This article appeared in The Herald
The BBC’s Saturday night gameshow All New Total Wipeout is very popular, if the people who go on about these things are to be believed.
Not having seen the old Total Wipeout, I cannot say what is new about this series. But, my friends, though modesty compels me to admit it was no arduous task, I believe I have deduced how it so absorbs viewers.
The answer has something to do with the fact that the programme is made in Argentina. Not that there is anything especially germane to Argentina about it – the contestants might as well be in Cyprus, or Burkina Faso, or Cambodia; anywhere, in fact, except Britain, because abroad is where danger and unpredictability reside for the modern Briton.
Danger exists at home – have you been to Paisley Road West? – but in the main it is considered rude to mention it. Programmes like this respond, therefore, to impulses unsated by our culture. Total Wipeout shows us people negotiating obstacles and coming off second best, endeavouring to avoid being punched by robotic arms and falling headlong into great filthy pools of mud. And it is not sadism which holds us gripped – but atavism.
Older Herald colleagues speak of a game they used to play – loosened up after a few refreshments, the better to meet evening deadlines – the object of which was to get from one end of the office to the other without touching the floor. Nowadays, we must ensure our lumbar vertebrae are in line before we even lift our notebooks.
And in all the land, it is the same story. New Labour’s greatest legacy is that it put 4,300 new criminal offences into statute, and where we are not at risk of transgressing one of those, we are being told we cannot have a bonfire, or stand up at the football, or imitate Clint Eastwood by taking an orangutan for a drive. In 2010, packets of peanuts come with the warning “May contain nuts”, railway announcers tell us that platform surfaces may be slippery when wet and a woman who fell into a moat whilst trespassing at Carlisle Castle at 2am was recently paid £52,250 in damages.
Argentina does seem a very long way to go to fall into some mud, especially if you are largely indifferent to adventure in the first place. But I will say this: if ever I impale myself on a coatstand at work, it will have been my own stupid fault.