Bringing to Brits’ attention some of the most mesmerizingly shocking and controversial examples of foreign television is writer and actress Daisy Donovan, in her new four-part documentary series, The Greatest Shows on Earth.
Daisy considers television to be ‘the window into the soul of a nation’. So, with this in mind, she has set off on a trip across the globe, with the aim of discovering what makes a nation tick, by watching some of their biggest TV programmes.
I found The Greatest Shows on Earth fantastic. True, it featured neither the breathtaking camera shots nor the deep analysis of its findings which typically comprise an astounding documentary, but what this show did was explore the must-see TV in Brazil in a non-judgemental way: it simply allowed viewers to form their own opinions, based on how our telly tastes differ to those of our South American counterparts.
The success of The Greatest Shows on Earth was owing, in no small part, to its host. Daisy was perfect for this programme as she embodied typical British attitudes, and therefore acted as a voice for most of her audience. She immersed herself in Brazilian culture but never shied away from objecting to what she saw, even when in the presence of those involved (as with the stars of the somewhat disturbing Pânico Na Band and Na Mira – more on both of which later). Daisy just had a way of being clear with her unalterable opinions while also respecting the Brazilians’ justification of their television output and allowing them to have their say.
For me, one of the most interesting aspects of Greatest Shows was the exposure of Brazil’s treatment of women – which we would consider to be unacceptable and nothing short of objectification, yet Brazilians regard as simply harmless fun and a celebration of the female form.
The first show investigated by Daisy was Miss Bumbum, a ‘talent’ contest which makes Miss World look like Dancing on Ice. As the title suggests, a bunch of young women are invited to parade their backsides on a catwalk in the hope of surviving many heats to be crowned…you guessed it: Miss Bumbum. This is a show, one man told Daisy, that he and his wife would have no qualms about watching together and is top viewing in his country. Now it would be quite easy to make assumptions about the Miss Bumbum competitors and suggest that they are self-obsessed wannabes. However, if the contestant whom Daisy spoke to is representative of the others, that presumption may carry truth. Laura Keller (pictured) typifies the common perception of models: she was unbelievably rude to Daisy, commenting on her weight and angrily saying, ‘British people don’t know anything about the bum’. Of course, this was only when she did not know that she was being filmed. When the cameras were rolling she was as lovely as could be, making heart signs to the viewer and conversing calmly with Daisy. After all, she wouldn’t want something as silly as a bad attitude to get in the way of her bottom making her famous, would she?
In a similar vein we had Pânico Na Band, a comedy sketch series which Daisy described perfectly as ‘a degrading show that verges on sado masochistic.’ In Pânico (which regularly attracts 10 million viewers in its primetime Sunday night slot), bikini-clad women (dubbed ‘Pânicats’) are expected to compete in a series of challenges for the amusement of its presenters and viewers – most of whom are inevitably men. At the end of the show, a ‘comedy forfeit’ is involved for the losers. The forfeit sees the women kneeling, still in their bikinis, and having what appears to be a pair of tights pulled over their head, stretching and manipulating their features to make them look not dissimilar to a pig. It’s truly testing TV.
When Daisy spoke to Aryane Steinkopf, a former Pânicat, I was actually saddened by her story of the humiliation which is inflicted upon the Pânico contestants, but how the guaranteed fame and wealth acts as a distraction and more than compensates for it. Of course, ‘Pânicats’ are not forced to partake in this spectacle but it’s tragic that they think they have to do so for exactly the same reason as the Miss Bumbum wannabes: notoriety.
Even in shows where women are not objectified as much as in others, the incredibly poor treatment of the fairer sex is still evident. On Domingo Legal (Brazil’s leading variety show), the audience is comprised exclusively of girls, as men are ‘trouble’. Then, when they are escorted into the studio for the recording, they are sorted into groups and sit accordingly: beauties at the front, uglies at the back.
And to think that we were up in arms about Arlene being kicked off Strictly!
Na Mira, which could be best described as the Brazilian version of Crimewatch, also featured in Greatest Shows and truly pushed the boundaries of not only television but common decency itself.
With the aim of cutting crime in Salvador, which sees at least forty murders a week, Na Mira broadcasts images of bloodied corpses on street corners – a sight which people in the area are sadly accustomed to. Perhaps even more shocking is that Na Mira is televised at lunchtime – immediately after children’s programmes. Imagine Crimewatch following In the Night Garden.
I’d read about Na Mira beforehand, so was ready for the gore and revelation about its scheduling, but I was not prepared for the host’s (Analice Salles) justification of it. She claims that Na Mira informs viewers of the insecure, criminal society in which they live. She went on to say that the disturbing images are shown in order to stop crime and violence in the city. Now I don’t know what you think about that argument, but I had to listen to it no fewer than four times to understand it. Actually, to be honest, I still don’t understand it and think it is nothing more than a poor vindication for producing sensationalist television. In this country, the aforementioned Crimewatch can often include distressing information and reconstructions – it has to in order to emphasise the seriousness of its cases – but knows its boundaries and does not need to broadcast images even half as revolting and inappropriate as those on Na Mira. And guess what: it still helps solve crime.
I know that it is very easy to form a largely inaccurate view on Brazilian television purely from the programmes which Daisy saw in Greatest Shows. I am well aware that not all of the country’s output humiliates women in the way that Pânico does and that not all of it so blatantly violates (surely the most basic of) broadcasting guidelines in the same way as Na Mira. In fact I wonder what the Brazilians would think if their own Daisy Donovan travelled to the UK and scrutinised our most popular programmes…
EastEnders and The Jeremy Kyle Show?
We like a bit of a row…
Big Brother and The X Factor?
We all want a bit of fame – at whatever cost.
Geordie Shore and The Valleys?
The education system needs to be re-evaluated.
And that wouldn’t be a fair representation of us at all, would it?
The Greatest Shows on Earth is on Mondays at 10:00pm on Channel 4
What did you think of The Greatest Shows on Earth? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Feel free to comment below or tweet me about this or any other TV show – @UKTVReviewer.
You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on this blog, published every Saturday at midnight.