Noise to Signal

Login disabled.


This month, one week apart, I happened to watch two flagship current affairs documentaries back to back – BBC1’s Panorama and Channel 4’s Dispatches. I was completely struck by what I saw, and not in a good way.

Both topics were emotive, no question: one looked at Barack Obama’s campaign for the American presidency, the other looked at the lap dancing industry in the UK. Already, no doubt, you’re able to furnish me with your opinions on those subjects. But, like any good current affairs show, I’ll be ignoring those opinions for now. Because both programmes showed such wilful bias, such clumsy disregard for balance, that they gradually became insulting. Facts were omitted, context was ignored, alternate perspectives given short shrift – did they think we wouldn’t notice?

Whichever side of the two discussions you fall, it doesn’t matter. What matters is this: should our best terrestrial broadcasters really be making ‘factual’ shows this shoddy?

Panorama: Obama and the Pitbull: An American Tale

BBC1 - October 13th, 2008
Producer: Judith Ahern, Editor: Sandy Smith

Out of the gate we’ll ignore the stupidly colon-heavy title and ‘pit bull’ being made a single word and move straight to Jeremy Vine’s introduction. “The result seemed in the bag,” he begins. “Obama was America’s new prince waiting to claim his throne…With George Bush the most unpopular president in history, the economy in crisis and war on two fronts, this election should be a landslide for any democrat. That was before the Palin landslide swept America and re-energised its conservative heartlands.”

Did it seem in the bag mere months ago when the Democratic party was tearing itself apart, watching two candidates battle hard and long for who even got that status of ‘prince (or princess) in waiting’? Were we all aware of the forgone conclusion as Clinton voters took Hilary’s negative campaigning to heart so drastically that they began to side with McCain? Don’t people tend to lean for the Conservative candidate in times of crisis? Didn’t the war actually get Bush re-elected? Isn’t that entire opening statement predicated on a lot of questionable elements?

Matt Frei takes up the story on the scene, his confident voice-over insisting that Obama is a movie star president – he’s been on T-shirts, magazine covers, has danced on Ellen DeGeneres’ show. The implication of shallowness is immediate, and only reinforced by showing clips of Matthew Modine and Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas stating their liking for the guy. Well, if celebrities like him, and say so when collared by a press gaggle at an awards do, then he can’t have much going on, right? (You can wait all you like for similar snippets regarding Palin, damning her by finding allegedly out-of-touch supporters, it ain’t coming.)

Then it’s time for footage of the Democratic National Convention, Obama’s victory speech, including shots of what the voice-over describes as “84,000 adoring fans”.

Fans, you see. They’re not supporters. They’re not politically energised. People like him because he’s the new Harrison Ford. Sure, it’s a small thing, the choice of a word. But do it enough times, lean your copy a certain way, and…well, let’s just say that nobody’s talking about ‘McCain fans’. (They do, however, later describe the event as a “party”.)

Obama Photo Gallery

With an on-screen photo collection displayed, I swear, using Apple’s Quicklook interface, we’re told a little bit of personal history, aided by some truly awful copy: “White mother, black father – Obama’s story is an up-to-date version of the American dream.” He could have been a lawyer, we’re told, but was “restless” so went off to become an activist in Chicago. And the undertone is that this was an untrustworthy show of early ambition. That he chose not to be a lawyer. More words follow, words that are easy to lean negatively, words like “ambitious” and “impatient”.

Various of Obama’s friends and mentors are interviewed, and what they say – in brief snippets – seems to confirm the makers’ points. He was “confident”, he learnt “how to adapt and appeal to his audience”; he was “strategic in his choice of mentors”; and, most damning, that his “opportunism extended to his choice of church”. Brilliantly, they speak to old friend Ivory Mitchell, who says Obama was “not very religious”, suggesting, gently, that Obama used one religious centre – which he attended for 20 years and got married in – as a way to continue his rise to power (and it is about power, not making change in the world).

Then we’re clued in to which church we’re talking about – that of pastor Delmar “God damn America” Wright.

Shown in this order, it’s ‘used the church’ followed by ‘ties to an anti-American’. Reverse the order, and it’s Mitchell trying to distance his old friend from a perceived zealot during a time of election. That way around, the claim of an ‘opportunistic’ choice of church seems to mean something quite different…so best not to look at that. The question is about whether the man is fit to lead, not how hard it is to campaign in a country where the separation of church and state is little more than myth. Don’t you dare get side-tracked by the complexities of the real world.

And so we go on. A quick indictment of Chicago politics – no time for the finer points (though the status of the Chicago elections were, at least, given a few seconds of context regarding the normalcy of an unchallenged election) – and then we’re into how Obama “found a way” to reach voters: “the best-seller”. Because, of course, the books were planned as best-sellers from the word go. The biography and political thoughts of an Illinois senator are big audience-grabbers, right? A built-in readership is guaranteed, it’s like the next Harry Potter. And that readership is being swayed. Books are a populist, anti-substance medium, after all.

Again, the choice of the word ‘best-seller’, rather than ‘book’, is interesting. Important books are different from populist ones. The Bible might be the all-time biggest seller, but really we’re saying this is more The Da Vinci Code of American politics. Unsurprising, frankly, in a documentary that continues to use words like “intelligence” as pejorative, that feels uncomfortable when a man in professional politics shows an understanding of “the moment”.

Then a former Reagan speechwriter says Obama has done nothing and doesn’t know what he wants to do. No counter-opinion from the left, but we do get an on-screen counter – one that shows Obama using the word ‘change’ in 24 speeches. Showing how he’d reached “the point of parody”. (Parody is apparently indicated by the counter exploding.)

Obama Promises 24 Changes

So…I couldn’t have edited together 24 instances of the word ‘Iraq’, then? Or ‘security’, ‘economy’ or ‘divided’? There’s no description of the context of these 24 uses, how many uses over how many speeches over how long a time. Nor whether, in fact, he speaks about change with any more specific plan.

Journalist David Sirota is interviewed. He tells a story about how he interviewed Obama and was mesmerised by the man…until he got home and his wife pointed out the contradictions in what the senator was saying. Which, of course, is kinda how they talked about Hitler – as this magnetic, hypnotic personality. Of course, Panorama has no time to clarify what those contradictions might have been, nor to explain that Sirota has stated that he has cast an early vote for Obama, despite being a strong neoliberal critic who’d previously been happy to lay into Clinton.

This may be the chief benefit of Panorama in its current form – it skims over things so quickly, ignores so many obvious questions, that the viewer is left in no doubt that they’re not getting anything like an accurate picture. We’re left with no choice but to Google the names on screen, to find out the facts for ourselves. Which we should be doing anyway. But still – you leave with too many questions to trust the source you’ve got.

To make sure we don’t get all our information regarding Obama’s effect on voters from C-list Hollywood types, we next meet…some kids. Kids on a fundraiser (presumably with their parents) who see Obama as a surrogate father, as a symbol of hope. Bless them, how unrealistic. And what do kids know anyway? Just another sign that his appeal is about the cult of personality.

A discussion about fund-raising suggests that the campaign is seeing a huge rise in donations from regular folks. A show of support apparently heavily diminished by corporate America’s insistence on donating, too. Again, the implications come in – that this isn’t the “change” Obama was promising. (Which, of course, he can make happen overnight while running for office.) The campaign website, we are told, says that 90% of the donators are regular people. The documentary insists that 50% of the money received is corporate.

The implication, aided by the way the information is delivered, is that there’s a lie being told. Anyone with half a brain will look at the way its written above and see that both statements can easily be true at the same time.

The Obama footage is often treated with a film filter to make it appear grainy and old. Presumably this is because the audience isn’t trusted to tell the difference between past and present without it. But come on, this was shot in August, not the 1950s. The soundtrack isn’t much better, with Obama getting ‘Across 110th Street’, while Palin gets ‘Sexyback’. Subtle. Still, just check out the clips of Palin with a hockey uniform or pit bull head superimposed. It’s hard to be surprised when this show’s key creative influence appears to be The Day Today.

Yep, Palin’s introduced as a serious spanner in the works of Obama’s apparently hassle-free, unopposed rise to power. Her biographer praises her “tenacity” and “boldness” (she, presumably, isn’t anything so unsettling as “ambitious”, “confident” or “strategic”), and Chris Morris is evoked once more with a Rocky soundtrack and punching sound effects.

Footage of Obama in Berlin, Germany – again with the film grain and scratches, because Europe has no access to modern video cameras – is cut with working adults in Berlin, Ohio talking about Palin. (The names, of course, make the two incidents absolutely comparable.) Presumably we’re dealing with regular grown-ups because there were no children or C-list celebrities to talk to. There is a Tina Fey impersonation clip, to show that Pailn was “mocked mercilessly”, and the “Can I call ya Joe?” debate footage proves she’s just regular folks. As opposed to being someone who plays to the crowd or has a sense of the moment. Those would be awful things to accuse someone of.

Finally, in amongst suggestions that Obama “looking calm” is enough to win him the election, Andrew Sullivan appears with a rare, throught-provoking quote – stating that, with the economy as it is, Obama’s success may, in part, be because “We don’t have time to be racist.”

Wait, what was that? Racism was part of this discussion? When did that happen? The poster-child’s rise to power was only halted by Palin’s arrival, surely? Can we talk about this, because it’s actually rather –

Obama Vs Palin

Nope. No time. We’re moving on. There’s an amusing graphic of Obama versus Palin to show. See, the V rotates! And ooh, look, pretty fireworks! Still, there’s the summing up. That’ll put a cap on the difference between the candidates. And sure enough, a man in Ohio states that the country will be weak under Obama…and he’s followed by a girl of maybe 14 saying that if the Democratic nominee doesn’t get into power “The country wouldn’t be what it could have been.”

Balance, as ever, is all.

Whatever your politics, the crass, surface-level journalism going on here should infuriate you. While it may or may not lean in your preferred direction, the manner in which it leans is, surely, deeply distressing. Are we really able to be treated so lightly? Are we really supposed to take the line offered because it ‘sounds untrustworthy’. Do we really have to be given so little evidence to be assumed as ‘convinced’? Must a show really be disingenuous to be persuasive?

The conclusion, surely, isn’t regarding the suitability of any candidate. It’s that Panorama doesn’t consider you bright enough to notice the glaring omissions. The programme is comfortable enough to assert opinions as facts, and if you’re looking for evidence, you’re watching the wrong show.

‘Flagship current affairs show’ my Joe Six-Pack arse.

Dispatches: The Hidden World of Lap Dancing

Channel 4 - October 16th, 2008
Producer/Director: Janice Finch

Brace yourselves. We’re going to be shown “the disturbing truth”. The tough questions are going to be asked. Questions like “Is it entertainment, or dirty dancing?”

Assuming they’re not talking about Dirty Dancing, can we just agree that the answer is ‘both’, since they’re in no way mutually-exclusive concepts, and go home? Nope, we have empty rhetoric and hypocritical disgust to show first. Plus lots of important social factors and counter-arguments to completely ignore.

Peter Crystal

The unlikely-named Peter Crystal is handsome. We know this because we watch him shave, brush his lovely teeth and pull his shirt on. Peter is going undercover so we don’t have to. Presumably an ugly guy would have fared less well in the strip joints of the UK when it came to being offered ‘extras’, so they’re going to load him up with cash and send him in with a hidden camera. The programme is coy about his behaviour in the clubs. The grainy black and white footage we get – shrunk down to half size, presumably to render it ‘less naughty’ – is somehow missing the details of how much he’s spending, how gregarious and generous he appears. Still, what he shot happened, so maybe it doesn’t matter.

Peter goes to the beach and draws a three-foot perimeter around himself. It’s an illustration of the distance limit in the club he’s about to visit. As is the following scene of Peter wandering the busy streets late at night trying to stay three feet from every pedestrian. It’s incredibly difficult, poor boy, and he looks a bit stupid trying. Still, we now understand what three feet of distance is – where would we be without this vital information?

Wobbly, black and white Peter enters the club and gets himself a lap dance. “It became apparent,” Mark Bonnar’s voice-over explains, “that the three feet rule was not being observed.” Mark’s dreamy tones (he was a nurse in Casualty, so he must be trustworthy) almost take your mind off the HIDEOUS AND DREADFUL sight of a naked woman dancing close to a fully-dressed man.

But just because we’ve seen it for ourselves and had it explained by a qualified nurse actor, doesn’t mean we can believe it. So footage is taken to a lawyer. He studies it closely on the production assistant’s laptop, nods sagely and agrees. Yes, the three foot rule has been broken. Presumably they showed him the tape of what three feet looked like first.

Now, okay, first things first – you may or may not approve of the nude wriggling profession. You may or may not think it’s damaging to society. Regardless, we can all agree that yes, in the footage we’ve seen, the law is being broken. It’s been confirmed three times, and is a fact.

It turns out, though, that this is as far as Dispatches have gone in their thinking – the ‘gotcha’. The documentary goes on for another 43 minutes (minus ads), gets plenty more saucy footage, and utterly fails to get any closer to the debate than this, than basic shock and appall.

To be clear, there will be no significant debate on the pressures facing dancers to ‘go further’. No decent investigation into whether the clubs are coercing these illegal performances, or whether it’s internal competition. No mention of whether it’s mainly the attractive or richer-seeming clients that get offered the special treatment.

More importantly, there is zero regard given to the debate on morality. Right from the start the programme is certain – this naughtiness is going on “on your high street” (this gets repeated a lot) and it’s a Bad Thing. You will not ask questions about how, exactly, it’s bad for us that people we cannot see are nude. You will not be shown any evidence of detriment. It may exist, but Dispatches has no time for such things.

Though it does, apparently, have time to re-show its footage over and over again. Teasing into the break, summarising the situation, forever blurring out identifiable tattoos but making sure you can see every available nipple. Please remember to be disgusted throughout.

“Hard to believe this is all happening here,” the voiceover continues over shots of exotic Newquay. Maybe because naked people tend to steer clear of seaside towns due to the wind-chill. Oh yes, there are five licensed lap dancing clubs down here, and one local resident is not happy. She says that, at night, the club opens and advertises itself with banners, which is dreadful. In fact, it’s as dreadful of this:

Open Club

Won’t somebody think of the children?

Well, our lady resident is, that’s for sure: “My eight year old daughter, when one opened on the high street, her question to me is ‘What’s a gentlemen’s club?’ And I find it very hard to explain that there are no gentlemen in gentlemen’s clubs.”

Seriously, she might have to explain that men like to watch dancing girls. Isn’t it vital that this be stopped? What next? Her child might have to learn about love, death, sex, childbirth and, of course, that there’s no such place as Hogwarts. To spare her embarrassment, this has to end.

Again I say – fine, if you think the men are immoral, go ahead. If you have a low opinion of the women dancing, whatever. But is this really the strongest argument for the documentary? “My daughter might find out?” Wasn’t there a single quote in this NIMBY’s interview that explained just why, exactly, the effect of these clubs on the area is so bad? Has crime gone up? Has rape? Is the turning out of horny men at 4am bad for the area? Significantly worse than the drunks being booted from the pubs? Tell us! Because without it, what we get shown is this:

A Closed Club

And we’re asked to understand how walking past a closed club in the day can be extremely traumatic.

We’re told that the clubs manage to exist on ‘entertainment’ licences, so aren’t classified as sexual businesses. It’s this relaxing of the law that enable the clubs to flourish On Your High Street. We’re told this over specially-filmed shots of a woman, in silhouette, taking her clothes off. And still the hypocrisy police don’t show up. (Though I guess the James Bond titles designers might now be facing obscenity charges.)

Mrs Nimby returns to say that “It’s bad enough when people make decisions that you don’t agree with, but when you’ve got a lot of people at the local authority saying ‘There’s nothing you can do about it’, that makes it worse.” Poor love, I know just what she means. My neighbour has decided to wear flares all over again, and my local council were just as dismissive. Again I say, maybe she’s not a total fascist clod, but Dispatches are doing their best to assume an absolute morality. Outrage, in this show, is apparently enough, no matter how incoherent.

The show follows a lather-rinse-repeat format from here on out – we’ve a lot of clubs to visit, and a lot of footage to get. But first Peter is sent – no doubt kicking and screaming – back to the same club to see if the three-foot rule-break was a fluke. It wasn’t, and he gets a horrific lesbian show to contend with. “Hard to believe, but the law defines this as public entertainment,” the voice-over declares, as we watch the goings-on in a private booth.

Shaken by the experience, poor pretty Peter has to flee the club for fresh air. “It was really overwhelming,” he stammers, “to have two girls who I’d known for three minutes suddenly be performing a fully-nude lesbian sex show in front of my eyes. It’s something I never would conceive happening in Newquay, and I was shocked by it to be honest.”

It’s the “in Newquay” that makes it art.

The club is asked, by post it seems, for a response to the makers’ findings. They say, in a written statement, that the girls are told the rules clearly and should be abiding by them. Which is apparently all Dispatches wanted, and away they go.

Hang on, hold up. Is it the girls, is it the clubs? And whichever it is, what damage is being done? Who’s outraged by the sights on display? Mrs Nimby isn’t concerned about whether the law is being broken, she just doesn’t want all these naked people being naked On Her High Street. (She’s also looking to ban the changing rooms in M&S.) And the guys inside the club are fine with the naked lesbian shows, one assumes. I mean, nobody asks them, but unless they’re all in there with undercover cameras and delicate moral sensibilities, it seems likely they’re okay with it.

After the break, it’s decided that one undercover agent isn’t enough. Gemma, a stage dancer, has been hired to crack another club. It’s vital to the narrative that we see Gemma being trained in the pole-dance arts. It’s crucial that we see her flexible teacher demonstrating the moves. It’s absolutely integral that we then watch her be-thonged backside auditioning. (Presumably it was also important to the production that they train up a regular dancer rather than simply go out and find a girl who could already do the job. Hard to believe this was for moral reasons, to avoid giving any more money to ‘sex dancers’; more likely they didn’t want to have to balance the programme too much with blatantly biased girls who don’t hate themselves for what they do.)

Gemma, bless her, is apparently a bit too elegant for Secrets, and her hair’s really too short. But if she gets a wig and roughs up the moves a little, she’s fine. Enquiring about the rules – in colour hidden shaky-cam this time – she is told that she must, at all times, keep her knickers on. The club also, by law, has a one foot rule, but the club’s girl-manager has her own take on things: “We call it the one-foot rule. But you can get as close as you want, there is no rule. They’re not allowed to touch you, you’re not allowed to touch them.”

Oh…what? Hang on, we came here for scandal, for clubs who were whoring their staff. We’re not going to get very far if you have a reasonably rigid set of…well, not rules, but let’s call them guidelines. So the doc leaves poor Gemma behind, we never see her again, and Peter is sent back in. Peter’s better – he knows how to get proper naughty footage. And he does.

The one-foot law is “vigourously ignored by every dancer we paid” we’re told, as we watch various girls vigourously ignoring. No clear statement on whether the knickers guideline is broken, but Peter doesn’t do any touching. Not to worry, though, because Peter is invited – surely as a matter of course, rather because of the cash he’s chucking around – into the VIP area. Where it gets “more naughty”. Lesbian naughty. Thankfully, he’s eventually let outside for air to muse on this “very, very strange experience.” Oh Peter, couldn’t you have said ‘traumatic’ or ‘damaging’?

The club, taking its written right to reply, says it maintains its own code of conduct. Ho-hum.

Finally, though, we speak to a dancer for real. She’s anonymous, but she’s worked the clubs. She doesn’t seem to bothered, and only manages to reel off a basic ‘You have to make money in the club, and you pay to dance there’ statement before we move off.

Back to the start of the cycle, then, because there isn’t time to look at the morality of charging the girls to work. There isn’t time to find out if the men just expect the extra service. There’s no time to find out if our anonymous dancer found the job detrimental to her physical or mental health, or if she feels she’s contributed to a moral or environmental decline.

There is time to speak to another NIMBY. A guy this time, thereby presumably proving this isn’t a gender issue. Attempting to oppose the opening of a club nearby, he reports despondently, “We discovered that the only grounds on which you can object to a licence are pretty strict: crime, public nuisance, disorder, harm to children.”

Won’t somebody please think of the children? Oh, you were.

So, to be clear, the objections to lap dancing On Our High Street in the documentary aren’t based on any of the factors listed above. The clubs are not a public nuisance, they don’t encourage crime, and they’re not damaging to anybody’s eight year-old daughter. They look, terrifyingly, like this:

A Closed Club

Which is clearly offensive, and Mr Nimby isn’t happy. “General views on clubs” are apparently not taken into account. Which is dreadful. I wonder how they feel about ‘General views on the cooking of ethnic food’? “A lot of people also feel unhappy at the thought of what may be going on behind closed walls,” he says, and this is important. I’m not happy about the possibility that my ugly, flared neighbours may be having sex next door – can we do something about them, too?

But hey, why talk about what’s going on when we can show it? Peter’s going through hell for us, after all. Oh, the dreadful, dreadful dancing – and the brutal freeze-frame as Voice-Over Nurse coldly states that “At this point she simulated masturbation.” To be fair, at that point I was considering doing the same.

Back to the lawyer – and by now we’re very clear of the shape of the show, with Peter’s ordeal followed by legal analysis, various bits of vague outrage, and then a perfunctory right to reply. In this case the lawyer once again confirms the not-legal-ness of the dancing, then he proffers this gem: “It struck me as a transaction of the most soulless and functional nature.” Excuse me, but…is that your legal position? Not the most independent of observers, then?

A spokesperson for the Object campaign shows up and says these clubs should be re-classified as part of the sex industry. She’s a likeable personality, and you tend to agree with her. Yes, why not? If it’s about the label, maybe this is the right way to go. Again, a shame that nobody’s saying quite what difference this would make – the truth is that it would ghettoise strip clubs back to the seedier areas, blown by public opinion to rest beside sex cinemas and shops. They show a lot of shots of neon sex cinema signs. Presumably because the actual clubs don’t look sleazy enough. Again, though, don’t expect any debate on whether the classification system itself is at fault, that there are more shades of grey than we’re currently equipped to deal with. Nobody’s interested in subtle distinction here.

So we think the lady may have a point. Good for her. Then you give Object a Google, and…well, take a look. Did the show adequately explain the organisation’s views? Did it convey their desire to eradicate all forms of objectification of the female body? Did it clarify that ghettoisation is being taken, in this case, as an alternative to the real aim – outright eradication.

The joke being that, again whatever your view, there is at least a debate to be had by bringing Object into it. If you want to talk about the dreadfulness of naked dancing, bring in someone who might have thought about why it’s so dreadful. Where is that interview? Where’s the badly-needed perspective? Five minutes on their website and you’ll find conclusions such as “There is strong evidence that dancers can suffer humiliation and sexual harassment on a regular basis, from customers and staff/management.”

Dispatches? Hi, hello, it seems there’s evidence available. Might help make your point. Interested? What do you mean you still have more shots of tits to cram in? (Other of Object’s points – that people dance out of lack of options, say – are less well-reasoned. People also gut fish for a living due to lack of other options. But at least this stuff might have kindled some intelligent discussion.)

More moral outrage follows as we learn of a club in the Midlands that is impinging on the “striking architecture” while being placed right outside a sixth-form college.

Won’t somebody, please, for the love of God, think of the young adults?!

Hilariously, the programme interviews whatever students showed up in response to the ‘Are you opinionated and do you want to be on telly?’ flyer posted on the notice board. They get right to the heart of the matter. “Why does it have to be in Stowerbridge?” one asks. It feels like they’re trying to get points for the right answer. “How do you feel about where the club is situated?” is the question, and it leads them exactly where they’re supposed to go. They think it’s a Bad Thing – but, um, will this count towards my coursework?

A local councillor explains that they have received a massive number of complaints, but that most couldn’t be counted because they were from outside the catchment area. NIMBYs are also, generously, concerned about what goes on in their neighbour’s backyard, apparently. Though “That doesn’t work, because of course you may walk past it every day when you take your children to school or when you’re going to college.”

The hellish sight that greets students and parents alike, as they pass it during the day, is this:

A Closed Club

And if you won’t think of the children, at least, please, think of the architecture.

Councillor NIYBYE (Not In Your Back Yard Either) is also concerned that another club is planning to have private booths. She’s worried people won’t just be “discussing the politics of the day or swapping stamps” in them. Next year she plans to run for office again on the ‘execute bed salesmen’ ticket.

So Peter is sent in and gets his footage. We’re warned that straddling, simulation of sexual actions and client touching are all banned, so we watch those rules get broken. The lawyer nods and confirms the rules were broken.

And then the club gets its right to reply…and confirms it has sacked eight dancers.

Oh yes, this is much better. Livelihoods are tossed aside without another mention. The girls are given no right to reply. There’s no discussion about…well, any of the things we’ve so far avoided discussing. One can’t help but wonder if this is really what Object wanted, to separate women from their income. Well, I say one can’t help but wonder, but Dispatches isn’t remotely bothered. Best not talk about it.

No, tell a lie, Hidden ID Stripper is shown explaining that when in these clubs you want your dance to be “more interesting” to beat the other girls. Which, in six seconds, covers all the nuance the topic requires, surely?

Round the houses again, this time in Blackpool. We’re told the clubs here must have no nudity and no contact. So Peter films both…the voice-over only later explaining that this was a club already under caution for a previous rule break. (Girls were, apparently “fondling each other”.) The lawyer agrees they’re awfully naughty and deserve a spanking, or something, before spewing this gem: “With the exception that the customer had his clothes on, in my own mind I couldn’t see very much distinction between what was happening there and prostitution.” At which point I decide he may not even be qualified.

Hidden Camera Footage

Devious Peter has a finale in mind, though, as he finds two girls on a slow night and gets them to offer him sex. Outside of the club, without its knowledge, acknowledging that they risk being fired if the offer is discovered. So Dispatches passes the information on. The club’s statement is that it “will investigate”.

In a tabloid-discovered ‘members club’, Peter finds himself disgusted to be offered yet more illegal dancing, followed by equally-illegal sex. (The programme is in no rush to distinguish one from the other.) The lawyer tuts, the club gives a dry response, possibly by carrier pigeon, and Hidden ID Stripper says prostitution isn’t that rife, though some girls do cross over, most don’t choose to do it.

Not rife? Easily Offended Peter has something to say about that. In the final club, a girl touches his cock and then “She put his hand on her breast, in full view of the VIP area.” To be fair, she also offers to shag him for money, and the follow-up statment says the girl will be sacked. Another victory!

Voice-Over Nurse brings things to a close. “The evidence we’ve collected leaves little doubt that when it comes to lap dancing, light-touch regulation doesn’t work.”

True enough, I guess. Literally true, anyway. Laws are being broken. But saying the footage you have proves that lap dancing should immediately be restricted to sex-shop style licensing…that’s crazily simplistic, isn’t it? Without personal, economic and societal context, do you really get to be so definitive?

Put another way, what if they investigated cannabis like this?

‘We travelled the universities of the UK and were shocked by what we found.’ Acres of footage of naughty students rolling joints. Peter could more legitimately run outside for fresh air. The lawyer could study clips and nod sagely about how something is, definitely, being inhaled, before opining that he can’t see a difference between this and injecting heroin into your eyeballs. Then we could interview a doctor without discussing, at all, any medical issues surrounding the drug. We’ll show footage of how people must, every day, walk past Rizlas on the shelf.

You avoid any talk about the financial aspects, about what drives dealers to deal or tokers to toke. You state that weed can lead to harder drugs, but you don’t talk about why or how this happens. You steer clear of anything so prosaic as ‘effects on society’, except to talk to a couple of angry mums who want to know how they’re going to explain the term ‘completely munted’ to their infant offspring. The appearance of offence is, after all, the same as proving a dangerous effect. And then, at the end, go ahead and claim proof that cannabis must immediately be classified Class A. Just like that.

As a viewer you may be repulsed by this aspect of the sex industry – it’s unlikely, given that you’d be so uncomfortable with what was on the screen that you’d have to switch off, but you may – or you may consider it fine for grown adults to use their own bodies as they choose in a private club. But either way, as with Panorama, can’t we at least agree that we should be able to expect more from these flagship documentaries?

Don’t we deserve better, smarter, than these pointless polemics?

About this entry


Couldn’t agree more with this article. There’s good discussions to be had about both topics (especially the rather disgraceful charging of women to lap-dance), but these ‘documentaties’ aren’t having them.

Tanya Jones's picture

By Tanya Jones
October 25, 2008 @ 10:29 am

reply / #

Yaaaargh! Your observations are sound. These shows seem like FOX NEWS in the US. “Fair and Balanced”. IN A PIG’S EYE!

tippy922's picture

By tippy922
March 25, 2010 @ 6:25 pm

reply / #