Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Benefits Britain

It must be quite obvious that I don't have much of a life at the moment, seeing as all I write about is telly. Apologies. Here we go again.

In recent months, the UK benefits system has been in the media spotlight arguably more than it ever has been. Much of this has to do with prime-time television programmes about people on benefits such as Skint (Channel 4) and We All Pay Your Benefits (BBC One).

When talking about things like benefits and the class system, I always think it's important to talk about your own experience of benefits and wealth, because our opinions on these things often stem from our own background and experiences. Margaret Mountford and the BBC obviously disagree with me here, but fuck 'em.

Firstly: I don't know as much about politics as some people do. However, I do like to think I'm reasonably balanced in my opinions. I've been on this planet for 20 years, 8 months and 25 days. I live in a small town on the outskirts of Leeds. We were going to move to Wakefield until our house came onto the market, and we moved into this house because it was the cheapest house in the area. I've never lived in another house. My Dad is from Tinsley in Sheffield and my Mum is from Wetherby. The rest of my family are from inner-city Sheffield and inner-city Newcastle. Neither of my parents went to University; my Dad trained to be an electrician and worked in factories in Sheffield and my Mum went to art college to do textiles. When I was young, we didn't have very much money, and now we're relatively well-off because my Dad set up his own company in 2004 and after a few years and a shitload of hard work it started doing quite well. We used to have a Fiesta that leaked rain on to your head and now we've got two nice cars and a very dented 7 year old VW Golf (you'll never guess which is mine...)

I've never been on benefits and neither have my parents. I consider myself extremely lucky. Where I live, there are a lot of people who are on benefits and there are a lot of people who are quite rich. I've got friends in both of these categories. Some of my friends eat steak twice a week and some of my friends fill their cupboards with Tesco Economy custard creams. I love them all equally because they're all fantastic, wonderful people. Anyway, I'm getting further and further from the point.

The people that I know who are on benefits aren't reflected in programmes like Skint and We All Pay Your Benefits. We don't see the people who work their backsides off night and day to try and make ends meet but still can't due to disgustingly poor wages. We don't see the single mothers with disabled children who rely on the extra support from the benefits system in order to provide the care that their child needs. We don't see the people who work 12 hours a day in Subway and earn £2.60 an hour because they're classed as an 'apprentice sandwich artist'. What we see is the minority of fuckwits who can't be arsed to work, but they are portrayed as the majority when they are far, far from it.

It's easy to attack the poor because they can't defend themselves. They can't bring in big solicitors and attack the media. The poor are the only people who are truly affected by the government; the rich can feed their family under any government, but the poor can't.

What I find most bizarre about these TV programmes is some of the people that watch them. I can understand that it must be frustrating to see that a person on benefits has more money than you do when you work either full or part time, but some people actually want to see these people have absolutely nothing. These tend to be the people that live a comfortable life and have never experienced being on benefits. They sit in their comfortable arm chair with the heating on, pointing at the telly with their fork shouting "Look at this woman here! She's got a telly and a dog and a sofa has this fucking scrounger!"

What if she had that dog before she was unemployed and relied on benefits? What if she put away three pounds a week for four years in order to buy that telly?

People want to watch people suffering. It's exactly the same as the shit auditions on The X Factor; people like to watch others fail because it makes them feel that tiny bit better about their own shitty little lives. This isn't an X Factor audition though; this is real life and people need the welfare state in order to be alive. If you're really that against the benefits system, go out and meet real people on benefits and then make your decision. Don't get brainwashed by crappy propaganda television.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Ten years of The O.C.

A few weeks ago, whilst trying to find something to write about during football's summer break, I wrote about TV and how I felt that many of today's most popular programmes lack character depth (ooh, get me). In that post I talked about some of my favourite characters from my favourite TV programmes, and of course I had to mention my favourite programme of all time: The O.C.

The O.C. celebrated its 10th anniversary on 5th August. It's crazy to think that it's been that long since the very first time we had 'CaaaaalifOOOORRRNIIIIAAAAA, here we COOOOOMMMME' belting out of our television sets; however, what's even crazier is how much The O.C. has shaped TV today.

Now, you may be familiar with this already, but after The O.C. was launched and was immediately a hit, MTV decided to launch a reality series which they presented as 'The Real O.C.'. This was of course 'Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County', a reality series (well, ish) which followed the lives of real wealthy teenagers living in Orange County. One of the show's main cast members, Lauren Conrad, then went on to have her own reality show, 'The Hills'. The Hills was enormously successful for five years, and influenced some of the biggest programmes on television today, such as Jersey Shore, The Only Way Is Essex and Made In Chelsea. So in a strange way, we have The O.C. to thank for these utterly bizarre reality-but-not-actually-very-real-whatsoever programmes that have dominated our television screens for the past few years.

The strange thing about all this is that The O.C. couldn't be any more different to the likes of TOWIE and The Hills; even its rival teen soap One Tree Hill is completely incomparable. On paper, The O.C. should have been absolutely terrible. It wasn't though; it was excitingly unique and truly fantastic, and that's all down to its creator: Josh Schwartz.

The first and most important thing that Schwartz did so well was the creation of the characters. American teen film and television tends to fit to one overused, dull formula. There's the beautiful all-american girl, the 'jock' (what does that even mean?) and there's the nerd/dork/geek. Despite there still being elements of these stereotypes within the characters in The O.C., the personalities that Schwartz created were like nothing that American television had ever really seen before.

First of all, Seth Cohen. Beloved, wonderful Seth Cohen. The first thing that hit me about Seth was how could he possibly be the 'geeky' character when he is arguably the most attractive man on planet earth? But the thing which I love so much about Seth and think is so clever is the way in which he's an outcast. He isn't an outcast because he looks weird or because he's horrible, he's an outcast because of how far he is from any other teenage boy on American TV. The way in which his character is outcast from his peers is the same way all his hobbies, tastes in pop culture and funny little quirks are outcast from American TV. Unlike One Tree Hill's Lucas Scott, who is apparently a weirdo because occasionally he mentions that he likes Shakespeare, Schwartz pushes Seth's quirks to the boundaries. Seth is a witty, socially awkward teenager who thrives off drawing and listening to Modest Mouse, all whilst talking to a plastic horse. He's a full on weirdo, just like so many of us are. A beautiful little weirdo. The fact that Josh Schwartz created a character like Seth rather than the stereotypical 'looks and dresses a bit weird and is a member of Mensa' geek character speaks volumes about how fantastic he is at character development.

Seth's on-off girlfriend who eventually becomes Mrs. Cohen, Summer Roberts, is my favourite TV character of all time. She's a little ball of rage, and in that sense she reminds me a bit of myself (but maybe that's just because I really want to be her...). For the first few episodes, Summer comes across as the usual all-American cheerleader, except less blonde. However, Summer's character develops - perhaps even blossoms - and like Seth, we see her strange little habits which would never usually be explored on an American teen soap. I think my favourite thing about Summer is her quick wit. She's by far the funniest character on the show; a role which isn't often given to females in TV. Every time you want to throw something at the telly because Marissa is being SO FUCKING ANNOYING (which is a lot), Summer will always say something unintentionally funny to calm you down.

Now, I could sit here all night and talk about why every character in The O.C. is great, but I don't really have the time, and to be honest I doubt anyone's actually reading this anyway. However, there is one more character who is truly irreplaceable, and without him, The O.C. would never have reached the godlike status that it has done.

Of course, it's Sandy Cohen.

No matter how much you love your own Dad, every time you watch The O.C., you kind of resent him a little bit for not being Sandy Cohen. I can't even begin to count the amount of times I've laid on my bed in a total mess, wishing there was a Sandy Cohen in my life to sort me out. The world would be a much, much better place if we all had a Sandy to give us a bagel and a good talking to every time we fuck up. One of my favourite things about Sandy is that he reminds me of a northern English man. He's a gobby lefty and proud of it, he secretly loves California but pretends he hates it 'cos that's what New Yorkers do, and you'll never hear him utter a word of bullshit. He definitely has an ounce or two of Yorkshire in him does Sandy Cohen. Despite him being a forty-odd year old public defender, Sandy's wit and irresistible charm makes him just as popular to teenage viewers as the teenage characters do.

As much as every character on The O.C. is fantastic, the programme would never have taken off the way it did without these three characters, and without the fantastic depth and unique characteristics which Schwartz established them with. There are of course so many other reasons that The O.C. was so brilliant; one of the main reasons of course being The O.C.'s mock show within the show, 'The Valley'. Schwartz used 'The Valley' to subtly portray the things which were happening in the real world, for example the creation of 'Laguna Beach: The Real OC':

Seth: They're showing a marathon of 'Sherman Oaks: The Real Valley'.
Ryan: What's that?
Seth: Hm, apparently 'The Valley' has got its own reality show knock-off. And, you know, why watch the angst of fictional characters when you can watch real people in contrived situations?

and also in reference to Adam Brody and Rachel Bilson's real-life break-up:

Summer: Oh my god! Real life Jake and April broke up!

There are so many things about The O.C. which made it stand out from the crowd. It may have been ten years since the first episode, but its stood the test of time and probably will for the next ten years, if not more. Despite many efforts, nothing has ever quite lived up to it, and I doubt it ever will.