Revering The Rich, Reviling The Poor: how TV is succumbing to inequality

The BBC’s proposed new programme Britain’s Hardest Grafter sounds like the latest (and possibly worst yet) example of a depressing trend towards serving up people in poverty as entertainment. There is already a growing petition against it reacting to the details that have been released so far. 

If it turns out to be as bad as feared then it will complement other BBC shows such as The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den where people are invited to prostrate themselves and their wares for the delectation and deliberation of the rich and powerful who then deign to give an Imperial thumbs up or thumbs down. The BBC is, of course, not alone. Other channels invite us daily to salivate over the wealthy and gawp critically at those without money.

Television as divisive as this is perhaps not that surprising in the context of inequality and the status competition it breeds. When life increasingly resembles a rats-in-a-sack “war of all against all” it makes self-preserving sense to identify with the powerful while kicking down on the less fortunate. How else are we supposed to keep our position in the pecking order?  And status competition and status anxiety is not confined to the poorer parts of the income spectrum. We know it goes a long way up and, according to recent reports, seems to be falling particularly hard on younger people who are the key demographic for many of these tasteless programmes.

We need more TV that challenges inequality rather than meekly adapting to its vicious contours but this seems a long way off at the moment. What’s really required is a reduction in our extreme inequality to usher in a more cohesive and compassionate society where people see each other more as potential allies and collaborators rather than as enemies or competitors. Material differences create social distances and until we address this brute fact through a reduction in inequality our social and cultural life will continue to suffer.

Bill Kerry, Supporters and Local Groups Manager