Quite the most upsetting thing I saw on TV all week was Bob Geldof on the Jonathan Ross show (Friday), talking about all the dead Africans who are found washed up on the shores of Lampedusa, between Libya and Sicily. So many, he said, that the mayor of Lampedusa complained that he had ‘literally’ no room anywhere left to bury them.
Now, obviously, Africans dying en masse is a bad thing. But I’m afraid what upset me far, far more was the fact that Ross allowed Geldof to get away with this lachrymose homily (which got a huge cheer from the audience, unfortunately) on a show normally characterised by its flipness, brazenness and irreverence. ‘Yeah, yeah, St Bob, save that guff for Parky,’ Ross might have said had he been on form. ‘What we weally want to know tonight is: nostril hairs. Do you pluck ’em, snip ’em or shave ’em?’
The genius of Jonathan Ross, 99 per cent of the time anyway, is that he never allows himself to be cowed by the egos of the celebrities he’s interviewing. Sure, he’ll lay on the charm and flattery to put them at their ease. But he’s rarely afraid to put to them the killer question that leaves you simultaneously squirming and brimming with admiration at his audacity.
When he interviewed Ringo Starr, for example, he dared to bring up the cruel John Lennon quip about Ringo not even being ‘the best drummer in the Beatles’. And when he interviewed the dauntingly po-faced and introverted Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Ross coaxed from him not just the odd smile but very nearly an agreement to be Britain’s entry in the next year’s Eurovision song contest, too.
What an awful disappointment, then, that he should have allowed himself to be bullied into giving airspace to Geldof’s hectoring, simplistic and politically dubious demagoguery. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have done the same thing in Ross’s position: truly Geldof is an awesomely persuasive figure — partly because of his fantastical eloquence and oratorical gravitas, mainly because of that burning, de haut en bas righteousness which lets you know that if you don’t agree with him you might just as well be wiped from the planet like the worthless turd you are, you evil fecker. I’d never want to argue with a bloke like that, no way.
But, then, I’m not Jonathan Ross and I’m not on Jonathan Ross’s salary. If I were, I think I’d be feeling a little ashamed of myself this morning because frankly, Wossie, you bottled it. You bottled it for two reasons: first, because you are a professional entertainer and not a PR for the charity industry; second, because that sanctimonious, shaggy ex-pop star is allowed to get away with far too much guff, and if a fearless cheekie chappie like you isn’t going to call him on it, who will?
Sure, it’s sad that the mayor of Lampedusa can’t find space to bury the bodies (though not altogether surprising given the island’s size), but the reason those refugees were fleeing the Dark Continent had absolutely nothing to do with any of the things that Geldof is campaigning for. They weren’t running away as a cry for more aid, nor yet as a heartfelt plea for the G8 nations to drop the debt (and thus penalise those other emerging economies which have worked that bit harder to keep their house in order). Rather, they wanted a new life in a part of the world where property rights are respected, where there is political stability and a viable economy, that’s all.
What’s so galling about Geldof’s campaign is not that its intentions aren’t good but that it’s set to delude a whole generation of geographically and politically illiterate youth into imagining that African poverty really is something that can be solved at the click of a few pop stars’ and models’ fingers. I wonder if any of the kids texting so frantically to get their Live 8 tickets are even aware that 4 million Africans have died so far in Congo’s civil war; or of the scale of the massacres in Rwanda and Burundi; or of the havoc Mugabe has wreaked on the breadbasket of Africa; or of the Sudanese government’s ethnic cleansing of Darfur province; or of the fact that the Ethiopian famine which launched Geldof’s career as a political activist was deliberately engineered by the dictatorial Mengistu. No, actually, I don’t wonder for a second.
Hey, I finally saw the American version of The Office the other day on BBC3 (Tuesday) and — you know what? — it’s not nearly as grisly as you might have feared. They’ve copied it pretty much shot for shot (though the theme tune has changed from Rod Stewart’s ‘Handbags And Gladrags’ to ELO’s ‘Mister Blue Sky’), line for line, and sometimes even physiognomy for physiognomy (but not the Gareth character). It’s still a complete waste of time, though — largely because there’s only one Ricky Gervais, and Steve Carell is not he. If the Americans promise to stop ripping off our sitcoms, we’ll promise not to make any more Cockney gangland versions of The Sopranos featuring Martin Kemp.