Proper Gander: Giggly Walking CCTV Cameras

Making a hasty, ill-informed judgement about someone you don’t know is easy, thanks to the internet. You can post it on their forum thread or facebook update, laugh, then hide behind your username and the ‘log off’ option. It’s not quite as straightforward as that in real life, as those taking part in The Audience (Channel 4) find out. In this show, a volunteer has opened up their life to the scrutiny of fifty strangers and a film crew. The volunteer has “a life-changing decision to make”, and will seek the advice of the others who literally follow him around for a week.

The first episode’s lamb-to-the-slaughter is Ian Wainwright who, being a farmer, has probably slaughtered a few lambs himself. Nice guy Ian slaves away on the farm owned by his two septuagenarian uncles, who can’t do much other than bark from their farmhouse chairs. Imposed guilt and family loyalty tie Ian to the long hours and little money. He knows he’s trapped, and that he’s not spending enough time with his girlfriend. So, should he find a new life with her, as this means leaving his uncles to an uncertain future?

The crowd of fifty start out like giggly walking CCTV cameras. They follow Ian to the milking shed, then the fields, then they meet the rest of his family, firing questions and discussing him along the way. Their initial snap judgements on his situation give way to a realisation that it involves conflicting viewpoints, and then there are tears as the decision looms. Obviously, the programme-makers milk all this for its emotional capital, much like Ian milks his cows. He takes the advice to leave the farm, and the producers must have been rubbing their hands with glee when he rounds off the programme by proposing to his girlfriend.

Maybe some choices benefit from having other people patiently look into all the pros and cons to come up with some reasoned advice. But it’s less likely that a situation will be improved by the manipulation and selective editing of a film crew. The Audience feeds on the fashionably alienated belief that if you have a problem, then the best way to get help is through a TV show.

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