Sunday, 20 July 2008

Coffee, Food and TV

In the 1980s ‘scratch-and-sniff’ promised the worldwide screen-viewing public technological advancements directed towards the other dormant senses. This uncertain future died from a distinct lack of… well, certainty from the audience and since then the furthest humans have stretched in the entertainment industry is IMAX (article to come). However, in our modern day prime-time television audiences have managed to find a way to indulge not their neglected senses, but their dormant muscle, the brain.

A recent trend in television viewing has seen the growth in popularity of cookery programmes, as if executives realised (as Countdown should, similarly, be suffering) that their core fanbase for Ready, Steady, Cook are dying in large numbers, as is befitting of an audience that comprises almost entirely of pensioners. The face of cookery has shifted away from Ainsley Harriott’s loveable campness to the hard-edged, sleek presence of Gordon Ramsey, who has been banned from the set of Junior Masterchef after kicking too many children in the face. Along with 'Cash Gordon' (aptly named for his decision to attach himself to Channel 4’s entire prime-time schedule), Jamie ‘Geezer’ Oliver and Hugh F.W. (you know who I mean, I just can’t spell it) have sparked a passionate interest in food on television. The tragic progression is easily tracked: the toughness and drama of a professional kitchen (see: Geezer’s ‘Fifteen’ Project) mixed with Gordon doing his best to make it worse played on the middle- and upper-middle-class’s belief in quality food and the potential of amateur cookery. The world is now left with Masterchef, The F Word and everything in between.

Entitling my article ‘A Feast for the Eyes’ would have been too easy and would have been giving into an overwhelming urge prodding at me to gorge myself on all the potential food puns, but would have given an insight into the heart of my anger surrounding this matter (besides the banishment of Ainsley from the new trend of TV). My anger is tied to the supposedly fatal flaw of programmes about culinary culture… you can not taste the food. The harshest perpetrator of this atrocity is the new, revamped, post- Lloyd Grossman Masterchef and the detailed articulations of the two fat men presenting the programme. The merits submitted to the audience are unattainable and yet this audience (the demographic of which are accurately represented by my parents - tediously middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income suburbanites) are drawn into supporting a specific party (or chef). For once in a discussion about credibility of tv programming Big Brother wins, because at least the interest of the audience is sustained by a quality that is remotely accessible. The ramblings of one man who looks perpetually stoned (“yeah, food’s fucking brilliant! Please keep giving me more! Have you got any Frosties?”) and one man who seems to like everybody (“I like her, because she’s probably going to re-watch this and hate me”) are not the basis for any form of judgement. “The pheasant was overdone” completely alters the audience’s reception of the food by their brains when, if we’re honest, very few of us have had enough pheasant to know when it’s not just duck that we’re being swindled into paying more for.

The pinnacle of this tedium arrives at the point in which the key demographic (or target audience) were so well identified by the producers at Channel 4 that the middle-classes should feel ashamed to be so transparent. Come Dine With Me put dinner parties on television and has been met with great success. All the dressing-up, the politics, the competitiveness, the intimacy of a dinner party, but without the food. Perhaps dinner parties, like the programmes that are indulged in by dinner-party-goers/throwers, were never about the food. The only saving point is Come Dine With Me’s narrator, whose open cynicism perfectly embodies the sentiments of this writer and makes it essential viewing.


OLIVER HOLDEN-REA

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