I'm a Celebrity, windows and Aeschylus
So tonight, we start again the circus of I'm a Celebrity that seems to mark, in our new calendar of the seasons, the beginning of the approach to Christmas. I am old enough not only to fail to recognise most of the 'celebrities', but also to wonder precisely what the attraction of the programme is. I learned recently that the Celebrity camp is used by the English crews and the German crews. The German television programme comes after ours, and is more of a psychological challenge. Ours is more light - hearted, which I am sure is due to the genius of Ant and Dec being able to make fun of the 'celebrities' without ever causing offence. (Interestingly, the Australians themselves film their programme at a similar camp but in South Africa). Clearly, whatever chord the programme strikes is a universal one.
Part of the attraction is of seeing our heroes brought down to earth, or alternatively of having the chance to humiliate those celebrities who we really cannot stand. And this year it will be interesting to see what reception Ant receives. Is he - as I suspect - sufficiently high in the public's affections that they will sympathise with his obvious difficulties earlier this year, rather than rather rubbing their hands with glee at the downfall of a celebrity who flew too near the sun ?
And part of the attraction is to be exposed, through the medium of the screen, to our fears with a degree of detachment, watching someone else confront a spider, or a snake, or be buried alive whilst we look on from the safety of our living rooms. And perhaps part of that attraction is the realisation, deep within us, that if they can face a spider at close quarters and survive, perhaps we can too. Interestingly, the modern treatment for such phobias, which I use in my practice, is to encourage my client to visualise the object of their phobia on a screen whilst they sit as a safe observer, all within the deep relaxation of hypnosis. And if that is a bit too close for comfort, I invite my client to watch themselves watching the screen, or even watch themselves from a separate room behind a thick glass window, watching the screen.
Although this draws on modern neuro-science, it is not a new idea. As so often in our culture, the Ancient Greeks got their first. As a student, I remember being gripped by Peter Hall's production of The Oresteia at the National Theatre, and even then noting his suggestion that the masks of the Greek Chorus - rather like the tinted mask of a welder - enabled them to look at terrible events with their eyes open, and so, from a degree of detachment, start to come to terms with their fears.