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How guilty is Cummings? Let Gogglebox decide.

Posted on May 23, 2020

old tv

Everyone has their favourites. Mine are the Siddiquis followed closely by Ellie and Izzie. I don’t much care for Giles and Mary.

Not with me? If that’s the case, you’re missing out on one of the most unlikely of guilty pleasures available at present – Gogglebox on Channel 4. The premise is quite preposterous and judged by any rational measure, the programme should be a hopeless non-starter. We, as viewers, are invited to watch people watching telly. It shouldn’t work at any level, but for a variety of reasons, it’s compelling stuff.

We forgive an obvious tendency on the part of some participants to play to the camera. In the same spirit, we allow editorial decisions – in particular the manipulative use of close-ups – not to tarnish our enjoyment of moments that are obviously spontaneous and authentic. I’m not familiar with all of the programmes which prompt their reactions, but it’s immaterial. The mixture of sadness, horror, anxiety and unbridled joy shown by our fellow couch-slumpers present us with an uplifting picture of humanity. During the groundhoggery of lockdown, it almost counts as a public service.

The programme’s editors have been bold in their decision making. Among the game-shows, dramas and soaps on offer, they have chosen to include news bulletins, current-affairs interviews and government briefings. Goodness only knows how senior cabinet officials currently spend their time; much of it seems to be deployed in socially distancing themselves from expert opinion. But in the unlikely event of them using their downtime to catch up on some light entertainment, settling down to Gogglebox would be an uncomfortable option.

Boris Johnson’s now infamous Sunday night word salad to the nation spawned an avalanche of brilliant parodies within hours of its wooden delivery. Many of us gleefully swapped memes and gifs, even in the knowledge that joking about life and death issues might not be the most grown-up of responses. But just when we thought we may have squeezed the last drop out of the Prime Minister’s ham-fisted attempt at gravitas, Gogglebox came along to reignite the hilarity. A simple internet search locates dozens of clips, all of which capture the mixture of bemusement, amusement and, ultimately, laughing contempt with which the viewers greeted this babbling mess of a message.

In this instance, as well as others which touch on the pandemic, a deep-seated lack of trust towards those in power is palpable. In an echo of a conversation that must take place in a million households, there is recognition that no government could have been expected to get everything right – but quite how and why we’ve made such a mess of it is beyond us all. As Umar Siddiqui says to his brother when talking of Johnson’s debacle: ‘no rationality or scientific advice was used in this announcement.’ It’s a measure of how far we’ve come that it takes a participant in a daft TV show to speak for us all – and that as well as being utterly furious, we allow ourselves to laugh along.

The disdain with which Johnson and his pompous gang treat the British public becomes more evident every day. Some days we do international comparisons, others we don’t; some days we count all the deaths, others we don’t; wear a mask, don’t wear a mask but do so on the bus that we don’t really think you should catch on your way to work if you really are going to insist on feeding yourself and your family. Is that a park you’re sitting in when talking to your mother (who you like more than your father) or is it a garden? It must be a garden and you must be the maid. Allow me to shake your hand.

And now we find that Johnson’s chief, unelected placeman, answerable to nobody but the Prime Minister himself, has blatantly broken some of the fundamental rules of lockdown. Fortunately, just like Professor Neil Ferguson, Dominic Cummings has immediately held up his hand, admitted his misdemeanour and resigned from office. Have I got that wrong? What’s that you say? He’s dug his heels in and admitted nothing? Johnson and his office have remained resolutely silent about the matter? Michael Gove has expressed his support? Maybe, unlike Ferguson, his skills, knowledge and expertise are so vital to the government that some kind of exception has to be made? That’s must be the reason.

Or maybe the explanation lies in a culture and set of behaviours that lead those in high office – elected or otherwise – to go through life firmly believing that there is one set of rules for them and another for those who are clearly too stupid and lazy to be part of their privileged coterie. Maybe the arrogance bred in the public schools and Oxford colleges that so coddled them in their formative years really does allow them to think that the swinish multitude couldn’t possibly be capable of working out much for themselves.

We are living through a period when opportunities for political resistance are limited. Those of us who have spent lifetimes plotting in dusty meeting rooms are all going through a sort of enforced political furlough. Zoom meetings are all well and good, but the organised resistance and campaigning that is required to expose this collection of liars and incompetents is partially on hold. So, in the meantime, let’s just allow ourselves the luxury of getting the Siddiquis, Ellie and Izzie – even Giles and Mary – to speak up for us. Pass the popcorn.

One response to “How guilty is Cummings? Let Gogglebox decide.”

  1. Heidi Bailey says:

    Voice of the nation Jon!! I think we need you on Gogglebox and you need to rally the troops into action.

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