How Britain’s Spending Secrets taught me something that wasn’t about money at all
The most problematic thing about reality television shows is also what has made them so popular:
We want to see a person snap under extreme conditions when we put himin an inescapable location with other strangers, we are curious about other people’s lives, we want to watch them succeed, but it’s probably more interesting to watch them fail.
Britain’s Spending Secrets, the brainchild of TV presenter Anne Robinson, who freely admits she enjoys spending lavishly, immediately hits a nerve, as money, where it comes from and how people spend it, has been the centre of many a heated debate long before the financial crisis.
She openly invites viewers to judge the examples of different income classes and spending habits and does so herself — BSS is in no way meant for polite discourse, but for close scrutiny of the people she interviews and perhaps also ourselves.
The reactions to the show, which just had it’s first episode air on BBC One, are probably exactly what its makers were going for, as social media, too, is not a place for moderation.
The first person presented, a woman named Charlotte who lives off of benefits, is deep in debt because she cannot keep her spending under control, as she has a need for what she can in no way afford, judging by her situation as unemployed mother of three.
She is easy to judge because she openly came forth with her opinions, and revealed herself to be failible to advertising and the trappings of brand culture.
Any other person on the show who earns their money, no matter in what way they spend it, gets off nowhere as badly as Charlotte does, as a slew of people immediately come forth who feel that their tax money should not go towardsa woman who behaves in such a way.
It makes you happy the standards of our established social security system are set differently.
Entrepeneur Laura is another extreme, who earns well and spends well. She looks and sounds happy, almost as if to prove the show’s initial question whether you can buy happiness.
Fronted by a presenter who has admitted to a similar lifestyle, criticising her would mean exposing the show to hypocrisy, so the audience is left to judge the figures themselves.
A family living close to the poverty line despite their honest work inspires next to no reaction, because there is no obvious flaw in what they are doing, so in an attempt to get them to judge someone from their point of view, mother and massage therapist Claire gets send to inspect a family considerably better off than herself.
What it shows is that what’s normal for one might be madness for another, which in itself is not a groundbreaking revelation.
Crucial however, is how those that send their children to private schools think about public education.
Such people pay for the best because they have caught on to the fact that their children will be regarded differently and have a significant number of options open to them.
While a parent on the show says this discrepancy comes from the low standard of public education, it reveals something far more dangerous; that we might believe someone who had better schooling to be more intelligent and perhaps even more deserving, to belong to an elite that is ‘ruling the country now’.
It means that if this view is spread, more andf more children from lower income households will be left without chance, for example if they are not able to penetrate the working-for-free culture that is internships in many industries.
We judge those that are in debt, but unless we are willing to consider debt, we are left behind.
Did Benedict Cumbverbatch make it as far in his career as he did because he was sent to a private school or because he is talented?
Are the unemployed really just stupid? Do we have to bear with atrocious working conditions or little to no payment so we can eventually ‘make it’?
It is a subject people feel strongly about because the issue of money reaches far deeper into society than the subjects of spending guilt of jealousy, but as a show Britain’s Spending Secrets focuses on such feelings instead of looking at what might be meaningful to these people no matter how much money they have — it’s a show then that makes all of us look equally shallow.