If you scroll through your TV guide, past the plus ones and old repeats of The Crystal Maze you will eventually come across a channel named E!. E Entertainment is a network devoted entirely to the world of celebrity, where the equivalent of Panorama is a ‘True Hollywood Story’ about Tara Reid’s cousin. It is glossy pulp served up with a frightening lack of irony by presenters seemingly named after fabric softener (Seacrest). It’s like seeing Les Dennis walk down your street; mild interest at first, quickly followed by a deep sadness.
This week saw the first episode of the channels newest gift to humanity: Rich Kids of Beverly Hills. It is a reality show about the lives of wealthy twenty-somethings living in the posh bit of LA. When I say ‘wealthy’, I mean the sort of money that could fund a coup d'état of the British government and install a packet of Twiglets as prime minister.
The stars of the show are Dorothy and Morgan who spend most of their time in designer clothes shops or on Instagram. I’m (sort of) sure they’re perfectly nice at heart but the problem is you have to go through three layers of cashmere and a diamond the size of a Satsuma to find it. If you’re given everything you want all the time then you’re not going to get everything you need. It’s understandable they have the self-awareness of loo paper because they’ve never had to wipe their own arse.
At one point Dorothy says, “why do I need to know how to open a bottle of wine when there’s always a sommelier?” And she’s absolutely right, you wouldn’t. Money hasn’t empowered them, it’s infantilised them. They say that the age at which someone becomes famous is the age they stay for the rest of their life. And it’s the same with having a lot of money, because you don’t have to grow up when the answer to ever question is yes. They’re not nasty people, just spoilt children.
There was one thing in particular that did worry me a great deal though. I don’t know if anyone’s seen Chris Martin recently but I think he might be cheating on Gwyneth. Morgan’s boyfriend, Brendan, claims to be a big-shot estate agent but I firmly believe him to be the lead singer of Coldplay. Have a look; he’s even got the voice that sounds like he’s got Slimer from Ghostbusters lodged up his nose. Why Chris Martin would choose to broadcast his infidelity on a low-grade reality show is anyone’s guess. Just like why did he write all those shit songs?
Another seemingly unanswerable question is: what is Ben Fogel? His name sounds like a knot sailors use to tie their ship to a jetty, “just put a quick ben fogel round the cleat and pull it tight.” And whether he’s in the Amazon or rowing across the Atlantic, he always looks as if he’s just made a wrong turning near Parsons Green tube – all polo shirts, chino shorts and bright woolly jumpers. If you could peer into Johnnie Boden’s mind, you would see a naked Ben Fogel waiting patiently to be dressed.
He’s affable enough – in the same way that Monarch of the Glen was affable – but he is so soft and fuzzy that sometimes it’s hard to see him at all. There’s no discernable personality, at least not one that comes across on TV. He’s one of those thoroughly nice chaps you meet at a party but the only thing you can remember about them the next day is that they were wearing bright red trousers.
In his latest outing on Channel 5’s Ben Fogel: New Lives In The Wild, good ol’ Ben journeys to the Himalayas to meet Steve Lall – an upper class Indian who has swapped Delhi society for the good life of a hill-top home. The programme is actually quite watchable and in Steve they found a great character. He is one of those older upper-class Indians still touched by colonialism – peppering his Indian lilt with “buggers” and “bloody hells.”
But there was a major problem with this episode. Fogel keeps mentioning, throughout the programme, about how Steve has chosen to live a “hand-to-mouth,” subsistence existence, but in the context of India it comes across as the wrong way up. The real story is not about Steve and his decision to choose poverty but about the hundreds of millions who have no choice at all. It’s not what the programme is meant to be about but I’m afraid it’s unavoidable and actually makes the whole thing feel rather embarrassing. It’s not a nasty programme, just a bit childish.