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bbc three, young people and faithRuth A. Deller@ruthdeller
Launched in 2003 to replacedigital channel BBC Choice.Aimed at 16-34 year olds –particularly since 2008 rebrand.Programme mix ofdrama, comedy, documentary, currentaffairs, reality, lifestyle, sport, music, news and politics.BBC Three… provides a rich mix ofinnovative, bold and creativelychallenging programmesacross all genres for young viewers(Zai Bennett, in BBC 2012)
BBC Three remains the onlydigital channel providing high-impact factual for a youngaudience. We are neverafraid to tackle difficult issues in afresh and inventive way… BBCThree’s factual output will findfresh and innovative ways toaddress the issues that matter toa young audience. (BBC ThreeStatement of Programming, 2012)
These may be our shows to teenagers, but… the programmes arecreated by adults, arguably with a particular adult agenda… toeducate and inform… to set certain agendas at this delicate timejust prior to the onset of a more prominent citizenship; and/or toraise crucial issues (of adult choosing) in a responsible mannerthat is entirely hegemonically negotiated. Recurrent topics ofdiscussion - even within the most fantastical of shows - are sexand sexuality, drug and alcohol use, family tensions andnegotiating ones place among ones peers… many of theseprogrammes are earnest enough (or cynical enough in the face ofparental group pressure) in their commitment to building a certainrecognised type of future citizen (namely a politically liberal one)…geared towards creating a certain notion of political subjecthoodbefore the freedoms of adulthood are attained.(Davis and Dickinson 2004: 3 on ‘youth’ television).(See also Buckingham 2008; Oulette and Hay 2008; Ferguson 2010; Skeggs 2004; Braitch 2007)
Deborah 13: Servant of GodSpecial Edition Films, 2009Documentary about 13-year-old Deborah Drapper, who, unlike other Britishteens has never heard of Britney Spears or Victoria Beckham. She has beenbrought up in a deeply Christian family and her parents have tried to makesure she and her ten brothers and sisters have grown up protected from thesins of the outside world. (BBC Three website)
Deborah 13: Servant of GodSpecial Edition Films, 2009They wanted me to be really surprised about theres a bigger worldand theres people with blue hair and stuff but I wasnt. Im not assheltered as they wanted me to be at times… I thought it onlyportrayed me in a certain light, like this is only a slim part of my life…Are you interested in fashion? Not really, no.Parties with people your own age? I’ve not really beento a party just with people my age.Are you interested in boys? Um, no.Snogging? No.Do you know much about sex? Not really. No.Would it shock you to hear that there are some 13 yearolds who are doing those things ever day? It wouldn’tshock me, I mean I do know that some teenagers aredoing those things everyday but um, er, it saddens me…it’s not what life’s supposed to be like.
Deborah 13: Servant of GodSpecial Edition Films, 2009The parents are guilty of child abuse at a fundamental level, andshould be brought up on charges. One step away from theWestboro/Phelps sickos.(Iahar)I feel, as ive felt with a number of BBC3/C4 programmes, thattheres an element of exploitation here, which is not fair to someonewho is only 13 and has quite obviously been totally brainwashed.(dan)Id be delighted if my own kids didnt care who Victoria Beckhamwas and werent interested in reality TV.(RPC)
Gary, Young, Psychic and PossessedBBC Productions, 2009Twenty-year-old Gary Mannion calls himself Britains youngest psychicsurgeon, channelling a spirit from the dead to operate on the sick. He is arising star in the world of spiritual healing, travelling the world to bring hisalleged ability to effect miracle cures to a devoted following. (BBC Threewebsite)
Gary, Young, Psychic and PossessedBBC Productions, 2009One thing I kind of agreed with myself is that until I could proveto myself 100% that Abraham was definitely a spirit comingthrough, I’m open to the possibility that what I’m doing may bethrough other means. (Gary)Emeka Onono: A multi-million pound industrynow caters for this interest in alternative beliefs…Gary’s been working as a healer for two years.He says he lives mostly on donations, averaging£30 a session. On a good week he can earn up to£2000, enough to employ a full timemanager, Kevin… He lives with his manager. Iwasn’t sure what I was expecting, but I wasn’texpecting this [close-ups ofdeodorant, CDs, printer]. Gary lived like anyother 20 year old.
Gary, Young, Psychic and PossessedBBC Productions, 2009I do think under the mental health act, hes slightly sectionable.Erm, as a former mental health social worker.(Paul)[On presenter Emeka Onono]Lightweight (Serena)Patronising (Laura)Personally, I think he DOES have a gift, but if its to the extent thatsbeing claimed, I have no idea, as far as I concerned, the scepticsdidnt debunk him, because no one can be 100% right all the time.(Hydra)
My Brother, The IslamistGrace Productions, 2011Tree surgeon-turned-filmmaker Robb Leech is an ordinary white middle-classboy from the Dorset seaside town of Weymouth. So too is his stepbrotherRich, but a little over a year ago Rich became a radical Islamist who now goesby the name of Salahuddin. He associates with jihadist fundamentalists andbelieves the UK should be ruled by Sharia law. (BBC Three website)
My Brother, The IslamistGrace Productions, 2011My brother the Islamist plotted terror attacks. BBC films subject targeted townthat saluted dead soldiers - Daily Telegraph (Whitehead, 2013)A MUSLIM convert who told of his hatred for Britain in a TV documentary was amongsix terror suspects held by cops yesterday - The Sun (Morgan and Hughes, 2012)Leech: There’s more to these guys than how theybehave at the protests. They’re actually a laugh. I’menjoying their company. I’ve managed to last the wholeday of fasting. We break it in the traditionalway, eating dates. I find myself reflecting on thesincerity and the resolve of the group which Rich andBen have become part of. Such total belief in a religionis something I still can’t get my head around… Theythink it’s funny, but I’m starving. When we finisheating, the conversation again turns to matters of faith.I find it hard to dislike these guys, even though theyclearly hate my Western world.
My Brother, The IslamistGrace Productions, 2011I am currently watching My Brother The Islamist, I am barely keeping my tears at bay.My son is too from a white middle class family, well educated. He too has converted toIslam. The similarities between the way Rich speaks and my son speaks is alarming.Indoctrination. My sons conversion has torn our family apart as his attitudes are sofar removed from ours, from the way we live, from the way he has been brought up.My son too is very young, and thinks he has found the answer in Islam. I dont agree(BritMum)As a British born Muslim, I watched this programme with interest and really felt forRobb… Groups like Islam4UK are a blight on all Muslims and are too literal and quitesmall minded.(MuslimMan)Rob leech , you knew the group has some views that were not Islamic yet you didntpoint them out. The aim of this program maybe to make parents of those who haveconverted or maybe looking into Islam worried and even to make non Muslimsworried about Muslims.(Usa)
Make Me a MuslimBBC Northern Ireland, 2013Growing numbers of young British women are converting to Islam. ShannaBukhari, a 26-year-old Muslim from Manchester, sets out to find out whygirls are giving up partying, drinking and wearing whatever they want for areligion some people associate with the oppression of women. (BBC Threewebsite)
Make Me a MuslimBBC Northern Ireland, 2013The people we initially contacted were suspicious of us on the phonesimply because we were journalists. We decided to meet people faceto face to explain what we wanted to do, and that our aim was tochallenge stereotypes about Islam. (Emily Hughes, 2013)Bukhari: I’ve got something baggy on me… Ifeel less pretty. Does that sound bad?... I don’tmean to be rude to the people who agree withAlana but I totally disagree with that. You can’twear high heels!... It doesn’t mean I’m not aMuslim cos I’m not doing it, cos I’m modern. Iwas born as a modern British Muslim and I willdie as a modern British Muslim.
Make Me a MuslimBBC Northern Ireland, 2013Me being a convert myself, this programme helped break down barriersas my friends and family watched and got an insight on otherconverts, as they hadnt heard any other converts story or saw theirway of life. From what Ive saw so far, nothing tried to portray Islam in abad light (only the presenters comments), and showed the equality ofmen and women, the rights of women, and the peace Islam brings.(Dij)It seemed to me to focus on the externals of religion, there was too muchtrying on of Islamic headwear, and it appeared that Shanna’s main concernwas to sort out in her own head whether she should continue with hermodelling career. But there was no real discussion of the interestingissue… I felt I didn’t learn any more about Islam, or, except for the finding ahusband issue, about the difficulties experienced by converts.(Keepingoin)
Most of the media fail to acknowledge that separateness becomesa problem only if there is a conflict of interest, and a threat only ifit poses a challenge to existing sources of power… By constructingthe Muslim population as the agents solely responsible forseparation, those at risk become, almost by definition, the non-Muslim majority.(Macdonald 2011: 140).Muslim women wear the hijab, Muslim men appearbearded, praying, or both… Muslims must appear on the screenwith their Muslimness marked out in some way. Their existence assubjects in any other sense is effectively voided. Yet, at the sametime as the Muslim essence is made visible, its difference from thenormalized community around it is underlined‘… *Much mediacoverage works to] keep Muslims outside the nation and firmly inthe media ghetto(Morey 2011: 118-120; 126).
Strictly SoulmatesRaw, 2012Strictly Soulmates takes a fun, entertaining and emotional look at the real lifetrials and tribulations of a group of singletons trying to find their perfectmatch from four different religions: Evangelical Christian, Hindu, Muslim andJewish. (BBC Three website)
Strictly SoulmatesRaw, 2012At least, all in all, I hope that Christians have been representedon TV and I don’t think we came across too crazy!(Lorraine’s vlog)VO: But when she does find her perfect match itwon’t just be the two of them in the relationshipKaty: I think a husband should expect that Jesuswould come first and that he would comesecond. That might be quite hard to understandfor people because generally we talk very muchabout falling in love and that person being ournumber one, but ultimately if Jesus isn’t ournumber one you’re trying to put somebody elsein the place where he should be.
Strictly SoulmatesRaw, 2012It was refreshing to see accuracy portrayed about Christians for once. Ienjoyed the programme immensely… Its a shame about Katy and Jake -they seemed so right for each other, but God knows best. I pray that manymore young Christians will watch this and see the importance of followingGods teaching in finding a fellow believer for a partner. Well done BBC3.Can I suggest we now have one for the over 40s please :-) ?(Jilly)It would have been nice to have filmed actual Orthodox Jews for thisdocumentary, and the complexities of Orthodox Jewish dating. I liked theMuslim episode of this because it showed actual serious/religiousMuslims, but as a Jew myself, Imdisappointed in this Jewish episode.Non-religious Jewish dating is not any different to regular, non-Jewishsecular dating. So whats the point?(Dancer)
The World’s Strictest ParentsTwentyTwenty, 2008-2011Ten unruly British teenagers are sent to live with strict families in fivedifferent countries in an experiment to find out the right way to bring up achild. (BBC Three website)
The World’s Strictest ParentsTwentyTwenty, 2008-2011We realised that they were just victims of circumstances andwhat life had to offer kids in the West. The system which alwaystalks of everyones rights seemed to have left the kids the wrongend of the stick to deal with life (Mandy De Zyvla, 2010)Voiceover: They’ll be staying with the Hajars, a SunniMuslim family who believe that rigid boundaries areessential in raising children…Debbie: Dressing modestly and respectfully is a pile ofshit … I’m not going to get married just so I can have sex;that’s ridiculous… *on wearing hijab+ Like it’s soclaustrophobic, it’s like tight, dead tight, against my skin.There is no practical reason for it at all, it’s just, I justthink it’s sexist to be honest, but the womendon’t, erm, so if they accept it then that’s up to them.
The World’s Strictest ParentsTwentyTwenty, 2008-2011As a Sri Lankan living in the UK I am really proud of De Zylva family. Theway they handled Jerry and Nicky was remarkable. And I should thankBBC for telecasting this gem of a programme. I am proud be a Sri LankanBuddhist.(SJ)I feel bad for those families... They probably had no idea what they werein for. And the British teens are just on there to milk up the fame.Still, makes a good watch when youre bored.(CityLover)All the good families are religious while all the bad kids come fromnon-religious backgrounds. Its just typical BBC pushing religion down ourthroats again like they always do.(Bruvva)
Branded a WitchBBC Productions, 2013Children accused of witchcraft. This is not just medieval history, itshappening now... and here in Britain. Kevani Kanda explores the dark andsecretive world of faith-based child abuse which, in the last few years, hasseen an upsurge in children being abused and even murdered by relatives -all in the name of witchcraft. (BBC Three website)
Branded a WitchBBC Productions, 2013We understand that for some people this may have been an uncomfortablewatch, but we felt it was in the public interest to make people aware of thisimportant issue. We have worked with charities who are aware of the plightsof each of the children that we have filmed in the Democratic Republic ofCongo. (BBC Three Facebook)Kanda: This is me, 23 years old and living in London.Pretty normal, you might think, although myupbringing was anything but. I was born in theCongo, into a family that, like most other familiesthere, believes in witchcraft. When I was five I cameacross to this country and suffered years of abusebefore being taken into care. In many ways though, Ifeel lucky because I got through it and now have asafe and happy life with my two beautiful sons. Butmany young people are far from safe and its allbecause of a belief in witchcraft.
Branded a WitchBBC Productions, 2013Im actually appalled that you have actually filmed that poor boy beenbeaten and abused you have took documentrys to a whole Newdisgusting level!(Elissa)I have never been so embarrassed by our planet than now. Thesepeople are being blinded by their God to harm children. It ishorrendous and disgusting, completely immoral and must stop. Its notfair for this innocent kids to be harmed when theyve done nothingwrong.(Polly)Swear down the media annoy me. Forever portraying countriesin Africa soooo bad. This "Branded awitch" just angers me!(Nia)
Media portrayals of religion undoubtedly have some sort of relationship tothe social reality that they try to depict… the media undoubtedly fashion theimages that many of us have of religion. Such images are curiously diverseand may become more so. But equally there may well be limits to what aBritish audience will tolerate.(Davie 1994: 113)A number of different discourses about religion/spirituality and nationalityemerge... but... there is a dominant discursive construction of Britain as aliberal, tolerant place where religion and spirituality are simply one lifestylechoice among many, acceptable as long as they are practised in ways that donot challenge ‘British’ values.(Deller 2012: 360)Tolerance of diverse beliefs in a community becomes possible to the extentthat those beliefs are phrased as having no public importance; as beingconstitutive of a private individual whose private beliefs and commitmentshave minimal bearing on the structure and pursuits of political, social oreconomic life.(Brown 2006: 32)
The titles… position Gary as ‘possessed’ and Deborah as a‘servant’, implying passivity and lack of control over theiractions, whilst Salahuddin/Rich is described as an ‘Islamist’, a term thathas received considerable negative press… *The+ films repeatedlyemphasise the ‘strangeness’ of the subjects’ worlds, as if this is reasonenough for the young people featured not to be allowed to voice theirown stories. This is in sharp contrast to self-narrated films on BBCThree, where the emphasis is on how ‘normal’, and how like theaudience, a young person whose life appears unusual on the surface‘actually’ is.Viewers will typically be offered a subjective position which invitesthem (like the film maker) to keep a certain distance from theprogrammes content. Indeed, with certain films the viewer isexplicitly given the role of observer… A stance is thereby preparedfor viewers which mimics that of the filmmaker…*documentaries+conceal the ideologies which they embody.(Kilborn and Izod 1997: 40-43).
These may be our shows to teenagers, but… the programmesare created by adults, arguably with a particular adult agenda…to educate and inform… to set certain agendas at this delicatetime just prior to the onset of a more prominent citizenship;and/or to raise crucial issues (of adult choosing) in aresponsible manner that is entirely hegemonically negotiated.Recurrent topics of discussion - even within the most fantasticalof shows - are sex and sexuality, drug and alcohol use, familytensions and negotiating ones place among ones peers… manyof these programmes are earnest enough (or cynical enough inthe face of parental group pressure) in their commitment tobuilding a certain recognised type of future citizen (namely apolitically liberal one)… geared towards creating a certainnotion of political subjecthood before the freedoms ofadulthood are attained.(Davis and Dickinson 2004: 3 on ‘youth’ television)
ReferencesBBC (2012) Executive Priorities and Summary Workplanning 2012/13. Available at:http://www.bbc.co.uk/aboutthebbc/insidethebbc/howwework/accountability/workplan_220512.htmlBraitch, JZ (2007), ‘Programming Reality: Control Societies, New Subjects and thePowers of Transformation’ in Heller, D (ed) Makeover Television: RealitiesRemodelled, London: I.B. Tauris, 6-22.Brown, CG (2006) Religion and Society in Twentieth-Century Britain, Harlow: PearsonLongman.Buckingham, D (2008) (ed) (2008) Youth, Identity and Digital Media, London: MITPressDavie, G (1994) Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without Belonging, Oxford:Blackwell.Davis, G and Dickinson, K (eds) (2004) Teen TV: Genre, Consumption andIdentity, London: BFIDeller, RA (2012) Faith in View: Religion and Spirituality in Factual British Television2000-09 [PhD thesis] available at: http://shura.shu.ac.uk/5654/Deller, RA [forthcoming] Faith, Identity and Youth in BBC Three documentaries
ReferencesDe Zylva, M (2010), Worlds Strictest Parents: Looking after two troublesomegirls, BBC Blog. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tv/posts/worlds-strictest-parentsFerguson, G (2010) The Family on Reality Television: Whos ShamingWhom?, Television and New Media 11(2) 87–104.Kilborn, RW and Izod, J (1997) An Introduction to Television Documentary:Confronting Reality, Manchester: Manchester University Press.Macdonald, M (2011) Discourses of Separation: News and DocumentaryRepresentations of Muslims in Britain in Brunt, R and Cere, R (eds) PostcolonialMedia Culture in Britain, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 127-141.Morey, P (2011), Youve Been Framed: Stereotyping and Performativity in Yasmin inBrunt, R and Cere, R (eds.), Postcolonial Media Culture in Britain, London: PalgraveMacmillan, 115-126.Morgan, T and Hughes, S (2012) Brit Hater is Held by Cops, The Sun, 5 July.Ouellette, L. and Hay, J (2008) Better living through reality TV. London: Blackwell.Skeggs, B. (2004). Class, self, culture. London: Routledge.Whitehead, T (2013) My brother the Islamist plotted terror attacks, TheTelegraph, 16 March.