Supermodel Caprice and actor Craig Charles don prosthetic make-up to give them facial disfigurements, for the purposes of a Channel 4 documentary? Interesting social experiment, or cheap and tacky entertainment? You decide.
It seems to lean towards the latter. An experiment into how the public react to disfigurements? We are the public. We already know. We clock them, have a quick look and then try and avoid eye contact. It’s not very nice, but it’s human nature. And that’s the findings of the show nicely dealt with in one sentence. What we are left with is a series of scenarios that detract from any sociological basis the show might have had; surely the subjects should have acted as they would normally do, in order to see how much the disfigurement affects them? How useful was it for Caprice to confront people and ask them how the feel about her birthmark? Was it necessary for Craig to dress like a bum and affect what can only be described as a ‘mongoloid’ voice?
Let’s face it, the programme has little worth. But, there were a couple of uber-Dwarfy moments that are impossible to ignore. The first of these was when Craig went “darn the dogs” with his brother Emile. Emile was very taken aback by the make-up, just stopping short of exclaiming “this is totally shady. It’s beyond shady; it’s surreal”. While at the dog track, Craig meets some young lads, one of whom has a real and actual facial disfigurement. When it is revealed that Craig’s is not real, we see just how far his fame reaches:
IAN OFF-SCREEN: Have you heard of Craig Charles? [The kids look blank.] Do you know Red Dwarf at all?
CHILD 1: Is it a football team?
IAN OFF-SCREEN: Red Dwarf? No, erm…
CHILD 1: Red Dwarf, yeah?
IAN OFF-SCREEN: …it’s a TV show.
CHILD 1: Is it the little midget?
CHILD 2: Oh, Red Dwarf!
CHILD 1: Yeah, Red Dwarf. Red Dwarf, yeah, yeah.
IAN OFF-SCREEN: Do you know the guy off Red Dwarf
IAN OFF-SCREEN: That’s who that is.
CHILD 1: No, it isn’t.
[The children are then brought over to Craig, who is now out of character.]
CHILD 1: Is it real?
CRAIG: It’s not real at all, no. It’s just make-up.
CHILD 1: What, the whole lot? You didn’t really have your car blown up? Let me hear your voice again.
CRAIG: Hi, I’m the guy off Red Dwarf, yeah. I put an accent on and everything.
CHILD 1: Do you do…?
CRAIG: Robot Wars, Takeshi’s Castle.
CHILDREN: Oh, yeah! Et cetera.
CRAIG: Freaked you out, didn’t I?
CHILD 1: Oh, that’s you!
CRAIG: Got yer!
CHILD 1: Oh, yeah!
This is depressing for two reasons. Firstly, these children seemed genuinely interested in Craig the car explosion man, talking to him with wide-eyed innocence and sensitivity. The young lad who’d been mangled by a dog seemed to really look up to him, but then it’s revealed that it was all a fake. More importantly, however, it’s depressing because the youth of Walthamstow don’t watch Red Dwarf.
The final section of the programme was anticipated with much excitement and intrigue. It was billed as Craig Charles appearing at a Red Dwarf convention in disguise. Not quite true; it’s The London Film and Comic Con, as opposed to Dimension Jump. But even so, with five cast members on stage and one in the audience, it’s the most esoterically Dwarf moment ever to be seen on television, outside of Red Dwarf Night.
NARRATOR: Meanwhile, much closer to home, Craig is attending a Red Dwarf convention, without telling his fellow cast members or any of his fans.
CRAIG: Science-fiction fans are very much more all-inclusive. I mean, some very strange people follow science fiction anyway, you know. Some very unfortunate people. But it takes them out of themselves, you know, to another world, where there is no pain or suffering.
[Craig is sitting at the back of a large room, in front of a stage where Mac McDonald, Norman Lovett, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules and Chloe Annett are taking questions from the floor.]
CHRIS: What’s all of our favourite episodes and why? Norman
NORM: Queeg! No explanation why.
DANNY: And that?s only because that was his biggest part.
NORM: No, I liked it because it was just perfect. It was…
DANNY: It don’t matter Norm; you’re still crap anyway.
CHRIS: Erm, Danny?
DANNY: I think, er… Gunmen. If you’re talking about all-round…
CRAIG: [talking to fans] Do you like that one? Gunmen?
FANS: [general agreement]
CRAIG: I like Back To Reality. I thought that was really good.
CHRIS: Right, let’s, er, let’s go on to something else. Erm… the chap at the back with lots of hair.
NARRATOR: Craig asks his co-stars as to the whereabouts of his Red Dwarf character?
CRAIG: Where’s Dave Lister?
DANNY: Where’s Dave Lister?
CHRIS: He’s probably at home…
CHLOE: He’s working.
DANNY: Apparently, he’s working.
CHRIS: Sorry, that’s not a very long and satisfactory answer to that one, but, er… You’re not happy are you? Well, I’m sorry
CRAIG: [voice-over] I’ve known these people for 20 years, you know, they never clocked me at all.
There’s an ad-break there – a perfect opportunity to dissect what we’ve seen so far. Craig starts by explaining that science-fiction fans are weirdos; pathetic, miserable individuals who need to escape from their pain-filled existence. Here’s a fresh shovel, Craig. Carry on digging. Next, the cast get asked what their favourite episodes are. For fuck’s sake, guys. You’ve got five cast members in front of you and that’s all you can think of? Good to see Danny interrupted Norman in order to cuss him. That didn’t get at all boring in the first two commentaries. No. Then Craig tries to start a conversation with the people around him. This bit was presumably selected to show how people with disfigurements get spurned and ignored by the general public. Well, no, they’re ignoring him because they’re trying to listen to what Danny’s saying. Then Craig asks his question, which the cast answer quickly because they hate everyone with disfigurements. Oh, no. Hang on. It’s because it’s a terrible fucking question that can only be answered with a closed response. After the break:
MAC: How about questions of a more personal nature
NARRATOR: With his two days living as a person with a disfigurement almost over, Craig’s unannounced visit to a Red Dwarf convention is about to take an unexpected turn.
CRAIG: [voice-over] It was weird because I got one question in, and then I had my hand up all the time, all the time, never put my hand down. And, erm, they never asked me another question.
DANNY: The guy with the long hair again!
CHRIS: Well, er, one of the? the crew girl at the back there.
CRAIG: [voice-over] Chris was completely ignoring me; he was like “ooh no” and asking everyone around me. Asking everyone but me, basically.
CHRIS: Right, let’s have another question.
DANNY: It’s the guy with the long hair again.
CHRIS: Over this other side, we’ll come back obviously, but we’ll stay on this side for a bit and go to the bloke who has his hand up first.
CRAIG: [to fans] What’s wrong with me, eh? I had my hand up. He ignores me all the time.
NORM: …he’s doing it. He’s doing it well…
CRAIG: [shouting] Do you all like Dave Lister?
CHRIS: …erm, can I just throw some…
CRAIG: Subconsciously, sort of maybe I was thinking ‘I’m not gonna be ignored any more. Look at me, I’ve got something to ask. I’ve got something to offer’, you know?
MAC: Er, I would change the name to Red Mac, first off, and then I would… [spots Craig, who is intently walking towards the stage] Uh-oh.
CRAIG: Do you… do you all like Dave Lister?
MAC: Yeah, we like him. He’s cool.
CHRIS: Yeah, we like Dave.
DANNY: Yeah, Dave’s cool, man.
MAC: Wait a minute. That is Craig in disguise.
[Applause and surprise as the cast and the audience realise that this is the case.]
MAC: That is flippin’ amazing!
CHRIS: Craig is here!
[After the Q+A session, Craig interviews cast members and fans.]
DANNY: He was coming down the aisle.
DANNY: I was reaching for the mic stand, you know, I was thinking this guy’s gonna have to be batted off or something, ’cause he’s lost it!? I think that’s what happens, I think that’s what people expect. They expect that because you’ve got a disfigurement, you’ve got brain deformity or something, and it?s one of those things where they make one and one make three. You always think, you know, disfigurement, bit mad… so you sort of go… you expect the worst. So I was quite relaxed at first, but then I thought, …hold on a minute, maybe I’m wrong about this one…
FAN: To be honest, I have to admit I was as guilty as everyone else to think that, “ooh, danger alert here, weird fan”, you know. I was quite worried, I thought “ooh, stalker”.
MAC: I’ve had experience with somebody very close to me being mentally ill
CRAIG: Yeah, I know.
MAC: And in a way, you have the same experience, because everyone kind of… It’s the elephant in the middle of the room that everybody totally ignores, but it’s like totally there and everybody’s aware of it. So I had some empathy with that situation.
FAN: He was doing a really good job of playing a sort of slightly unnervy fan, so you were wary more as much of his actions and the questions he was asking, as much as the face.
CHRIS: So I thought ‘well, he’s had his question’, and he had the body language of being persistent and a pain in the neck. So I thought, you know, ‘no. At the end maybe, I’ll give him another question, but at the moment I’m just gonna ignore him, because he’s had his question’. But at the end where you came forward and asked ‘Dave Lister’ again I thought, ‘he’s a nutter! He’s an absolute nutter! And this man, you know, will hopefully removed by security’!
Right, where to begin? The whole section seemed to detract from any pretentions that this was a social experiment. This “surprise! It’s me!” segment is more at home on Saturday Night Takeaway or Beadle’s About. As for the cast’s alleged discrimination, as anyone who’s been to this sort of thing knows, Chris Barrie always organises the Q+A sessions so that everyone gets a chance to ask a question. He sticks to one side of the room for a few questions, goes to the other, comes back, and so on. He rarely lets people get more than one question in, regardless of their face. And as the guy at the end said, the reason people were wary of Craig is that he was playing a complete and utter freak. You’d treat everybody who scarily shouts “Dave Lister” at random intervals with the same disdain and trepidation.
As previously noted, it would have been much more condusive to a fair ‘experiment’ if the participants had behaved in a normal way. When Craig couldn’t get served in a busy bar, it was because it was a busy bar. When Caprice didn’t get swamped with offers of help on an ice rink, it was because people generally don’t get swamped with offers of help on an ice rink. When nobody participated in Craig’s survey, it was because stopping people on a busy street is a cuntish thing to do. Craig should have acted like any other fan. Mind you, in Craig’s mind, perhaps that is a normal fan.