undermines the concept of universal social provision, preferring the Victorian moral distinctions of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving poor’. As Mr Doolittle characterizes it in Shaw's Pygmalion (1912): "'You're undeserving; so you can't have it.' But my needs is as great as the most deserving widow's that ever got money out of six different charities in one week for the death of the same husband. I don't need less than a deserving man: I need more. [...] Well, they charge me just the same for everything as they charge the deserving. What is middle class morality? Just an excuse for never giving me anything." As Colin Kidd argued in the LRB just over two years ago: 'Cameron risks reviving the distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor, which was hard enough to take when uttered by Conservatives who had risen from the lower middle class, like Thatcher herself or Norman Tebbit, but is impossible to swallow from Cameron and other graduates of Oxford’s Bullingdon Club, who carry out acts of vandalism dressed in bow tie and tails.'

The IDS plans to reform our benefits system are being implemented with unseemly haste, with little consultation, while the plans to reform banking are kicked into the long-grass, our hard-pressed bankers given a five-year period to adjust. Cait Reilly, who has had the startling audacity to kick up a fuss about the small matter of being compelled to work full-time - without pay or prospects - for her meagre £54-per-week benefit, is attacked by a petty, mean-spirited, right-wing journalist. The likes of Moir and IDS seem unable or unwilling to explain quite how such reforms might help rather than hinder such people in finding paid work.

As television, Saints and Scroungers is the sort of hackneyed hogwash that should have been long consigned to widespread ridicule by the satire of The Day Today and Brass Eye. Instead, it continues to hold sway with a significant body of mainstream opinion. Its televisual aesthetics are dire: uniformly drab graphics and fonts; laughable reconstructions; the music a form of pathetic fallacy banally shepherding the audience's emotions. In the title, sequence giant letter-S's stalk the landscape like Orwellian censors.

Presenter Littlewood is noted for such feats as 'teaching a vicar how to be a successful salesman in just one month'. His Wikipedia entry baldly states that 'his personality earned him an opportunity in television', which is as blunt an indication of the state of the nation and its broadcasting as any. As with other tabloid-TV straw men, he is presented as a one-man legal system: taking pugnacious umbrage at those deemed ‘guilty’ while showing paternalistic bonhomie towards those saintly folk assessed as ‘innocent’.

There is an irresponsibly limited view of life: giving viewers an excuse to maintain their black-and-white views of society. For this BBC1 show, depicting the complex real lives of typical Britons would probably blur its simplistic concept of responsibility. Extreme cases become the norm in the world as presented – on a grueling, daily (!) basis – by Saints and Scroungers.

DAVID: To summarise, ‘Saints and Scroungers’ is a deeply unpleasant form of ‘divide and rule’ television that serves no non-cynical purpose whatsoever. Despite its supposed intention of merely exposing those who are deemed to be playing the system to their own advantage and garnering praise for those who enable individuals hindered by disability and similar obstacles to claim what is rightfully theirs, the implication that what is essentially a safety net is constantly abused and vulnerable to corruption never goes away and it is this school of thought that is exaggerated out of all proportion, leaving a bad taste of guilt in the mouths of those who are able-bodied yet find themselves, through no fault of their own, to be out of work. Unemployment is a soul-destroying scenario at the best of times, and negative, self-satisfied television such as this does nothing to help those stuck in a rut feel optimistic about their chances of escaping their plight. The idea that we live in a meritocracy, where unless severe disability has hindered your prospects, your life chances are completely equal to the effort you have put in is excruciating codswallop, and from the point of view of someone exposed to such struggles, this kind of utterly depressing form of programming does nothing to help the emotional state of the fiscally lacking whatsoever. Saints And Scroungers is an utterly blinkered piece of televisual output that consciously chooses not to address the economic obstacles and diverse, unique fusions of circumstances that force the majority of people into unemployment, and is delivered with a sense of moral outrage and self-satisfied smugness that is completely out of place on the supposedly impartial BBC. The celestial level of prestige that is afforded to those who do direct the physically-unfortunate to what they are entitled to is totally absurd in that they are merely being paid to do a job, and the division of the individuals that play a part in the welfare system into simple categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is something a toddler would find reductive and simplistic, What the BBC is trying to achieve by commissioning dross like this is questionable, but as a programme that does nothing to add positivity to the world when you scratch under the surface, you’d be far better off tuning to cBeebies when you’re looking for vivid hope and optimism to inspire your day’s fruitful activity. Certainly, the fraudulent claims that colour the ‘scroungers’ element of the programme are outrageous, but this is because they are isolated incidents rather than the norm, and the programme only serves to fuel the urban myth that the majority of people on benefits are workshy subhuman scum that belong in a cell somewhere, by so closely associating the concept of the welfare system with fraud, when 99% of the time, any dishonesty involves nothing more than petty sums of cash and a sense of desperation centred around keeping roofs over heads and food in cupboards.

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