This week, comedian Jimmy Carr offered a studio audience the chance to save or condemn to destruction works of art which were controversial either because of the artist who made them (such as Eric Gill, who was posthumously revealed to have been a child abuser) or because the work itself was problematic.
In the hands of someone like Derren Brown, Jimmy Carr Destroys Art (Channel 4, Tuesday, 9.15pm) could have been a fascinating examination of the psychological forces behind cancel culture, but that was only ever touched on superficially.
Carr insisted throughout that the audience was making nuanced choices by balancing the value of art against the nature of the artist on a case-by-case basis. But their thought processes weren’t that nuanced. The reaction of one woman to shredding a watercolour by Hitler, despite the pleading of a Jewish contributor who pointed out this is also what the Nazis did to 16,000 artworks by their enemies, was: “I wasn’t into it. Get it gone. Cool.”
The sight of works of art being destroyed by fire was actually quite disturbing. Carr maintained it was “very different” to what the Nazis themselves did, but he never defined the difference. It looked ultimately like an example of the philistinism at the heart of cancel culture, rather than a comment on, or antidote to, it.
Oscar Wilde’s troubling dalliances with impoverished rent boys was never mentioned
A similar moral dilemma was raised by Stephen Fry in Conversation with Alan Yentob (BBC Four, Monday, 9pm). The actor/writer met the BBC’s former creative director at a statue in London devoted to Oscar Wilde – “a lifelong source of inspiration” to Fry. The Irish genius’s troubling dalliances with impoverished Victorian rent boys was, however, never mentioned.
These questions as to what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour from artists were not what the programme was about, to be fair, but it’s a quandary all the same.
The conversation between Fry and Yentob was leisurely and entertaining. Fry is always worth hearing, even if many of his anecdotes are familiar by now. His love of language and humour and people is life-affirming.
Louis Theroux’s unexpectedly thoughtful profile of British rapper Stormzy (BBC Two, Tuesday, 9.15pm) the next night equally showed the benefits of giving guests the space to breathe, rather than chopping content up into easily digestible bite-sized pieces for fear audiences will get bored.
Stormzy’s quiet reflections on his troubled and violent early life, the lessons he’s learned, his faith, his politics, his music, were utterly engrossing even for someone like me, who wouldn’t recognise one of his songs from another.
The thing Jimmy Carr failed to address in his own show, of course, is that if you let contemporary sensibilities be the deciding factor in what is and is not acceptable, and literally destroy what currently offends you, then his own jokes might be first to go.
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It’s a dilemma which Frankie Boyle’s New World Order (BBC Two, Tuesday, 10pm), back for a new series, also failed to address, as the eponymous host told his trademark jokes about paedophilia and the murder of women.
The real problem is that this style of comedy is too predictable. The first half of the show centred on how horrid Tories are. The second half was about how most of the guests “could not have given less of a f**k” about the recent death of the Queen.
There were some good lines, like Boyle’s description of the now former UK Prime Minister Liz Truss’s slogan of “growth, growth, growth” having “the same philosophy as cancer”; but even the best jokes pandered so sycophantically to the left-wing biases of the audience that the laughter felt too cheaply earned,
At least Jimmy Carr doesn’t pretend to be politically superior.
Sadly for him, it’s hard to see Hector Ó hEochagáin these days without thinking of the caricature of him on The Savage Eye – that of a relentlessly boisterous buffoon forever turning up where he’s not wanted, annoying everyone with a cry of “rahu, rahu”.
It doesn’t help that, in the publicity for his new show, TG4 describes Hector as an “adventurer, banterer and mischief-maker-in-chief”. He’s now 53 years old. There’s only so long you can get away with playing the eejit.
His latest show (Balkans go Baltics, TG4, Thursday, 9.30pm), his first since lockdown, takes Hector to seven different countries in Eastern Europe, starting in Turkey.
It’s a by-now familiar format. The schedule is filled with celebrities doing travelogues. The difficulty here is working out what Hector himself brings to the table.
There’s nothing objectionable about the content as he sketches a profile of “the new Istanbul”, a city of young people fuelled by the “Turkey Tiger” economy, or drops into a hair restoration clinic, or a Turkish bath, or hangs out with fans of local football team Besiktas. But each item was skipped over rather perfunctorily and Hector doesn’t seem to have a particularly unique point of view to draw it all together.
His main persona is that of an Everyman able to connect with “real people”, but that’s rather trite, particularly when done through the medium of banter.
Ultimately, isn’t the series just seven hours of Hector’s holiday snaps? He might rahu, rahu at that. The viewers, not so much.