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David Baddiel: Social Media, Anger and Us

Benjie Goodhart / 10 December 2021

David Baddiel: Social Media, Anger and Us looks at how the insidious reach of social media can have disturbing repercussions...

David Baddiel: Social Media, Anger and Us, Monday 13th December, 9pm, BBC Two || BBC/Wall to Wall/Saskia Rusher

David Baddiel: Social Media, Anger and Us, Monday 13th December, 9pm, BBC Two

It’s fair to say, as a parent to a 13-year-old and a ten-year-old, that I have certain misgivings about social media. I use it myself, of course – how else can I keep up to date with vital information like what people I went to school with 35 years ago have made for their dinner? – but it also worries me. It worries me because my children are already addicted to it.

Their virtual drug of choice is TikTok. It’s an app where people post short videos, up to a maximum of three minutes, of genuinely staggering inanity. Both of my children, left to their own devices, and indeed left ON their own devices, would happily spend each waking moment on TikTok, pausing only to eat and go to the loo. Actually, they’d still be watching as they did both of those, too.

But the insidious reach of social media can have even more disturbing repercussions, as this thoughtful and frequently alarming one-off documentary by David Baddiel eloquently illustrates. And it starts with a bang.

Footage taken from the home of the Smithys, a family with a large social media following, shows two shadowy figures setting fire to their car late one night. The fire spread, and caused extensive damage to the Smithy home. The reason? People didn’t like their social media posts. But it’s not like they were posting hate-speech or anti-vax conspiracies. They were simply posting jokey videos about family life.

Baddiel is the first to admit that he is addicted to twitter. He joined in 2009, since when he’s sent 61,000 tweets. He uses it for work – to publicise his programmes and live shows – but he’s self-aware enough to admit that it also boosts his ego, and gives him a chance to perform to a virtual audience whenever he likes. He is aware that it is a double-edged sword, polarising users, granting attention to those with the most extreme views, and encouraging hatred and hostility.

The documentary sees him investigating the link between social media and political extremism, paranoia and hate crimes, and also how it can be abused by foreign powers to destabilise nations and effect elections. He talks to prolific social media users including the author Caitlin Moran, who explains that social media encourages polar extremes as opposed to nuanced conversations: “That’s the complete opposite of all other progressions in human communication – that it’s become less nuanced, not more.”

But the programme really comes into its own when we see how individuals are profoundly affected by social media. Baddiel meets beauty columnist Sali Hughes, who has been relentlessly and brutally attacked on social media. “There’s been a change in my character, and I don’t think I can reverse it,” she says sadly.

And the sinister, creeping influence of social media has been felt closer to home by Baddiel and his family. In a courageously frank exchange, his daughter Dolly, 20, talks about the three years she spent struggling with anorexia, and how social media made her recovery that much harder.

As for his own twitter addiction, Baddiel decides to go cold turkey for two weeks. But first, he goes for a brain scan, to see which areas of his brain are affected when he looks at twitter. He is shown a number of real tweets, first praising him, and then attacking him, while his brain activity is monitored. At the end, after spending 40 minutes reading tweets attacking him in the most unspeakable terms, he is visibly choked up. You don’t need a brain scan to show that this stuff causes damage.

This is an intelligent, powerful and often depressing documentary, that should give social media users everywhere pause for thought. It’s a reminder that we could all do with being civil to each other, that just because you’re hiding behind a keyboard doesn’t give you a carte blanche to be cruel. But, before we despair completely about the state of humanity, the film also has an unexpectedly beautiful and moving conclusion.

 

Christmas at Castle Howard 1/3, Wednesday 15th December, 9pm, Channel 4

You’re probably familiar with Castle Howard. I mean, not intimately familiar – I doubt you’ve been round for swan roulade, claret, and a harpsichord recital, but you’ve most likely seen it. One of the great stately homes of Britain, it has had starring roles in everything from Brideshead Revisited to Bridgerton.

This new three-part series follows preparations for Christmas at three of the nation’s grandest piles, beginning tonight with Castle Howard.

The 145-room colossus is home to Nick and Vicky Howard, the ninth generation of the Howard family to inhabit the house. “There’s beauty all around you,” says Nick. “Every day, I see something that I’d forgotten about.” Me too. But in my case, it might be a bill I need to pay, or a pair of glasses. For Nick, it’s probably a wing of the house.

I mean, the place is huge. The annual running costs are £10 million. Mind you, with the price of heating these days, that’s probably the case for all of us. Vicky also reveals that Castle Howard has a £50 million conservation deficit. Our lawn could do with a mow, and our bathroom tap is loose, but I’m really pleased not to be £50 million up the swanny.

As such, Nick and Vicky (who, all snarkiness aside, seem very nice) need to raise as much money as they can, through opening their doors to the public. Needless to say, this hasn’t exactly been a bumper couple of years, visitor-wise. (As if the pandemic hadn’t given me enough to get anxious about, now I have to worry about the future of Castle Howard as well as everything else?!)

So they’re hoping for a bumper Christmas, visitor-wise. This year’s Christmas theme in the house is Narnia, so a vast chunk of the house is being decorated like a winter wonderland to enchant visitors by the thousand. This film charts the preparations for the grand opening, as an army of staff get to work with more baubles, fairy lights and fake snow than you can shake a Christmas cracker at.

In truth, what this means is watching lots of people spraying twigs and moving urns and dangling trinkets, while the voiceover breathlessly tells us that there’s only three weeks till opening day. As tension goes, it’s hardly the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it doesn’t really matter, as it’s all pleasingly festive, and the house itself is simply breath-taking.

The whole affair is expertly stage-managed by Charlotte Lloyd-Webber, whose theatrical background (yes, she’s part of that dynasty) means she has a perfect eye for creating an enchanting setting. As well as having to transform a quarter-of-a-mile of corridor into a Narnia-like ice world, she has to oversee the arrival and erection of a 28-ft Christmas tree, the tallest indoor tree in the country.

As all of this is going on, Nick potters around on the estate amiably enough, talking to his swans, trying out his new drone, and photographing the family mausoleum. Which, come to think of it, is how I spend most of my free time at Castle Goodhart. Vicky, meanwhile, is busy signing 1000 Christmas cards. This makes me feel inordinately guilty, as I stuff another year of Christmas cards designed by my children into a drawer where they will never see the light of day again. Elsewhere, the fountain is being drained for renovation, and the butler is making mince pies.

Finally, Castle Howard’s Narnia is complete. In truth, it is a wondrous accomplishment: beautiful, atmospheric, and gloriously OTT. You get the impression Liberace would have considered some of it a bit gaudy! But it’s terrific fun, and if it helps to maintain this stunning building for future generations to marvel at, then so much the better.

 

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 11th December

Gregg Wallace’s Grand Christmas Adventure, 8:25pm, Channel 5: The MasterChef presenter embarks on a Yuletide trip to Lapland, to soak up the culture, landscape and food, and generally bathe in all things Christmassy.

Reel Stories: Sting, 9:25pm, BBC Two: Dermot O’Leary sits down with Sting to watch some of the highlights from a stellar career that has seen The Police frontman sell over 100 million records. Followed by footage from a concert filmed in 2013.

The Mountbattens: A Scandalous Marriage, 9:25pm, Channel 5: Documentary charting the marriage – and numerous infidelities – of Louis Mountbatten and Edwina Ashley, including the latter’s affair with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Sunday 12th December

Walk the Line, 8pm, ITV: New singing talent show (sigh), stripped across the week, hosted by Maya Jama, with judges Dawn French, Craig David, Gary Barlow and Alesha Dixon. The twist is that nightly winners can go home with their £10,000 prize, or opt to stay in the competition to gamble on their prospects of winning the whole thing, and taking home a cool £500,000.

I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!, 9pm, ITV: Ant and Dec host the live final of the reality series from Abergele in North Wales, where one celebrity will be named King or Queen of the Castle.

Monday 13th December

Jamie: Together at Christmas, 8pm, Channel 4: The first of two Christmas episodes features recipes for beef bourguignon with a creamy potato and celeriac mash, and a sparkling winter bombe ice cream dessert.

Strictly the Real Full Monty, 9pm, ITV: Ashley Banjo leads a line-up of celebrities ready to recreate the famous striptease scene from the film to raise awareness of life-saving cancer checks. The celebrities involved include Laila Morse, James Jordan, Duncan James, Christine McGuinness and Colin Jackson.

Tuesday 14th December

Kew Gardens: A Year in Bloom, 9pm, Channel 5: One-off documentary following events at the 320-acre Botanic garden as staff prepare for Christmas, including putting light’s on the country’s tallest living Christmas tree.

Wednesday 15th December

The Lie: Murder in Suburbia, 9pm, Channel 5: Two-part documentary examining the investigation into Rachel O'Reilly's murder in 2004, and the devastating impact it had on her loved ones, featuring testimony from those who were closest to the case.

Thursday 16th December

One Night In Alton Towers, 9pm, Channel 4: New series in which Alex Brooker and Josh Widdicombe spend the night at some of the UK's most exciting attractions with no other visitors around, starting inside major theme park Alton Towers where they are joined by comedian Roisin Conaty.

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