Kismet

There was a ridiculous attempt to re-stage “Kismet” a few years’ ago in the ENO. It is a shame that it went wrong because the original show and the Howard Keel film is wonderful in all ways. When the day is most dull, I find a few minutes of the old Vincente Minnelli film from the 1950s restores a healthy heart.

Even the wooden performance of the prince in the film is enchanting. “Take my hand, I’m a stranger in paradise.” There is plenty strange in that setting- a very strange cockerel in a bush, a strange white peacock and alot of strange fake grass. The prince is hardly out of place in the strangeness. Who cares! This is simply a glimpse at a 3d version of a persian minature. I am sure it influenced Richard Williams when he set out to devise “the thief and the cobbler”. After all, Williams also used a score overwhelmed by the crypto-Gerogian composer, Alexander Borodin (Бородин).

There was a reworking of the show called Timbuktu! with Eatha Kitt in the late 1970s. It kept many of the big songs, though it lost the song I think is best…

Kismet certainly influenced me in the early 1980s when, in Oxford, there was a production of “Hassan” by James Elroy Flecker. It was the first play I designed for the Oxford Playhouse and the directors (there were two of them) wanted lots of painted backdrops. It was a disaster and the only time I have witnessed the downing of tools by a cast who observed correctly that there were more of them on stage than there were audience in the auditorium.

I remember, though, working day and night in the workshop on a 30 foot painting representing a city slum. In fact, hidden in the slum was a magical golden palace so I sprinked a few peacocks and various fantasy clouds of blue and pink oozing from hookahs. While I was painting, one of my friends came by and I explained this was a picture of a slum. From then on, he assumed that I was so divorced from reality that I believed poverty was a thing of camp glitter. A few terms’ later, in the summer, I think, I designed “the Mikado”. I am still rather pleased with the design actually, and found a few drawings for it the other day. One of the features was a gauze frontdrop that fell half-way through the 1st Act finale separating Katisha from the chorus which was fun to paint and to see.

In the same term, I also designed a garden show of a greek tragedy by Euripides called ION. It was all in Greek with a pastiche of a hadzivakis score by a man called Clive Thomms. He was very talented and I have no idea what happened to him afterwards. I painted the ION sets in the cloisters at my college- it caused a bit of a stir. Later I recreated the look in the dining room of a friend’s house just outside Oxford. It must have been a bit dark- it was a recreation of Red-figure vase painting.

Otherwise, that year in Oxford was dominated by demands from a weary Canadian director for audition after audition of pieces he was proposing to direct in the Oxford Playhouse. I got very good at making cardboard mock-ups of the stage there. I think the list ran something like King Lear, Julius Caesar, Man of La Mancha, Samson Agonistes, Macbeth, the Rivals and Duchess of Malta. I miss those maquettes a bit. In the end, I had a basic model that I rebuilt again and again as desired. It was not until my second year that I started to get a good run of shows and then I was designing sometimes 3 or 4 plays a term and a good many more posters. By the time I got to designing Peter Pan, I think I had working lights on the model.

My favourite song in KISMET is “Not since Nineveh”. It is sublime. And “the fool sat beneath an olive tree..” is pretty good too. “Why be content with the olive when you could have the tree?” I love the irony of seeing the Caliph’s procession going back in the distance behind the main characters…This is simply Minnelli at his best and it is strange that Kismet is one of those films that is almost impossible to access today. Somehow, time has not favoured this classic.

Delores Gray from the film- Not since Nineveh

and another!

I remember seeing Delores Gray in the London production of “Follies”. She had quite a run of British action, appearing in The Good Old days and Dr Who but she also did a stint at RADA and the year she made Kismet, she also made “It’s always fair weather” a great Gene Kelly show. It is odd altogether. She makes “Kismet” sizzle. She is spectacular. In the past, I remember dismissing this film as kitch, but now I realise this is kitch with class. It is high camp as well as kitsch. There’s a good yiddish work (קיטש) by the way, so Shava Tova for today!

Punctuation

Every so often, I read stuff that is badly worded or badly punctuated. The former tells me about error, the latter tells me about ignorance. I worry alot more about the latter.

Punctuation aids sense. It is a teaching tool that tells us not so much what is being written, but how best to read it.

In a world of texting and dictation, however, punctuation is a dying art and it is a shame because it has played a vital part in world history and continues to do so.

It was the comma strike in Tsarist Russia in 1905 that forced through the first Russian constitution, for instance. One wonders if there might not be a further punctuation mark to bring Mr Putin to heel. There are certaily plenty of semi-retired bits of punctaution that could be summoned up to cause a fuss. In the last 30 years, long abandoned squiggles have been re-purposed and re-named. So today, the ubiquitous octothorpe and the arabesque dominate texting (I cannot find the hashtag on my computer so rely on copying and pasting) and, therefore, modern communication. In Greek, the arabesque is called “the little duck” like the plastic device that fits over the bowl and squirts blue liquid into the loo. Vincent Price would have had a field day.

I love punctaution that tells me how to read aloud. The comma used, in other words, as cantillation. It has a long histiory going back to manuscripts of the Torah and both mediaeval and Byzantine psalmody. As a rule of thiumb, when I see a comma coming, I get ready for a quick intake of breath.

The finality of a full stop, on the page if not in the recording studio, can also signal irritation or an over-zealous authority. Today, I received a letter full of curt instructions and peppered with full-stops. Amost spat out at me. In contrast, there are people who seem afraid of the full-stop entirely and it has disappeared in some instances. It would be pedantic to complain or re-insert. It is now missing, for example, from many abbreviations and acronyms. “OK” rarely receives its full stops (it is short for “Ola Kala”, all is well, so it should have full-stops). “Haha” is rarely punctauted. This is the “lol”version, not the enchanted garden deceit.Whatever happened to S.W.A.L.K.? Incidentally, there should never have been a full-stop after “A”.

As a fan of John Milton, I have long recognised that Capitals are decorative. Maube it is time to concede that punctuation is, too.

Drawing Plans

The problem with lockdown is that- while there is time to do things and develop projects- events, as Macmillan would have said, seem to get in the way. I have a number of things I want to finish and some to get started but I have been submerged by requests for drawings, lessons and bits and pieces that have all taken more time than I ever anticipated.

from issue 4, WHYTT magazine. Copies available here: https://whyttmagazine.com/print-editions

However, everything is getting under control and here, to prove the point, is a picture from a new magazine that ran an article about me today, and about my plans for the future of animation. So I feel a bit driven to set out what I hope to be doing over the next year or two.

“I’ll tell you what that is ” As Tevye says, “I don’t know.” Though that should not stop us planning.

At the top of the list is a need to bring proper order to the Reality TV industry. I have had personal experience of this now and have spent a good few months learning more and more and meeting some of the far-from ordinary people who have spiced up these diverse programmes. I worry that this is an unregulated area of entertainment and there is the chance that many people will continue to be hurt. To date, there is a list of about 40 suicides spanning just under 20 years which is an horrific testimony to how badly things can go.

The health minister is on record saying that he wanted more psychological health-care for contestants. This does not deal with the many issues that people have spoken about. Also, I note that various committees have sat in the commons but few reality tv “stars” have been asked for or delivered evidence. We are the authorites on this subject so it seems odd to learn of this omission.

Matt Hancock looks at one problem only. This is what he said,

“The sudden exposure to massive fame … can have significant impacts on people.

“I think that it is a duty on any organisation that is putting people in the position of making them famous overnight, that they should also look after them afterwards.

“I think that people need to take responsibility for their duties to people’s well-being very seriously.”

I am hoping to meet the Arts Minister, Oliver Dowden, to discuss a way forward and to this end I have drawn up for him a “mission statement” calling for three significant changes. The first is independent psychological support, the second is professional representation and the third is union support. The current offer of studio-sponsored psychology , I think, is a cut-price and dangerous route both for the contestants and the studios. It also worries me that, if so many people in Government and across media believe there is so much need for psychological support, then we must judge either (1) that this form of entertainment is inherently unsafe or (2) that the producers are incapable of selecting cast members who are likely to remain genuinely stable. It begins to sound like a predatory situation and no one should be forced to endorse that as they turn on the telly for a relaxing evening.

There is lots to be said for routine and in-house counselling, of course, as there is for emotional support and mental health in all areas of the arts. It is a tough call to perform for a living. But the stories I have heard over the last year about deep misery and personal distress to people who have appeared on reality tv across the world should be the exception, not the rule. Many people who go on these shows will actually have the resilience to survive this, but it should not be an assumed part of the package. Instead, the industry should be brought in line with other forms of entertainment and I think there is a way to do this. There is a simple way to make this safe.

It is only recently that we have seen a relaxing of the demands for equity membership, and only recently that professional access to jobs has been possible without the intervention of a recognised agent. However, it remains very difficult to negotiate the performing arts’ world without either of these, and I think both should be on offer before Reality shows begin filming. Talent can always opt out.

In the meantime, I have got to finish my second film about the Music Hall that brings the story up to the 1960s and also to finish my filmed reading of the first book of PARADISE LOST! Along the way, I would like to see if it is still possible to do animated opera and animated documentaries in some form. I would have thought animation is a grand way to negotiate the rules of COVID!

Reality and the Mind

In 2018, there was an interesting article about Reality TV and mental health. I was sent a link to this the other day.

My own experience of Reality TV, I must add, is not quite in line with what I read in COSMOPOLITAN but I recognise the general drift.  I think the problem with the article (and with much that is written or dramatised about the genre) is the focus on what we, the public, see. There is much we do not see on tv and that, to me, is where  problems lie.

Still, this is how ANNABELLE LEE began her article:

“Everyone deceived me here.”

“I don’t think I was made for this game.”

“It’s bringing me back to a place I don’t want to go.”

Gia Allemand had just fallen out with her best friend. She was het up, in that way you are after an argument. Unsure if you’ve made the right decision, with blood rushing through your ears, clouding your judgement. In the heat of the moment, she’d walked out of the house she’d been living in; it was a snap decision and then she couldn’t stop crying.

Were the tears real or not? We’ll never know. Gia was a contestant on Bachelor Pad – a US reality TV show, where former contestants of The Bachelor hole up in a mansion, supposedly in the quest for love, but also for the $250,000 prize, and our entertainment.

Gia, far left and Lex, far right

Getty Images

Three years later, the 29-year-old took her own life. She’d been suffering from PMDD, a severe and disabling form of premenstrual syndrome that she’d been hiding throughout her time on television. Two-and-a-half years later, Gia’s The Bachelor co-star Lex McAllister did the same. She was 31 years old.

It is truly shocking to me that both Gia and Lex took their own lives. The writer records that over the last decade, 21 stars in the US have killed themselves. This figure is now higher with deaths also in Australia and the UK including Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon. It suggests there is something wrong.

Over 20 years of Reality tv, no one has sorted this out.

Russell Armstrong, who died in 2011, is on record in the article saying,

“It just takes [the pressure] to a whole new level; we were pushed to extremes.”

I have spent the past few months examining reality tv shows and every tuesday, I watch an episode of one of the first shows, SURVIVOR- Borneo and I discuss the episode in a light-hearted way with my co-host KAREN. We meet former contestants from a variety of shows as well as die-hard fans; I must add, I do not pull punches when I think that production is doing something on the show which appears dodgy or manipulative.

The point about reality tv is that it is TV. That means a host of brilliant set designers, producers, directors and yes, writers are engaged to present the interaction of their chosen talent in a way that viewers will believe is coherent and engaging. They will use the cast to tell a story. It is a story with a beginning, middle and end. It is structured. It is not Reality at all.

We watch the way these people create drama and then we, the viewer, move on. The cast members tend not to. Four things seem to happen routinely.

Firstly, many feel abandoned and let down because the rush of being filmed has gone, and the energy of being at the centre of a huge industry vanishes over-night. The god-like interaction or guidance and the sense that we are part of a coherent narrative is suddenly gone and we return to a fractured and often chaotic reality. The great friendships forged in the process disappear as well and can never be spoken about. For the public do not care about the runners and the camera people who daily meet the cast and who form a daily bond with the reality tv stars. The public care about the story that has been crafted on their tv. The public care about what they see.

Secondly, even if the cast emerge from the show with dignity, their fame is intense and short-lived. By the time the next show comes round, their fame will be gone and their instagram accounts will show this. It is depressing frankly though in my case it has not quite gone like that. I am, in fact, quite surprised that people still stop me in the street and send me messages asking if it was me they saw at the service station or walking around Rugby town centre. It is now nearly a year since I left THE CIRCLE and so I have a lingering social media fame that is unusual in the business. I am very grateful to my fans for their loyalty and kindness: they probaly do not know how much of a lift they give me just to be sure in some way that I am bucking the trend.

Thirdly, and this is the crunch, the stars are managed. They emerge from the show on a high and with a great sense of trust in the production company with whom they have lived and worked so intensely, and this means they are also ripe to be exploited and pushed into whatever role is seen fit. These days, there seems to be an expectation that they will model bikinis and promote ASOS. If they are lucky, the management will be positive and protective. They may well be encouraged to appear again on Reality TV shows.

Fourthly, they must adjust to a world that is no longer what they knew. They cannot return, as a rule, to the job they once did, but, equally, they may not be able to move into show-business. They are somewhere in between and they need proper support to move one way or the other. The final act of “My Fair Lady” seems to be written for this moment- “What am I good for?” she asked Higgins. Television has changed them and has left them without any proper direction.

These four experiences are often dismissed by the press or condensed into a mantra that is repeated again and again when there is a crisis. 1) The talent cannot deal with fame, 2) with the loss of fame or, and this one is deeply patronising- 3) “they knew what they were in for, they knew the programme when they applied to be on it.”

A lack of confidence and a lack of direction seems to dog the talent that emerges as a result.  I believe it is because they are rarely if ever provided with proper management and proper support to make the adjustment to any sort of career after the show.

A recent OFCOM review of the way Reality TV talent is treated focuses on the psychological support that should be in place before, during and after a show. This is all well and good except that much of that support has been cheapened because, report after report suggests that psych evaluations are routinely used in the casting of the show in the first place and help to find the most dynamic range of performers, what Gladeana McMahon calls “the charcaters”. The Pychologists and counsellors may be aware of their collabroation in casting or not. But if psychological support is to be truly effective, it also needs to be seen to be independent.

Without proper management any psychological support is just a sticking plaster to a gaping wound.

Sarah Goodheart says she felt “exploited and traumatised, and it affects me to this day.”

It is sad to read this – that entertainment comes at such a price.


As a postscript, here is an extract from an article published in Ireland in 2016:

Jo Hemmings has said that the pressure from producers to place unbalanced celebrities into the Big Brother house was partly behind her decision to quit the hit show.

The behavioural psychologist previously accessed celebrities ahead of their appearance on the reality show, but said that the pressure to place celebrities who might not be able to cope into the house questioned her professional integrity.

Speaking on this morning’s Anton Savage Show, Jo was asked if her moral compass was ever pushed by producers during her assessments of certain celebrities.

“Very much so,” she answered.

“Which is partly why I no longer access contestants for [Big Brother] because I feel uncomfortable and it does question my professional integrity,” she said.

“I know I have to put in people who are entertaining. I don’t want to put in dull people. But there’s an ethical line and it has been crossed in my opinion.”

The British psychologist, who also helps couples cope with relationship breakdowns, revealed the elements that might make a contestant an unsuitable candidate for the show.

“Alcohol is perhaps the big one. When people have had alcohol dependency problems and they are put in a house where there is constant partying. There’s a lot of it and it’s deliberately there to fuel a bit of entertainment. I find that worrying and I think it’s not right.

“Some people are very good. They know that they can’t drink and they stay strong and resist it. Others you just know from assessments that they’re going to go back,” she said.

The psychologist also opened up about Angie Bowie on this year’s series of Big Brother, who opted to stay in the house following the death of her ex-husband David Bowie.

“I think she should have left the house out of respect, for their son at least,” she said.

Hemmings is in Ireland to promote a new study conducted by Domino’s Ireland, which has revealed that Irish people have a very poor work/life balance.

The study found that the majority of people are never completely turned off from social media influences and messages, which can interfere with our home life and even our sleep patterns.

Hemmings said: “Many of us are on 24/7 ‘watch’ on social media and text messages. This not only deprives us of sleep, but also means that our brains never really get much of an opportunity to ‘switch off’, which can add to stress, anxiety and potentially burn-out.

“There has also been a shift in expectations from employers and colleagues: because we can be available 24/7, we will be. This ‘work noise’, intruding into our home lives, has a cumulative effect which can make it very difficult to switch off from our professional lives when we are trying to have downtime at home, which creates tension and stress.”

Hemmings admitted that our social media addiction and inability to put away our smart phones is having an impact on our relationships.

“As a relationship counsellor, I know that loss of intimacy or quality time as a couple, is one of the biggest causes of relationship concerns. When one partner starts to feel neglected or side-lined, due to the busy lives of their partner, the dynamics of a balanced, relationship starts to alter and communication begins to break down, causing anything from quiet, brewing resentment to major arguments,” she said.

Mental health Performance

Every Tuesday, over the last few months, I have been watching an episode of the American Reality TV show “Survivor” and discussing it with my co-host Karen Eisenberg and her guests. Many of these are former players committed fans and fellow podcasters. I am now on series 2.

It is always interesting to hear how players got on in the show and what they have done with their life since the show ended. I have now spoken to players from a variety of programmes including the delightful Richard hatch who won series 1; occasionally, I am worried by what I hear – specifically, that aftercare is minimal and where it exists at all, it has degenerated into pious box-ticking without much regard for the well-being of the contestant. Often, the contestants shrug about this, or giggle. Some are more resilient than others! I am afraid the same is largely true of former runners and some of the producers on these shows. (today, many backstage staff are facing Covid redundancy. What happens on stage or on screen will not do so without these many-talented people.) But, what is common is that there is an intense period of activity which is followed by a void. There are certainly some people who feel, as a recent Guardian report following the death of Michael Thalassitis, said, “exploited and spat out”. Personal relationships forged in the heat of the show are lost overnight and no one is really there ready to pick up the pieces. In some cases, there is even active nastiness.

My personal feeling is that this is largely carelessness. I do not think it is not vicious or planned. It is not intended, in other words. However, a much wiser man gave me this advice once – “Rather fear the fool  than the evil man”. You never know what damage the fool might actually do to you.

There have been a number of worrying stories recently, but the media tends to focus on the way contestants deal with fame or the loss of fame. I think this is a lesser issue but it certainly tells a story that sells newspapers. Talking to so many people, now, I think there is a second more pressing issue, which is one of manipulation, routine during filming but that often spills over from the show and continues after the show is over. Many have gone through an emotional helter-skelter on camera made all the more intense by a number of contrived stress-triggers that would actually not be out of place in a more sordid torture setting. Indeed, some of these, like sleep deprivation, bright light, continuous noise and the absence of any way to tell the time or the date, are part of a proven technique called R21. These techniques are often used to soften up prisoners and to make them more compliant. After a few nights without sleep, some prisoners will simply sing like a canary. Others respond to alcohol, meat or sugar. In the case of much reality tv, these tricks, whether used consciously or not, are used to make entertainment. Some, like the intense heat,  or the Norman Wilkinson dazzle interior design, may simply be a by-product of the lighting needed for a good tv shoot. But many people find it hard to adjust to the bizarre world of tv, and when they do it can be significantly harder to adjust back.

I have been writing a bit about the last few years- here is a paragraph:

I know that I had problems in the week’s after The Circle when I visited Hotel rooms- there, in the silent early hours at about 3 or 4am, I would apparently lie in bed, fast asleep and sing show tunes at the top of my voice.  This was what I had done routinely and consciously early in the morning in the well-insulated flat in Salford where I lived while filming the circle and somehow it stuck. As a notorious sleep-talker and sleep-walker, my sub-conscious simply could not adjust to sleeping in silence and I provided entertainment for weeks. Thank God, that has stopped now…. or I assume it has stopped!

Performers must do more than sing in the night-time of course! Many must expose their emotions in public and this can have a knock-on effect. I know from playing a clutch of villains in the past- the evil of the character can somehow seep into the soul. We need help to keep on an even keel.

If we love the arts, we must also cherish and love the performers.

Back in 2015, a report concluded that 1 in 5 people working in the performing arts had sought mental health support.

The Arts brightens our lives and makes a significant contribution to the national economy. During COVID lockdown, many families found a new focus in the TV set and TV ratings soared. It has been ironic because as ratings have gone up, film and tv production has gone down. the whole industry is under stress today.

All the arts put a strain on the mental health of performers. Schedules are unforgiving, preparation often unpaid and, for example, when the curtain goes up, or the tv camera starts to record, there is no running away. Jobs are tough, demanding, challenging and most alarmingly, insecure. Often, performers are forced to work away from home, and, sometimes, for months on end. Many are asked to take on the emotional baggage that comes with a role and it can be hard to shed that load. (to “de-role”). It is not simply the baggage of being villainous- many roles focus on serious emotional issues that actors must inhabit, understand, experience, project. To make matters worse, reviews come out and can be savage no matter how good the show, or how well-produced. Today, we can add bruising comments in social media. Luck and timing is as significant in the way a show is received as quality.

But performers are passionately committed.

And there is some support: Help Musicians UK has been active for some time now, as has ArtsMind and TALK; some tv and dance production companies lay on help: the National Theatre has its own counselling service, for example. There is also a group called Wellbeing for the Arts but these organisations are stretched and cannot fully cater to the needs of the broader industry. More than that, so much more support is needed when performers have left their job. “Resting” is not much of a rest, is it?

Job Anxiety and depression is commonplace in the arts but it is made worse by brutal decisions, harassment and bullying as well as a chipping away at union representation and professional support. Power is built into the profession as well as alot of very oppressive working habits, many seen as traditional in rehearsal but many more stemming from a belief that a good actor, like a good artist is somehow used to stress, and actively improves with struggling. Certainly, many of our performers are resilient and have learnt to cope but we do not get the best from people by placing them under stress.

There is some stress that simply is counterproductive/destructive and should never be permitted. I spent years directing and designing opera. I was appalled, therefore, when I saw the film of “Les Miserables”- what a way to destroy a voice by making performers sing for 12 hours a day and sometimes in the rain or while genuinely crying. mucus does not a good vocal performance make. Fact. It is no surprise to me that the vocal performances even from seasoned singers like Jackson were actually disappointing. Of course, I did not see all the film- I dozed off at points… as I did in Cats. Oddly, I saw “Frozen” for the first time yesterday on dvd- it is great. I was so surprised. and “Frozen II”, too. I must have slept through all of that film. Whoops.

I am not good in a passive cinema setting in the evening at all and certainly not loaded up with sugary drinks – I just drift away almost before the adverts are even over. Love going and have really missed cinema trips, though.

I applaud recent mental health initiatives, but I am concerned that, when we are repairing damage that has been done, often a slow and difficult process, we forget that, as a community, we can play a huge role in ensuring people are supported and that damage is not done in the first place. In the Arts, this means we need to look more carefully at the power structures in place and see if there are better ways of managing and devising the best entertainment possible.

What is odd is that this is a time when mental health has been highlit and one of the many recommendations for greater well-being is to take more interest in the arts. The arts bring joy, a sense of purpose and community. It is inherently creative and we are creative animals. Yes, indeed, we should take a greater interest in the Arts as a nation but if the Arts are to survive we must also take an interest in the Artists and support them through the uncertainty and complexity that goes with that career.

the worrying list

I have just got a copy of Steve Brookstein’s autobiography/ memoir called “Getting over the X”. It is harrowing but oddly familiar. I have raced through about 100 pages in an afternoon when I really should have been animating! (Milton must wait)

Instead, I thought I should start to compile a list of those who sadly have been involved in Reality TV in one way or another and committed suicide. There is no esy way, by the way, to write that sentence. there is simply no euphemism available.

That is the blunt truth.

And the list I have got seems to have about 40 names attached.

There are other casualities I am sure. But, certainly if you read Steve’s book, this list will make alot of sense. I spoke to Steve a couple of weeks’ ago. I thought then that he had had a tough time. I did not know the half of it.

Just listen to him sing- that is available on youtube. He is astonishing. And he is certainly one of many casualties of a very nasty programme. I remember meeting a magician a few years’ ago who also wrote about his experiences, and being set up to look ridiculous. This is a programme that might make a few stars but it has ruined a good few lives as well, and it is part of a global entertainment phenomenon.

When Mike Thalassitis died, Caroline Flack went on record defending the show and urging people not to jump to conclusions. This is what she said: “In life we all have a duty of care to look out for each other, but I don’t think it’s fair to point fingers of blame. ..Mental health is a much bigger issue than just a reality TV show”, adding that “when something this bad happens – and I’m talking about Mike – when something this horrible and sad occurs, it’s so dangerous to point fingers within hours and minutes of it happening. None of us know what’s going through someone’s mind and we can’t sit there and speculate.”

I am afraid I count 40 suicides to date. This is the “Worrying list” that I have made of suicides linked to Reality TV shows.

Hara Kimura Terrace House 2020

Caroline Flack (Love Island) 2020

Mike Thalassitis 2019

Sophie Gradon 2018

Steve Dymond (Jeremy Kyle) 2019

James Scott Terrill (Supernanny. ABC) 2008

Charlotte Dawson 2014

Clay Adler (MTV) 2017

Alexa “Lex” McAllister (The Batchelor) 2016

Russell Armstrong (Real Housewives of Beverly Hills) husband of Taylor Armstrong 2011

Tania Saha (Fatafati India) 2008

Neha Sawant (Boogie Woogie, India) 2010

joseph Cernigla (Kitchen Nightmares) 2010

Julien Hug (Bachelorette 2010)

Paula Abdul, Paula Goodspeed (American Idol) 2008

Rachel Brown (Hell’s kitchen, Gordon Ramsey )2007

Nathan Clutter (pardise Hotel 2, My Network TV) 2007

Thierry Costa (French Survivor)

Simon Foster (Wifeswap) 2008

Paula Godspeed (american idol)2008

Jo O’Meara (Celebrity Big Brother) 2007

Cheryl Kosewicz (pirate Masters. CBS) 2007

Danny Bonaduce (Breaking Bonaduce. VH1) 2005

Carina Stephenson (the Colony) 2005

Kelly McGee (Extreme Makeover ABC) 2005

Najai Turpin (the Contender. NBC) 2005

Anthony Riley (the Voice) 2015

Gia Allemand (the bachelor) 2013

MARK BALELO (Storage wars) 2013

Russell Armstrong (Real Housewives) 2011

Gene Runkis (Hillbilly Blood) 2015

Sinisa Savija (Expedition Sweden) 1997

Jack Saunders (Britain’s got talent) 2019

Shain Gandee (MTV Buckwild) 2013

Mindy McCready (Celebrity Rehab) 2009

Dan Kay (Survivor 2018)

Joey Kovar (the Real world: Hollywood and Celebrity Rehab) 2012

Valerie Fairman (MTV’s 16 and Pregnant )2016

Ryan Knight(?) The Real World: New Orleans and The Challenge 2014

Sam Sarpong Yo Momma 2015

(attempted suicide) Fantasia Barrino (American Idol) 2009 (Fantasia for real about recovery), Sree Dasari (big Brother), Nadia Almada (Ultimate Big Brother)

depression of Alex Miller (Love Island) 2018

Ballon boy incident/ Falcon Heene (2009) demonstrates further dangers of reality tv stunts as well as 24/7 news coverage. This followed appearances by his parents on Wife Swap

Stunt death: Tom Sparks (Wipeout ABC) 2010

Lisa Marie Naegle Bridalplasty (murdered)

Christina Grimmie The Voice Murdered

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Just “Harmless Entertainment”? Effects of Surveillance Reality TV on Physical Aggression. Bryan Gibson, Jody Thompson, Beini Hou and Brad J. Bushman. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 5(1), 66–73.

The Polygraph test

The Government set up a committee to investigate the phenomenon of Reality TV and to look into abuse particularly connected to suicides arising from participation in “the Jeremy Kyle Show” and “Love Island”.

It is difficult not to draw the conclusion that ITV bosses traded the one show for the other. Both clearly have problems. I do not think the Ofcom report fixes these and the committee meeting questioning as broadcast and recorded here falls short of thorough.

The committee hearing was hijacked by a lengthy debate about the efficacy of the polygraph test, a key prop in “the Jeremy Kyle” show. The show gave its viewers the impression that the test was definitive but it also protected itself in contracts by saying there was a margin of error. The committee wanted to know what was the range of that margin of error. Frankly, that diversion was a blessing for the production because it took attention away from far more serious issues about aftercare and the preparation of contestants.

The “jeremy Kyle show” was drawing on the success of “the Jerry Springer show”.

The Lie detector or polygraph

This is a basic test that measures physiological response to questions. Much of the work on polygraphy has been done in the US. Where the assumption is that if someone does not want to do a polygraph test, then they have something go hide. The first recorded example is in 1921 by William Marston though there are also versions conduscted by John Larson. The range of accuracy is between 70-90%, with the higher percentages advanged byThe broadcast committee meeting debate about lie detectors must have been a Godsend to producers: there is already conflicting documentation and it draws the debate away from the issue of responsibility. The producers, accordingly, resolutely refused to answer a question which has actually been asked routinley for about 40 years. The answer like the question has not changed in that time. Leonard Saxe, PhD, (1991) observes that much of the popular understanding of the text is a misnomer. The term “Lie detector” is false as one can only infer deception by analysing a series of physiological responses to unstandadised questions, typically in the form of  CQT or GKT (concealed test) which is why courts routinely reject information gained from such tests (eg: U.S. v. Scheffer, 1998)

The debate about the polygraph goes beyond “Jermy Kyle” however, because Government has been pushing to get the polygraph established as a working tool here in the UK. It was targeted particularly on sex offenders and issues of domestic abuse. (laws in 2007 and 20014 but trials actually going back as far as 2003). In other words, the questioning here in this video may have had a political purpose beyond that of the Jeremy Kyle debacle.

Newcastle university research led by Don Grubin and published in 1918 concludes clearly that “A specific ‘lie response’ has never been demonstrated, and is unlikely to exist”

Further research in Manchester university also in 2018 by Andrew Balmer is equally cautious about the value of the Lie detector.

The committee investigating Reality TV stopped meeting in the run-up to the last Election and has not been reconvened. An anodyne report by Ofcom has been published. It puts into effect nothing that has not already been anticipated and enacted by the bigger studios, though it certainly notes that “vulnerable individuals” should not be used, a welcome addition that would certainly rule out a return of any show in the “Jeremy Kyle” format.

I have drawn attention elsewhere to the Gladiatorial nature of Reality tv. “jeremy Kyle” offered something slightly different though equally popular in its day- It was a return to bear baiting and cock fighting or cock throwing. Simply to look around at street names is to recognise how popular these sports had been in the past. Indeed, the oldest pub in England, “Ye Olde Fighting Cocks” takes its name from the sport.

It is shameful that a civilised society still tolerates this sort of entertainment. We might as well bring back hanging as a public spectacle.

PTSD

An Australian academic Dr Godfrey White has written:”There is enormous potential for risk, and nobody is really following these people up or watching over their welfare,” He was talking about Reality TV. “An industry standard should be created and producers should be held liable should anything happen.”

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I was directed today to a very interesting article about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which listed a range of symptoms. With the exception of Alcohol abuse, I recognised every one of them.

PTSD was a subject that I thought I knew as 20 odd years’ ago, I found myself dealing with the aftermath of a very traumatic situation. My partner, Necati had been introduced to me and over the first few months that we were together I began to piece together the alarming story that had brought him to Athens. He had been held in captivity by the Greek navy in Hania on Crete and after a while, detained in a cage under the open sun, he was taken to the bathroom, raped and badly beaten.

Necati and I did not have a common language and, therefore, the details of the case took time to emerge. Once I learnt what had happened, however, I was determined to get justice and to try to help him. In the process, we were met with the most appalling wall of bureaucracy and I am afraid I have had little patience for this sort of rubbish ever since. Actually, I think we have surrendered so much more in the last 20 years to the bullies of bureaucracy and this has been made much worse by the recent lockdown. I have, in fact, for example, been without a bank account now for over a month. It is not for want of trying to access the service. In the end, it boils down to the simple fact that what on offer is not delivered, but that failure is masked by the most appalling runaround of endless telephone calls and emails that never seem to go anywhere. It reminds me alot of my time in Greece 20 years’ ago. In both Greece and later Russia, I found there were masters of the sort of mindless bureaucracy that simply stops progress.

I looked at the list of symptoms and I wondered if either he or I suffered from PTSD after we got back from Greece. Certainly, he received very little care when he got back to the UK which is frankly disturbing given the high profile we now accord mental health. Thank God for Princes William and Harry!

Here is the list:

Hypervigilance

intense physical reminders of the event

irratability

irrational and intense fear

(alcohol abuse)

hyperacusis

difficulty concentrating

lacrymosity

panic

mood swings/ depression

insomnia

anger

tense muscles

work and relationship problems

memory issues

loss of interest

sense of a limited future

emptiness

avoidance of people and places

isolation

frequent periods of withdrawal

flashbacks

nightmares

distress

feeling suicidal

self harm

suspicious of others/ blaming others

guilt/ shame

weight issues

exhaustion

unexplained

aches and pains

overreactions to minor situations

fear of being alone/ agoraphobia

cortisol issues, skin complaints. scarring, tinitus

I am not sure I personally suffered that much after we got back from Greece. I was very focused on taking the case forward and I was busy writing to our legal team and to politicians in Greece and the UK. We amassed a huge number of responses from a very interesting range of people. It is touching how often people who are very important and busy, at the heart of government, take the time to write a letter explaining that they cannot do much but wishing well: it means so much. We do not need a solution- we need support.

In the wake of Necati’s case, I think my patience wore thin particularly with bureaucrats. I have learnt to deal with this but recently, after “the Circle”, I have found it has got difficult again. I am intensely aware of the inadequacy of the system. I want to change it. Maybe that is unrealistic.

In the year before I met Necati, I found myself at gunpoint in my own home and it was a frightening and maturing event. I had never really seen a gun before. I remember my father had a couple of plush purdy’s but for all his efforts to persuade me to go shooting, I whimped out and put my fingers in my ears. there was a farmer down the road who used to take me off with a single-bore shotgun and I enjoyed being around with him. I remember beating the pheasants out for him and I think I may even have tried a few shots- at targets not birds. But it was not my thing and by the time I got to Ratcliffe and was faced with joining the CCF, I was determined never to fire a gun.

I remember very well that the physics’ teacher, called Robinson, made a great fuss and poked fun at me when I objected to firearms: he wanted me to use the term “rifle”. I remember saying in a great meeting with all my peers around me that “a gun is a gun ad I will not handle one.” So they scowled and put me in the Scouts, which I hated just as much. I do not think Mr Robinson was intentionally unkind. I think it was that he had never met a boy who did not want to play with a gun and was prepared to say so.

But from quite an early age, when it has come to the crunch, I will speak out.

After the incident in my home, when I stood in front of a small gun intended to kill a kurdish paramilitary called Arif, I found myself opening the door to another group of paramilitaries who said they had been sent by the Greek navy to “take us out.” Oddly, they were led by the same Arif, so I gave them tea and told them to park their guns in the corner. “Would you like milk?” I remember very clearly asking them. There was a further incident when people came to our house with guns and necati and I hid behind a cabinet and waited for them to go away.

All of that should by rights have generated some sort of PTSD, but I am not so sure it did- not in me anyway. Certainly, I had nightmares and woke Necati up regularly with strange nocturnal behaviour. It died down for a few years but I gather it has started up again more recently. Necati calls it “the entertainment”. Necati, in turn, would have great mood swings and take against individual people – it has had lasting and uncomfortable implications.

I like to think that, like the great broadway and hollywood star, Will Rogers, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” It’s not quite true. And I know very well that I can happily accept the fact that I dislike someone’s views (intensely) and, at the same time, actively look forward to meeting them. This would genuinely be my attitude to Nigel Farage so I was disappointed when, after “the Circle”, I was stopped from participating in a show for the BBC when it was hinted I would have lunch with Anne Widdicombe. Of course, I know there are people who dislike me- alot. And I am riddled with guilt and self-doubt about how that ever happened. Generally, though, I find once I meet someone, it is often impossible for me to hold a grudge whatever they may think of me. We may not quite become bosom buddies but I can generally elicit a smile or a twinkle in the eye and that humanity is enough for me. Who cares if they disagree with me! Life is too short to spend the time persuading everyone to accept my point of view. And if for ten minutes I accept someone else’s views, well, there are then ten minutes when I have asked myself what it is like – it’s my effort at empathy. And who knows, when I think about it, they might have been right all along. There’s thought for the humility tract!

I am very proud that after we took Greece to the European Court of Human Rights, and won- and that I still remain friends with people who were loosely involved in the ordeal. And I have done my best to keep in touch with my many Greek friends.

I hesitate to go back of course, just as today I equally hesitate to go back to Russia (because of their heinous new laws against gay people). I am optimistic, but not stupid. But Greece remains my spiritual home even if I never set foot again on its soil.

And that brings me to reality tv and PTSD. This is the bit that is buried deep in the article that only the persistent will ever bother reading! Because I have PTSD. Finally, after all these years and so many adventures, I have all the symptoms. It is remarkable. I have more symptoms than Necati had or has! I am a wreck!

I know that some days I feel immersed in exhaustion and I struggle to get things done. But I have years’ of training, firstly as a monk and then as an animator and I can generally get down to some project or other, often of my own devising. I have tried to fill the last few months with creativity, publishing my efforts on youtube and instagram but always trying to push the envelope technically.

I rarely sleep. I fret over a multitude of nonsense or I write (like this: it is now 5.15 am).

Yet, so far, I have managed to pull myself together for my regular tuesday podcasts and the occasional live instagram session. It is really nice to interact and it makes me feel there is still a purpose in what I do.

I rarely go out. I try to keep busy, because if I stop, there are memories and thoughts.

But the flashbacks seem to be spread over a long period and the turmoil of the last 12 months seems to have unearthed lots of nonsense in my head about everything, all the way back to my childhood and being bullied at school by my art teacher. Accordingly, I have turned that into a project and, on the advice of a very astute Australian academic, I have started writing and a proper book is finally emerging.

There are three people who have addressed some of the issues that I have identified in my research into the phenomenon of reality tv. They are all Australian. Australia is certainly the place where there has been advances in the study of Reality tv as a serious phenomenon. (Though I think they have not got it right either – or yet) I must confess here: I had never watched the genre before I was contacted by “the Circle” production – not even “Strictly!” But since coming out of the circle, I have made it my mission to watch as much as I can tolerate and to talk to people who have been in some of the principle shows.

The experience, for the most part has certainly scarred them. It has not been easy for them and it is not something I would ever willingly recommend. Of course, people ask me on instagram live what they should do when they apply, or whether they should apply and I cannot quite bring myself to say unreservedly, “don’t”, especially when they go on to tell me that I had inspired them. I try to emphasise the positives: certainly if you are determined, apply and go on the show- you will have a great time filming the show but make sure, I advise them, that you secure a good agent before you start filming (that is easier said than done); make sure you have independent professional support because that is what I lacked and I still lack that. Talking to others, I realise that the lack of professional support from people who understand the industry and who are independent of the production is the common denominator – a sense of loss and confusion that follows when you are no longer the focus of a tv show. In the case of the more intense shows, like “Survivor” and “Big Brother” where contestants have been under observation for a protracted period of time, there is a feeling that there is no more control. Our life was minutely managed and now that is suddenly taken away. We yearn for that control and respond absurdly with great pleasure to anyone who tells us what to do. Just as we did in “captivity”.

Again and again, I hear of people coming out of these shows who are manipulated into making very bad decisions. This is quite different from the madness that follows those contestants who were painted badly in the show- who go on to be abused in pubs (like Lottie Lion the other day, and like James/ Sammie who was sent death threats after “the Circle” finished), whose real life is made a nightmare because they embraced the dream of being on the telly, because they followed direction from the producers and because they put themselves out there- because people in the street think they “know them”. They do not. This is a manufactured image. It is not reality.

We know TV can be abusive. I was inspired by the lead Stephen Lambert gave when he started the studio that produced “The Circle.” The story is covered in a guardian article of 2008 which descibed how he resigned from RDF Media over what was then called Queengate, that is the rediting of a sequence to sex up a sequence where the queen was being photographed by Annie Liebovitz. While RDF was exonerated by the Wyatt enquiry, Lambert remained concerned that a scene had been edited out of order in a sensational trailer to give the impression that the Queen was walking off in a huff. When it came to Reality tv production, I felt I was, therefore, in much better hands than most. The people who were producing “the circle” had a moral compass.

But much Reality tv has been about deceiving the viewer and exploiting te talent. Because of contracts and secrecy, there is very little serious work done about what is a very popular form of entertainment, and there is very little effective governmental control. This is the Wild west of modern tv.

When people complain about the way they have been treated, we hear the refrain, “Oh you knew about the show before you applied to be on it!” So it is your fault. Yet, in my experience, the majority of contestants in a great range of programmes have been scouted and head-hunted. there may be lots of applicants to participate on a show, but few of them will make it to the camera. the producers know what they want. They know exactly what will make good tv.

They know exactly how to do their job. they know at least how to produce the tv show. I question whether over the last 20 years there has been a great improvement in the way reality tv participants have been cared for.

Much of the better work about care is being tried in Australia. We are lagging behind messing around with pompous, meaningless, sententious, vacuous and frankly ridiculous documents like the one currently proffered by Ofcom as well as half-hearted Government committees blandly discussing the merits and control of what remains a largely unregulated growth industry in Television. (the document is here: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0025/192580/further-consultation-protecting-participants-tv-radio.pdf)

Jamie Huysman started an organisation in 1992 called AfterTVCare. There is nothing like that here. Dr Michelle Callaghan has focused on the way people may reveal more than they want to on national tv and then have to live with the consequences. She talks about the exaggerations that can occur in editing, and the manipulation of the contestant’s image. Essentially, she draws attention to a key concept which, I think, needs more than just psychological support. It needs professional support- this is about a loss of control. That loss of control might begin on screen but it can also and often does continue off screen.

It is not just the people in the street who think they know you because you were seen on the telly. It is also about abusive contracts, manipulation and misinformation conducted by people who think they know what is best for you , or what they want you to have, or what they want you to stop having. I was appalled to hear, for instance, of the story of the first winner of “Survivor Borneo” and, indeed, to meet Richard Hatch. I think we got on tremendously but I was still horrified by the story he told me. Because of a muddle about whether production had paid tax on his $1million winnings, he was arrested and sent to prison where, because he refused to recognise that he had done anything wrong and because production failed to support him, he served 4 years. It made headlines. It kept the show in the papers but I think it was questionably ethical and it was certainly exploitative. Richard used very blunt anglo-saxon terms to describe the major producers of the show.

Prison or suicide? It should not be like that. Neither should people be so damaged by the experience of reality tv that they must face up to years of pyschiatric care and/or counselling to recover from the ordeal. Entertainment should not be so traumatic. So, I think the public would be appalled if they learnt that the only proposals made by Ofcom are self-regulation and more psychiatry.

It’s a niche interest and yet a major form of entertainment. And the stories about the problems of those who have been on reality tv commands headlines in the tabloids.

It is as if we are to endorse a form of gladiatorial spectacle where our entertainment is precisely at the expense of the entertainer’s health and well-being. This cannot be right. It is exploitative and it would make me as a viewer feel dirty and complicit.

Yet it has been ongoing for over 20 years, and I think over 40 suicides have been recorded. I can think of no other form of entertainment that is measured in such misery.

Of course there are forms of work that routinely offer psychiatric support. I am hoping shortly to visit the PTSD centre for the army and to talk to the magnificent people who run Help for Heroes, and their efforts to rehabilitate those who were injured in service. But the army also offers very astute professional support and training in skills and education.

The government is failing us in throwing the ofcom proposal at us and in closing the committee that was looking int recent scandals linked to the Jeremy Kyle show and to Love Island. If we do not do something, we are in danger of undermining public trust in this very vibrant form of television.

The Ofcom proposal was published in April. There is nothing in that document that was not already in force when I entered “the Circle”. “The Circle” anticipated Ofcom’s report and was already doing everything Ofcom would say it should be doing. So it begs the question- why am I suffering from PTSD?

Any Questions?

I hate it when someone lectures me and finishes by asking if I understand.there is a relationship implied in that question and I do not like it.

So, it was a very depressing experience listening to Radio 4 this evening. There was a tone of righteous condescension which I felt was misplaced. The main culprit was the Minister for Universities, Michelle Donelan. I find it disappointing that people who lack the honour to offer their resignation should be so quick to tell us that students are cheats, that exam predictions are inflated and so on. This is a form of politics that has no respect at all for the voter.

It is also worth noting that Dominic Cummings, yes he of the trip to Barnard castle, was working in the education department with Michael Gove and therefore partly responsible for the foul approach. It is worth listening to the general tone of condesension that pervades the rose garden defence.

I am shocked that Boris should trust this man so much. I wonder if he talks down to Boris as much as he clearly talks down to everyone else?

I think this approach of talking down, doing down, condescending- is something that is running across society.

I was defrauded recently. I was cut off and still am cut off from accessing my bank, and no emails save to the CEO seem to get through at all. It took me a week to get the bank to pick up the phone and answer me and it was another week before anyone from the fraud department contacted me.

I have asked to interview the leader of the HSBC bank in the UK. I fear this is an institution in turmoil that has not prepared well for a crisis like COVID, and I would like to help. The length of time it takes to answer the telephone speaks volumes- I have routinely waited over 2 hours and then had the call disconnected. This is not customer service- it is chaos. The man in overall charge is called Noel Quinn and the UK head is Iain Stuart. I will report back here when and if this happens.

Meanwhile, when I was telephoned yesterday by an agent from the fraud department, his manner was unbelieveably unhelpful (I have his name: always get the name and write it down).  When I asked specific questions about the changes in legislation regarding fraud, he retreated into a sort of bluster and ended up quitting the call in a huff (and I thought I was the theatrical one).

So, let me explain about fraud in UK banks: I am not much the wiser, of course, but I think there is an organisation called the “APP Scams steering Group” and they, in turn, have come up with something called “CRM”. Essentially, this is there to investigate fraud. I am not sure how it differs from what existed before but it came into effect on 28th May 2019 and came under the admin of the LSB a couple of months’ later. In contrast to what I was told by the agent, some banks certainly interpret it as offering a full refund to victims and others do not. HSBC seems to be among hose who do not. The relevant line from the legislation seems to be here:

“Importantly, any customer of a Payment Service Provider which is signed up to the Code can expect to be reimbursed where they were not to blame for the success of a scam. A customer can be either a consumer, micro-enterprise or charity, as defined in the Code.”

It is very confusing- deliberately so?

The LSB appointed an advisory board which is chaired by Ruth Evans and consists of what are called industry officials and consumers- I am not sure whether the “consumers” are therefore bank customers or bank officials. Again, the information is deliberately vague but it all sounds grand and well-meaning. In the right hands, it probably is.

What this means in practice, though, is that the banks can sound very grand about what they are doing and, as in my case, when pressed for an answer, can fudge to the point of confusion because nobody really knows what was intended.

It is the same approach by the Government and Ofqual. Referring to Acronyms is a way to avoid explaining what you are talking about just as the double negative or the passive voice distances a rogue from any any direct access to the truth.

It is time to call out for some transparency – or should that be opacity? Surely we want something we can see: Solid facts anyway, something we can understand and something we can evaluate without an agent taking a grand-standing position above us and effectively saying, as Roger Taylor did the other day to the millions of students who felt aggrieved by the OFQUAL algorithm, that they “did not understand it”. Their problem, in other words (or rather in what his words must have meant- there is no other way to interpret them) was not the students were victims of an injustice, or a miscalculation but that they were stupid.

This seems to be the routine tone of people in authority at the end of the phone who have to take responsibility for a mess they have either created or inherited. Be it Virginmedia, HSBC, Sky, OfQUAL, or the Government – the line seems to be the same, that we are incapable of understanding them. That we are too stupid. We are after all, just the customer or just the public- in the case of the Government, we are just the voters.

Here is my point to Anita on the BBC 4 edition of ANY ANSWERS today: