1980s >> 1987 >> no-990-february-1987

Between the Lines: Begging on the screen

The ethic of capitalism is pretty clear: if you need money work for it. if you cant work for it beg for it. That is why telethons, with all their gushing goodwill towards “those in need” and their righteous pleasure in “using TV to do good” are sickening events. Both BBC and ITV run them as regular events, no doubt because they pull the viewers in and clean up TV’s image the channel that cares.

Terry Wogan and Sue Cook hosted the pre-Christmas BBC telethon Children In Need. With a few smiles and famous faces to keep the punters from pressing their off buttons, the object of the exercise is to persuade workers to donate pounds to charities for poor children. And some of the phone lines when you proudly call in to offer your ten quid are manned by famous names like . . . well. I didn’t actually catch the names because I hadn’t heard of any of them but just think, you could phone in to help a child in need and maybe talk to Bonnie Langford.

The show lasted for several hours, during one section of which Esther Rantzen actually brought on stage several exhibits — yes, children in need — to show to the viewers in order to prove how important it was to lift that phone and donate some of your huge income.

What sort of a system is it that can take a crippled child, or another who is dying of a terminal illness, and use them as TV exhibits because only by parading them as objects for begging can funds be raised to help them? As the evening went on Wogan and the team were becoming ecstatic with philanthropy: “My word, this is marvellous: we’ve collected over £2 million — that’s more than twice as much as an hour into the programme last year”. Then came the big push to make it three million. Come on, wage slaves, forget the fact that 16 million of you are living on or just above the official poverty line, phone Bonnie Langford or some other nonentity and do your bit.

In the end, amid ecstasy which would lead the innocent observer to believe that they’d solved the problem of poverty, the collective viewers of BBC 1 donated £6 million. “What a warm-hearted lot you all are” said Wogan. whose fee for each of his three-night-a-week BBC shows has made him a millionaire several times over. Of course, he was right: the workers giving to help needy children were being decent and caring and co-operative and all of the other things which at other times the people who defend charity tell us that human nature prevents us all from being.

The success of shows like Children In Need depends on the fact that the working class really does want to live in a world without impoverished and suffering children. But £6 million will not do the trick; it is pathetic — an indication of just how futile it is to ask the class which does not possess to give money to those who possess even less.

According to recent US research, the governments of the world spend £100,000 a minute on weapons to kill people. Children In Need was on the air for six hours: that means that on average £36 million was spent on preparations to blow up children (and the rest of us) during the time that a one-off £6 million was collected to help those in great need. After the show ended – and as you read this article the £100,000 a minute continues to be spent and you do not need to phone Bonnie Langford to donate your tenner.

Blinded by the light

American TV films about kids caught up in crazy religious cults must be second in popularity to ones about aircraft disasters It is a good theme for a film: “normal” American kid meets devious cult member who lures him/her into a movement which robs them of their freedom, funds and self- respect. Parents try to rescue them and the film ends with the de-programming scene wherein the innocent victim returns to “normality” with the aid of cruel but kind experts.

Of course, the reason so many of these films are being made is that so many American kids, especially in California and the seemingly affluent West Coast cities, are so discontented and frustrated with the capitalist rat-race that the security of crazy religions like the Moonies and Scientology appeals to them. Blinded By The Light (C4. 9pm. 6 January) was a not very well-acted film of this kind teenage son is won over to peculiar cult led by a sinister Father Adam, parents aim to kidnap him back to deprogramme him, sister infiltrates cult with a view to winning brother back to “normality”.

Cults were shown to be totalitarian, dogmatic, uncaring, mind-damaging institutions — which, from all the evidence, they most certainly are. But — and this is the problem which such films never address — they are not that different from all religions. including the state-endorsed ones which “normal” wage slaves are encouraged to believe in.

The motto of Father Adam’s cult was Joy Through Humility and it was made plain that disciples were expected to receive salvation through submitting and degrading themselves. Sounds a lot like Christianity to me. The cult members were told that they must work only for the cult, must live within it and renounce their previous lives, even to the point of giving up their old names. So what are monasteries and convents? But I’ve never seen a film showing how innocent young fools are conned into joining them.

Religion, by definition, is an organised form of dogmatic belief (as opposed to scientific knowledge) and hierarchical command: after all, what is god but a totalitarian dictator? Just as films like this one never explain why one form of crazy behaviour is good for the soul and another is a sign of indoctrinated madness, so they do not show why it is that young people are attracted in the first place to join such sickening cults. Can it have something to do with the phoney sense of community which they offer, as opposed to the extreme poverty of feeling and sense of alienation which characterises the so-called affluent lives of the American young?

Chinese puzzle

It is interesting to note how little TV coverage BBC and ITN have given to the quite significant protests in the major cities of China recently, as opposed to coverage they give to protest movements in Russia. usually involving far less people. Could this have something to do with the fact that state- capitalist China has now become a major Western trading partner and therefore the establishment here does not want to give too much encouragement to any movement to destabilise “our Communist allies”, whereas state-capitalist Russia is still a military and trading rival?

What you think

In 1987 this column will be publishing a selection of the points which you send in about TV output. Write and let us know what has made you sick on TV recently or what has opened your eyes to an aspect of capitalism you hadn’t recently thought about, Send your letters or postcards to Between The Lines, c/o The Socialist Standard. If none of your points appear you can assume that none have been sent in.

Steve Coleman