By sexing up their docs for the teen market, E4 and the BBC look like uncles dancing at a wedding.
Young people, eh? What are they like? No, really, what are they actually like? It’s a question most TV channels want you to answer, as young people are perfect for telly watching: they have internet and TV access, plenty of free time and they want to be entertained. The glaring issue is that they’re too busy Snapchatting their balls to each other to gawp at a box on the wall. So TV needs to entice them back in somehow, and at some point it seems TV just decided to assume all people under a certain age are exactly the same. It is in no way broadly stereotyping due to desperation and laziness. This is research with graphs and shit – it is all terribly serious.
According to television, young people are sex crazed, stupid, into celebz, into generic club music and all exactly identical
The world of Entertainmentville has grouped the young-folk together by assuming that they are all factory-made from one stock, pre-packaged to ensure perfect uniformity. Apparently, they are: sex crazed, easily distracted, stupid, into celebz, into loud, generic club music, only interested in seeing young people on TV, all exactly identical and fans of loud explosions. So when TV channels now commission shows, they shove as many of those things up on screen as possible. It’s the televisual equivalent of being patted on the head and talked to in a slow, childish voice. “Yes, young people – you like sex and partying, don’t you.”
Take Party House on E4. Each week, a group of irritating, horny friends have a party in a house, and E4 films the ensuing carnage. It’s a pseudo-reality show in the style of Made in Chelsea (‘real’, but actually scripted), but about five minutes in you find yourself hoping it’s a horror show in disguise and pray for an axe murderer to show up. Then you feel sorry for the people that have agreed to appear, ultra-edited and forced to ham it up as they are. Finally, you get bored, because merely watching a house party isn’t really much fun.
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Party House is obvious demographic hunting – the whole core ‘idea’ is youth-targeted. But when you try to take a non-hip subject, such as military history, and make it down with the kids it can be a bit trickier, with different, unintended consequences. BBC’s WWI Uncut is doing just that: taking the boring subject of history and sexing it up, rock star historian Dan Snow and his trusty sidekick Michael Douglas (not that one) hosting three short online episodes about various different aspects of WWI. Snow is the expert character, with Douglas his interested yet unknowledgeable sidekick.
WWI Uncut is like sitting in a maths lesson on the day that the teacher has decided it’s his moment to be down with the youth
Such a dynamic is often used in documentaries, but you have to wonder why the guy who wants to learn hasn’t even found out the basics by now. But a guy just explaining history would be a bit dull and serious, so the producers of WWI Uncut have decided to distract you from the fact that you may learn something; firstly through the editing, which appears to have been done by a man who has just snorted his bodyweight in cocaine. We skittishly jump from one shot to the next, never settling on anything for longer than two seconds. The soundtrack includes dubstep and anything ‘loud’. Imagine the offspring of an army advert and Top Gear, and you’re about there.
The overall tone is cringeworthy, all: “HEY, how cool is this gun and this tank? Exciting, eh? Bet you didn’t know history was this cool. DJ, drop a sick bassline”. In reality, WWI Uncut is like sitting in a maths lesson on the day that the teacher has decided that it’s his moment to be down with the youth. So he strides in wearing trackies and a hat on backwards, and starts rapping about finding x.
WW1 Uncut is at least interesting, and becomes bearable when it stops jumping up and down trying to impress you. Party House, on the other hand, is pure trash, and not even dumb-but-fun trash. TV execs are, naturally, like most of the higher ups in any company, not 17. So they have to go on guesswork, oversimplified research and intuition to make a show for the yooves. Imagine how hard it would be for you to design an activity that a ten-year-old would enjoy and you’ve got the picture.
TV’s top brass solve this issue by just making a show for a stereotyped demographic. It’s basically a lowest common denominator solution. The trouble is that young people are all different, even if they all look the same from the outside. So the result of the above thinking churns out shows that are either trying too hard, or that become weird caricatures of what people want.
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Featured image: BBC
Inset images: E4; BBC