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Katherine Shonfield

Some of this summer's especially squirm-inducing offerings are those Saturday night TVprogrammes dubbed 'I love 1971' with variations referring to the rest of the decade. To those unfortunate enough to have been sufficiently sentient the first time around, it was obvious then that this was a bummer of an era. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the rubbish passed off as televisual entertainment. Likewise, the fact that this August the nation has been stirred from its habitual lethargy to be gripped by Channel 4 programme Big Brother speaks unpleasant volumes about the present day.

This is the series which has set up a number of young people to live together in a house within a compound especially constructed for easy voyeurism, and under full 24 hour view of the television cameras.

It is curious that among all the glib rationales for this form of diversion, the producer has missed a highly respectable precedent from the country that embodies current middle-class ideals of good taste and civilisation, that is Italy. Within the purlieu of the Ducal Palace in Mantua, if memory serves me right, the Gonzagas had constructed a house for their court dwarfs, where they too would live under full view 24 hours a day, and where the Gonzagas, like us, considered themselves best rewarded for their vigilance when the inhabitants indulged in sexual activity before their eyes.

When present-day visitors are informed of this untoward attribute of Renaissance Humanism they are profoundly shocked. With the benefit of hindsight it is entirely obvious that the dwarfs were party to their own degradation because they concurred with the degraded view of their own worth of those in power. What then does Big Brother say about our own view of the current generation of young people?

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