We recently got TV in the Spinsterhaus, following many months of begging on the part of Mon Geek, and an unexpected saving a a result of switching one of our household bills which left us an additional £20 per month to the good. As a result, a whole new dimension of tack has opened up in my life. I have recommenced my grapple with popular culture, rather more successfully now that I am pinned to the sofa with a baby surgically attached to my nipple. I have developed low-level addictions to programmes I never watched before, like the inescapably middle-class Bob Larbey sitcom As Time Goes By, which is repeated daily on UK Gold, or Nothing To Declare, Pick TV's documentary about Australian border officials. I'm not ashamed. Honestly.
It was after an episode of Nothing To Declare (some madwoman tried to smuggle in three pounds of roast pork in her luggage; a sniffer dog found some cocaine sewn into a vast soft toy that had been mailed to a misspelt address) that I left the TV on the same channel absent-mindedly, and found myself watching a programme called "Junk Food Mums - Pushy and Proud." The title sat awkwardly on top of the programme, like an ill-fitting and inappropriate hat. It purported to be a serious examination of three women's attitude to junk food in their families: Nadine, a 21-year-old mum of four children under five; Debbie, a single mum desperate to stop her twin teenagers from putting on yet more weight; and Sharon, who weighed 37 stone and promoted a fat-positive view to stepdaughter Kate, herself a size 20. What he programme was had nothing to do with a serious examination. In fact, it was a proper carve-up.
Censorious footage of Nadine's four children stuffing McDonald's into their mouths was piled on top of interview footage with Nadine herself, a guileless young woman with a laissez-faire attitude - "My kids eat when they're hungry. If all they'll eat is McDonald's, I'd rather they eat it, and then I know they've been fed." Her unemployed husband, Ricky, (naturally, the programme had to mention that the family was living on benefits at the time) preferred to cook his own food, possibly because he was a qualified caterer. "But your food tastes like crap," Nadine retorts, which is possibly why they split up after the programme was filmed. The whole tone was of blame for this Bad Mum who forced her kids to eat junk. Umm, hello? The other parent in the house? Wasn't Dad as responsible as Mum for what the children ate? Clearly not on this show. As well as the benefit-bashing, partners were conspicuous by their absence. At least Ricky got an interview segment. Sharon's partner, Andrew, made no appearance at all, a bit like Captain Mainwaring's wife. The nearest we got was a lifesize cardboard cut-out of him that appeared with Sharon when she was interviewed as "Britain's Fattest Bride" on This Morning. So, This Morning - flying the flag for acceptance there, then. But the message here was clear - if these kids ate crap, it was Mum's fault.
Nor was there any exploration of the reasons behind the way people eat. Nadine admitted to being "a fussy eater" who struggled herself with trying new foods, and towards the end of the programme, mentioned that she had eaten a lot of junk food growing up. Sharon - an intelligent, articulate woman who started out saying that she was happy with her weight and believed that it was possible to be healthy despite being very overweight - ended the programme by admitting that she was frightened when she went to sleep in case she didn't wake up. The programme barely spoke to Debbie's daughters, although the head of the fat camp she sent them to explained to her that searching their possessions for chocolate wrappers and constantly banging on at them for being fat probably wouldn't really help them lose weight. There was a bit of bogus"exploring the issues" too, as bride-to-be Debbie and her stepdaughter Kate went shopping for bridesmaid's dresses in Debenhams, struggling to find much in size 20 for Kate to try on. (Which is fairly pathetic for a high-street shop. Get your act together, Debenhams.) People stared after Debbie, and occasionally shouted insults, if they were really small-minded. There was a horribly voyeuristic feeling about all this, sneery and unkind, as though watching people shout insults at a bright, pretty woman because of her weight wasn't really much different from heavy-handed, meaning footage of the same overweight woman sweating after a short walk through a shop. It left a bad taste in my mouth.
As the credits rolled, a defensive message screened, stating that all the individuals shown had been given access to healthcare professionals to help them with their eating choices, as though that was enough to make it all OK. It wasn't. This lazy snide type of programming is a disgrace to the schedules. If this is modern TV, bring back the freakshow. At least it didn't try to pretend it was anything other than what it was.