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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 21st November 2004

I'm a Celebrity is sordid TV, but I'll still watch it


What a funny attitude we British have to sex. Why is that celebrities are roundly condemned for the slightest hint of sexual deviance in their private lives, even if it's something as run-of-the-mill as committing adultery or visiting a prostitute, but worshipped as national icons if they indulge in the most outlandish sexual perversions on television? Yes, that's right, another series of I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here is about to begin.

Can anyone be in any doubt about the appeal of this sordid reality show? Think about it. A group of has-beens are marooned in the jungle, including several scantily clad bimbos, and then forced to undergo a series of humiliating "trials" involving worms, snakes, eels and a variety of other phallic creatures. The viewer is turned into a sadistic voyeur in which his or her desire to witness the psychosexual degradation of another human being, preferably an attractive young woman, is satisfied.

In the first series, these subterranean impulses were satisfied by the inclusion of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. She was a suitable subject for this kind of treatment because she was (a) Upper Class, (b) sexually uninhibited, and, (c) a former drug addict. Watching her writhe around on a bed of creepy crawlies, screaming with a combination of terror and excitement, was the reality show equivalent of What The Butler Saw. It was the next best thing to witnessing her being spanked on the bare bottom by Boris Johnson.

The producers obviously cottoned on to the fact that the public got a visceral thrill from watching this kind of thing because by the time the second series hit the airwaves the number of attractive female contestants had doubled.

Now, the bimbo factor has increased again. This year the contestants include former call girl and recovering drug addict Sophie Anderton, one-time lap dancer Nancy Sorrell and ex-bad girl of pop Natalie Appleton. The series might as well be called I've Been A Naughty Girl...Punish Me.

Of course, the programme's makers would never admit that they're catering to this hidden corner of our national psyche. On the contrary, the show only works because everyone involved, including the great British public, is able to pretend that it's all perfectly innocent. This is where the male contestants come in. How can a show that includes Joe Pasquale, Paul Burrell and Huggy Bear possibly be considered sexually risqué?

In this context, casting Ant and Dec as the show's hosts was a masterstroke. A more sexless double-act it's impossible to imagine--they make Little & Large look like porn stars. If a couple of nice young men like Ant and Dec are able to giggle at the sight of a cosmetically enhanced sex kitten consuming a sausage-shaped grub, why then it must all be good, clean fun, right?

Wrong. I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here is the sickest, most perverted series that's ever been broadcast on British television. Needless to say, for the next two weeks I'm going to be absolutely glued to my set.

SILLY BILLY

Not long ago, an American author had a huge success with a book of politically correct fairy tales. As a way of pointing up the absurd lengths to which misguided do-gooders were prepared to go, it was extremely effective. It was the modern equivalent of Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal.

Now Billy Bragg has gone one better. He's joined forces with an obscure Labour MP and rewritten I Vow To Thee My Country, expunging all traces of its "racist" lyrics. "We vow to build a country, Where all can live in health," begins Bragg's version, sounding like one of Tony Blair's speeches to the Labour Party Conference. "Where no child need live in poverty, Where we will share our wealth."

This new version of the song, entitled 'The Many Not The Few', would work brilliantly as a piece of satire about the po-faced piety of dreary, leftwing busy bodies, but I fear Mr Bragg is completely in earnest. He genuinely seems to believe that wedding guests up and down the country will prefer his lyrics to those of the original.

What's next for this thick-skulled socialist, I wonder? A rewrite of Noel Coward's classic entitled 'There'll Always Be A People's Republic Of Islington'? Perhaps a new version of Vera Lynn's famous song called 'The Multi-Racial Cliffs of Dover'? Who knows, maybe he'll release an album of politically correct patriotic anthems. The British sense of humour is such, I can see it going straight to number one.

OUT OF TUNE

On the subject of number one records, I'm not particularly surprised that Bono has thrown a hissy fit about the fact that Justin Hawkins was asked to sing one of his lines on the new version of 'Do They Know It's Christmas'. Was anyone ever in any doubt that Bono has an ego the size of Mount Rushmore?

I've never been convinced by Bono's bleeding-heart routine. If he's so intent on persuading First World countries to let Third World countries renege on their debts, why doesn't he remove his sunglasses occasionally? Or wear a jacket and tie? It might help heads of state take him a little more seriously, even if it did jeopardize his rock 'n' roll image.

It was precisely because Bob Geldoff was prepared to put his own ego to one side that the original Band Aid record was such a success. He set an example, and the rest of the world followed. Unfortunately, Bono is no Bob Geldoff.

NIPPED IN THE BUD

Is this a trend I see before me? First Gwyneth Paltrow called her baby "Apple" and now Claudia Schiffer has named the latest addition to her family "Clementine". All we need is one more example and...wait a minute! Isn't Bob Geldoff's daughter called "Peaches"? It's official. Fruit names are "in".

My wife and I have been wondering what to call our new baby, due on March 1. We know it's a boy, so that rules out "Strawberry", but we could always opt for "Ugli" if he looks anything like me. Some alternatives are "Fig", "Cherimoya" and "Durian".

On second thoughts, maybe we'll just give this ridiculous trend a wide berth.

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People is currently playing at the Arts Theatre. For tickets call 020-7836-3334

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