Thursday, January 24, 2013
Network housekeeping #1
Tuesday, January 08, 2013
No children were harmed in the maiming of this culture, sorry making of this programme
Kitted out in the very latest patterned jumpers, hoodies, checked shirts, jeans, accessories and branded ankle boots, there’s the double barrelled thesp who’s been on Outnumbered; the grating Essex-boy from Tracy Beaker; Amy Winehouse’s singer-niece (here’s the Daily Mail doing the usual perv-up on her 16th); the Brummy street dancer-cum-general tart (Man U fan, natch); the Manc all-rounder (a Blue); the girl off CBBC show Sadie J which wryly sends up the dilemmas of cool. It’s not a fully realised attempt at diversity of course, with guys outnumbering girls and southerners in the ascendant as per. In this world Olly Murs is on the standing committee of cool with the likes of alleged pothead Justin Bieber and One Direction.
Screened at the end of the school week (although as I suggested most remote-savvy kids including my 6 year olds hit it up on iPlayer at their convenience), there is no pretence at an educational element – BBC mandarins would doubtless assure us this element is ably covered in strictly enforced quotas elsewhere on CBBC) – unless you regard learning how to ride a jump bike or mastering the latest Mario Nintendo release to be pedagogically important. Friday Download is pure entertainment. The analysis of any cultural product, apart from the games where they tend to know their shit, doesn’t tend to get past the standard “OMG I love this / it’s good but not as good as their last one” school of appraisal. But this is not the point of a fast-moving, nay fast-downloading, kids’ magazine show. Indeed, its most instructive feature is Hot or Not, where the team move to a hot or cold section of the sofas to illustrate whether something is Hot, and therefore, er, Cool.
On come the guests (always young pop stars like Rita Ora and Rizzle Kicks, often stars from other CBBC shows), and the age dynamic comes into play. The pre-teen audience are in awe of the 15-20-year-old presenters, who in turn revere the early 20 something guests who have broken out into the grown-up celebrity world where they wannabe. On both gazing levels this must very much be what fame looks like. It’s a convincing illusion. Remind you of the playground, when even a passing word from a teenage elder can leave a huge impression? No nasty exclusive vibes here though, the patina of schools-out cool sees to that. That sense of aching cool can seem pretty painful for parents who have been through that socio-cultural blender (and still can’t shake it off in the commodified long adultescence), and can generate new anxieties for their children who, watching shows like these, may place undue weight on such priorities.
Already all of these highly professionalised young presenters have willingly jumped through hoops to arrive at the lower rungs of the showbiz ladder. You can’t say they have been openly exploited as their clear desire to be a noted TV-net bot alleviates any of those fears, and I’m sure they’re getting guidance from parents (albeit pushy parents projecting their own wanderlust onto their offspring). This is very far from a 70s/80s showbiz icon abusing his powers over a vulnerable child in the backrooms of a nightclub or radio/TV studio, with the leering entreaty ‘I can make you a star’. Perhaps the deliberate occlusion of adults from this show is meant to provide that kind of reassurance. Anyway, kids being endlessly foisted in front of the camera is no biggy these days, it’s just an extension of becoming social media-savvy, exploiting their immaterial labour in the way all youngsters are told is essential if they want to get ahead.
If these young turks have a role model, beyond the merely musical likes of Murs, One Direction, JLS or Little Mix, it’s 1FM jock Greg James, the emblematic empty cultural vessel de nos jours. Haircut slightly hip but still tidy (he was a head boy), James does a bit of everything, club DJ, YouTube skits, grown-up TV chat with comic Russell Kane. He alludes to crazy student days or on the road but rest assured he is a safe pair of hands – so much so he’s just been in Afghanistan broadcasting for ‘our boys’. James, like every non-specialist Radio 1 jock these days, presents the playlisted pop dreck with as much enthusiasm as the cooler stuff, and would even resent any claim they have less value than the latter, because they all serve as fodder for those crazy days of youth. With the great British consolidation continuing, our culture will need more ciphers like him so we thank the Friday Download’s academy scheme for producing the right kind of starlet, burnout permitting.