Friday, 29 August 2014

Great British Bake Off's BakedAlaskaGate: not worth the fuss?

This week on that gritty and hard-hitting fly on the wall documentary into the underground lives of.... um... sorry, themed gameshow, Great British Bake Off, was hit by scandal. In the third round of this weeks pudding based episode the challenge was set to create a Baked Alaska. Retro was liberally sprinkled throughout the explanations and descriptions of the task at hand.

But the drama came as, when coming to either put or remove her entry into one of a dwindling number of working freezers on an unseasonably hot spring afternoon, contestant Diana Beard removed fellow contestant Iain Watter's entry from the freezer and left it on the worktop. The result? disaster!

Was it sabotage? An unfortunate mistake? The producers, presenters and Diana all claim that the dessert was only out of the freezer for abotu 40 seconds so none of what occurred to the collapsing pudding was the fault of anyone but Iain's. He has since hit back that it is infeasible for it to have melted in such a short time and must have been out longer...still, he claims to bear no grudges.

Yet the interesting thing about the resultant mess is not the act itself, nor of the public anger at what they saw (a result either of the reality, the show's editors and producers, or a mixture of both), but the public annoyance at the public anger of what they saw. In comment threads, twitter posts and facebook comments throughout the land people are taking up arms to write things like "It's only a baking show!" and "This is hardly important, is it?"

There are swathes of people out there that believe that this is people getting themselves worked up over nothing, that it's not about anything significant, and that there are bigger things to be worrying about. They couldn't be more wrong.

Of course it is only a game show, and of course the result physically of a melting dessert does not matter. What does matter is what has been shown to the public, at prime time, about taking responsibility for your actions.

We live in a time where we complain, we being the general media and talking heads, of a disaffected youth...of kids and young adults being materialistic and not caring for the wider community, and for society as a whole. Yet here we have a 79 year old woman who removes someone elses hard work from the freezer in order to secure space for her own (or removes someone elses hard work in order to retrieve her own without caring enough to put said person's hard work back in the bloody freezer). And what gets said about it on the show? What reprimand is given for this ultimately selfish behaviour? Nothing.

"It was only 40 seconds!" is an irrelevant argument. What is the half-finished cake had been left out for a minute? 5 minutes? 10? Would culpability of an action only come in to force at an arbitrary time limit? The action itself is what is wrong, inconsiderate, selfish...yet the show and those around it have chosen to rally around their decision (which was also a perfectly fine decision, as it stands, and separate to the issue at hand) and ignore the lack of respect shown by one contestant to another.

Early on in the formation of the coalition that now runs this country a bunch of young people got up onto a roof, and one of them dropped a fire extinguisher from that great height. He didn't intend to hurt anyone, he probably wasn't thinking of the consequences. When he realised what he'd done he owned up to his mistake and was rewarded with almost 3 years in prison. Intent didn't matter, taking responsibility didn't matter (in so far as that his punishment was still harsh, even if it was reduced in any form for that fact). The effect of what he did was of no effect, and yet he was punished.

Meanwhile an elderly woman on a game show, who probably didn't intend to cause another contestant any harm, but hasn't and won't own up to the fact she clearly did something selfish and irresponsible, isn't even being taken to task for it. Naturally, it should go without saying (but hey, it's the internet, hi guys), I'm not comparing the two incidents and suggesting Diana should go to jail. Let's just put that line down in the sand. But no visible consequence within the confines of the show for the act?

We have mainstream tv letting older individuals off with a free pass for disrespectful and selfish action; yet we also have young people, who feel guilty for , owning up to something they did that was irresponsible and getting punished in extreme ways. How are we setting ourselves up, as a society, to teach young people that they're being anything other than persecuted? That actually being selfish is a normal thing that will go without a word said as long as you don't own up to it?

I'm under no illusion that giving Diana a reprimand would have spread greater social and individual responsibility, but the fact that it didn't happen is a small insight, from a seemingly inconsequential place, of how our media and our society is getting it's priorities wrong when it comes to reinforcing the idea of thinking before you act. You can dismiss this as of no importance because it's just a tv show, and a quaint little baking show at that....but when something as quintessential as baking cakes can be tarnished by unpunished selfishness, surely the reality is that for such idyllic subject matter to get dragged into this kind of debate, the problem has spread far indeed.