Bread and Circuses and Hunger Games

[Content Note: Class warfare; exploitation; dehumanization.]

For your entertainment:
The BBC has defended a new TV reality show pitting unemployed and low-paid workers against each other for a cash prize, which has been accused of echoing film the Hunger Games, arguing it is a "serious social experiment".

The show, called Britain's Hardest Grafter, is seeking 25 of Britain's poorest workers with applications limited to those who earn or receive benefits totalling less than £15,500 a year.

The five-part BBC2 series will pit contestants against each other in a series of jobs and tasks with the "least effective workers" asked to leave until one is crowned champion.

The winner will receive a cash prize of about £15,500, the minimum annual wage for workers outside London.

...Twenty Twenty has posted advertisements calling for participants who are willing to "prove their worth" to "potentially walk away with a cash prize".
To prove their worth. As if people who are poor have no inherent worth.

Lest anyone on this side of the pond get too sanctimonious about this gross display of class warfare in Britain, CBS' new reality show The Briefcase premiered this week, in which "American families experiencing financial setbacks" are given a briefcase filled with $101,000, shown another family in similarly dire financial circumstances, and asked to decide "how much money to keep and how much to give the other people, or whether they want to keep it all for themselves; neither family knows both families have in fact received a briefcase, and that their counterparts are also deliberating over if and how to share the money."
In the two episodes CBS made available for review, the decision weighs incredibly heavily on all participants. One woman is so overcome that she vomits. Everyone talks about health insurance. Several people claim this is the hardest decision they've ever made. Many, many tears are shed.

...The Briefcase plays into this class anxiety by setting up the classic American pastime of figuring out in what ways these people are being poor wrong. The families visit each other's homes and look through each other's bills: For the participants, this is presumably meant to engender sympathy and greater commonality, but for viewers, this plays as, "let's examine what they eat, what they wear, how they get to work, where they live in the first place, and ignorantly identify those things we perceive to be not poor enough, not sufficiently humble."

America perceives poverty as a moral failure, which is why the participants on The Briefcase have to perform generosity to such an extreme degree. These people have to "prove" themselves as virtuous — to themselves, to one another, but in particular to a viewing audience at home — to show how unlike other poor people they are. We're not really poor, we just had a string of really bad luck, unlike those other people who are poor on purpose.
So, in addition to being aggressively indecent, exploitative, dehumanizing, contemptible garbage, it's also a huge prank.

Further exploiting people who are among the most exploited by our shitshow capitalist nightmare system for entertainment and calling it a social experiment, while profiting off of letting people gawk at poverty porn, is unfathomably, unjustifiably cruel.

Already, I've seen defenses of each show on the basis that the contestants are willing participants. And, yes, they are adult human beings exercising their own agency—but poverty undermines meaningful choice. Desperate people can be "willing participants" and also coerced by their circumstances to do things they wouldn't otherwise do.

To ignore that reality is the only way we can justify this shit as suitable entertainment. And if we are required to ignore one of the most fundamental truths about poverty to consume these shows, their content is hardly the enlightening social programming it purports to be.

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