A six part, self-congratulatory programme that purports to show us the groundbreaking, world shaking, harsh realities of the tuna, prawn, rice and chicken industries of SE Asia – industries that provide us with much of the cheap no frills food we devour.
I thought that the righteous indignation at the cruel and unethical means of cheap food production was not only an over trodden documentary path, but also a notorious and tragic inequality, that anyone with an ounce of education and common sense is well aware of. How can they keep this theme fresh? I thought. The answer, is by depicting the exploitation through a group of people so naïve that they must have been locked in a room of cotton wool and Disney cartoons – not Bambi though – for the whole of their childhoods.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case, with naivety comes ignorance and watching ignorance on TV, is like watching a rerun of Jade Goody in the Big Brother house, knowing full well that she is no longer among us. It leaves you in a state of jaded (no pun intended) irritation – too depressed to muster indignation.
The first episode that aired on BBC3 last night, centred on the Indonesian tuna industry, which the group seemed amazed to discover involved a more intensive production process than a few smiling men in colourful boats plucking tuna from the sea with bamboo rods. In the real world these men will probably starve to death, while the multinationals plough the sea of every living creature and grossly exploit the abundant cheap labour available. The illusion was broken and the group were shocked by this discovery, but then again, they were shocked by just about everything they saw. The whole hour was like watching the awe on a child’s face at a magic show, but with the strong desire to smash the child’s face in for being such an idiot.
Accompanying the wonderment at how hard people had to work, how little the people got paid and how terrible the work was – which, knowing a little bit about working in food factories, I actually thought to be ok – were the real cringe inducing, make-you-ashamed-to-be-British moments, that all but a few documentaries manage to highlight. These involved Jess (dance teacher and Paris Hilton aspirant) refusing to skin a fish in the tuna factory; Olu (vain meathead) smashing someone through a plate glass window in the factory; Stacey (sanctimonious rich girl) whining about having to have her nails cut short. “They’re hacking my fingers off!” she exclaimed at one point; and Manos (total wanker) constantly retching at everything from his host family’s toilet, to the smell of tuna in the factory, so that he ended up walking around like a man hypnotised into believing he is a pigeon.
As the programme drew to a close, it came as no surprise that they’d all learned from the experience (how can you fail to learn when you knew nothing to begin with?) and are richer for it. The girls grew to admire the unflinching hard work their host displayed in the pursuit of her indeterminable future; Olu got sent back to the UK for being a yob – so he learned to never stray too far from the confines of a gym; best of all though was Manos, who explained to the fishermen of a tuna trawler, that before he came to Indonesia he was quite keen on exploitation, but now that he’d met them all he’d decided that he’d prefer for them not to be exploited and that they should be treated as equals. Revolutionary! – like watching William Wilberforce in action!
Next week the group will be moaning about farming prawns and, no doubt, enlightening us with things we already know, whilst gaining precious experience for their CVs, so that when they come back to Britain they can acquire well paid jobs in the high rise, air conditioned luxury of large multinational companies, where they can, once again, forget about the blood and sweat and order a takeaway to reward all their hard work.