Weaver's Week 2018-04-01

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This edition was published on Easter Sunday, 1 April 2018.


Morality On This Day

This week, one of the most complex and theologically demanding programmes we've ever attempted to review.

Let us begin in the Jordan valley, where the river runs through a deep gorge and forms a hard barrier to most people. The Ephramites on the West Bank develop slightly differently from the people of Gilead on the East Bank.

There's still trade and cultural exchange between the two groups, but not enough to keep them speaking exactly the same language. In particular, Ephramites would not begin a word with a "sh" sound, their dialect would prefer a "sss" sound. Gileadites kept the "sh" sound.

The Ephramites tried to invade Gilead, their invasion was repulsed and their forces scattered. It was difficult to recognise an Ephramite from a Gileadite by sight, but they could be told apart by speech. So this sort of exchange happened at the Jordan crossing points.

Swashbuckle The significance of a talking parrot is yet to be established.

The Gileadite guarding the ford would say, "Before you cross, say 'shibboleth'". And the traveller would respond, "Sibboleth. Oh, er..." And the Gileadite would detect an Ephramite in his midst, and there would be a great and bloody struggle, and food for the carrion.

The shibboleth has become shorthand for any custom, or catchphrase, or ritual mark for a particular group. In human society, the bulk of shibboleths are to exclude: like the original, their aim is to identify people who are out of the chosen group.

Swashbuckle The congregants join in the group shibboleth.

It's no surprise that the programme begins with its own shibboleth. Unlike the majority of shibboleths, this one is inclusive, it's shown as a badge of membership rather than a test to fail. The in-group leader narrates all the actions – marching to symbolise conflict, placing the hand on the heart to recall allegiance, indicating symbolic various items of apparel, and a significant sound. By this cry, the leader hopes to bring non-aligned viewers to her side rather than that of her opponents.

Are humans born naughty, or do they choose it?

Very soon, it is established that the divide is larger than the Gileadites and Ephramites. This is an existential battle between good and naughty. The group leader positions herself as being on the side of "good", and asserts that her opponents are "naughty". To verify her claims, she reports that they have stolen her gems.

Swashbuckle All of them. They've stolen all the gems!

The concept of "theft" is old and well-established. The god of Judaism declared a prohibition on theft, putting it at number 7 in the Ten Commandments. The faithful of that faith, and its descendants Christianity and Islam, see this as the end of the matter, the will of their god is absolute. Others moralists see theft as violating someone else's dignity, by depriving them of items they've earned. It's a violation of justice, and of charity, and generally of community norms.

But theft is predicated on the permanent removal of items, and we will soon discover that the "naughty" are quite prepared to return the gems. Perhaps this is why they are described as "naughty", rather than "evil". They are capable of redemption, they may return the jewels during the broadcast.

In this particular ontology, the counterpoint to "naughty" is "good". A division between people who follow the social norms, and those who tend to flout them. As the establishment broadcaster, the BBC tends to presents the argument from the "good" side. It chooses not to suggest that older generations' morality might be indefensible.

Swashbuckle Just another normal day for the naughty.

We can briefly consider a counterpoint show from the opposite view, exploring the anarchist position. The rule-takers have five gems, a surfeit of shiny riches. Have the rule-breakers a prior claim on these items? Do they dispute ownership, or require settlement of some other debt? Even if property does amount to theft, as Proudhon argued, the acid test is whether the item was obtained through exploitation.

Indeed, we do see some points from the "naughty" characters. There are vignettes into their regular life. Many such pieces revolve around cookery, which seems to be the specialism of Cook. (It is possible that nominative determinism has governed his life; such an investigation is beyond the scope of this column.) People love soup made from seaweed, but will they love soup made from slop? Such dilemmas may appear unrelated to the established "naughtiness", but serve to emphasise the elastic approach to rules. Morality is negotiable.

Calvin and Squawk

But we digress. The leader of the "good" side addresses the audience, and encourages some of the congregation to join her. The elect few are, of course, required to demonstrate their "good" credentials by performing the shibboleth, or "salute" as it's known.

Swashbuckle Prove your worth in this trial of good versus naughty.

The "naughty" side is prepared to return one of the jewels, should the "good" side prove their worth. In this analysis, quality is demonstrated by a number of physical tasks, selected by the omniscient parrot. At first glance, Squawk follows in the claw-prints of thinkers like Luther and Calvin, he embodies a loose idea of pre-destination. Destiny has chosen some of the participants to be successful, and the chosen will be denoted by earthly rewards.

Of course, if you follow this idea to its logical extremes, then you're going to get some dull television shows. The winners have been chosen by fate, their success is irresistible. Nothing the player can do will change the result. It's a bit like Red or Black?, a show where someone had to go for the million.

Swashbuckle Final redemption violates the right to privacy.

Rather, we think Squawk limits himself to foreknowledge – and imperfect foreknowledge at that. He knows what is likely to happen in Coconutty Raft or Stepping Stones, but he may be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Some have argued that Squawk proposes a prosperity gospel, where an increase in faith leads to an increase in health or wealth or status. We don't agree, for the show's mission has already been established – a straightforward battle against the forces of naughty, to recover Gem's gems. This is how we can tell the programme apart from childish follies like The Apprentice.

We must note that the environment is balanced by sex: the captain of the "naughty" group is a woman, whether Cpt. Captain or her predecessor Cpt. Sinker. Her underlings are gentlemen, the cook is joined by his chum Sinker. Gem picks a balanced group of acolytes, almost always two young gentlemen and two young ladies.

The chance of redemption is limited: the "naughty" group will only ever offer to return two of the five gems. In order to recover the whole set, Gem's friends will need to invade the Scarlet Squid, and seek retribution against their enemies.

Swashbuckle It's a narrow triumph for the good side.

Working in pairs, the marauders will need to go up the steps, through the ball-pool, along the rope bridge, and down the slide. It's a physical challenge to test the most hardy, and there's no surprise that Gem invokes the Salute before taking on this task – a reminder of the group's common purpose.

Success in the final task will allow a small dose of revenge. A random wheel will choose one of the "naughty", another example of Calvinistic pre-destination. The chosen pirate will be damned to walk the plank, and symbolically descend to their fate. Retribution, and also absolution: Cook, Line, and Sinker get gunged so that all might live happily ever after.

Swashbuckle Go now, and be naughty no more.

And that ends our discussion of the theological points raised by Cbeebies' Swashbuckle. Have an enjoyable Easter, and a very happy April Fool's Day.

This Week and Next

We've been away this weekend, so will review the Mastermind final next time.

Good news for fans of All Together Now, the all-hit singing show will be back for a second series. No word yet on Rob Beckett's other format Wedding Day Winners, but there's a run of Saturday nights clear in mid-June with men's football on the other side.

Only Connect had its second quarter-final, Belgophiles and Escapologists. There was more natter than quiz, with the Escapologists discussing the merits of Wednesday Addams on an Only Connect team. Yeah, with Jade West and Andrea from Lawndale High.

Belgophiles come into their own in the sequences round, narrowly missing on a question about finance ministers, and scooping three on a question about numbers of lines. Escapologists hit back with two on a nasty one about months, and it's 6-6 into the walls.

And it's 12-12 after the walls, the Escapologists missing a couple of links, the Belgophiles failing on some connections. It's a ding-dong Missing Vowels round, the Belgophiles are ahead by one point for most of the game, and win by 17-16.

We think the Belgophiles meet next week's winners in their semi-final; the Escapologists or Eco-Warriors should face the Inquisitors.

University Challenge got meta in its third quarter-final, when Paxman asked a question about hoary old quiz chestnuts. A later question asks about the body louse. By that point, Edinburgh have opened a lead over Bristol, thanks to good buzzer work and outstanding knowledge of 1920s physics.

There are some tedious questions tonight, one about the basketball-tennis ball model of the Earth-Moon system is long, and a bonus set about heat sterilisation is dull. The music round – women who die in opera – is sharply written and features a great summation of "Tristan und Isolde".

Later, a round on African countries asks for their area to be compared to Six Nations rugby unions. The Gambia? That's about the size of Wales. A subsequent question on territories bordering Sudan fails to invite the response "Central African Republic", incurring a slight sigh from Richard Osman. As a contest, this is poor: Edinburgh win by 195-60, and they'll not be a pushover in the semi-final.

BARB ratings in the week to 18 March.

  1. Saturday Night Takeaway the top show of all (ITV, Sat, 8.4m).
  2. BBC The Voice continued (ITV, Sat, 5.65m), and is still ahead of Celebrity Burn Out (C4, Tue, 5.25m) and Masterchef (BBC1, Mon, 4.55m). Catchphrase had a celebrity special (ITV, Sun, 4.35m).
  3. On the digital set, we had Four in a Bed (More4, Sun, 400,000), Come Dine with Me (More4, Sun, 370,000), and Yankee Next Top Model (UK Living, Fri, 370,000).
  4. More new shows: the Portrait Artist final (Artsworld, Tue, 355,000), Masterchef Junior Yankee (W, Wed, 235,000), and Rupaul's Drag Race All Stars (Comedy Central, Fri, 235,000).

Coming up: some light entertainment on BBC1, with Mel 'n' Sue fest The Generation Game (Sun). There's also a new run of The Big Painting Challenge (Sun).

Alan Carr says I Don't Like Mondays (C4, Fri). Younger viewers demonstrate their ollies and flip-tricks on Revolution (The Satellite Channel, Sun), and their bridges and arpeggios on Young Musician of the Year (R3, weekdays; BBC4, Fri).

New episodes of Pointless (BBC1, weekdays). Returning faves include The Unbelievable Truth (R4, Mon) and a new series of Have I Got News for You (BBC1, Fri).

Photo credits: BBC.

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