The first full day in Armenia and the news of what we were up to had broken on Chortle, along with some kneejerk responses to it, which hadn't been entirely unanticipated, but I thought were a bit hasty (given that very little is known about what it involves). Basically the show is a less extreme version of Brewster's Millions, in which two presenters have 24 hours to spend several thousand pounds in an unfamiliar city. My own kneejerk response it the notion could be that it might be seen as offensive, but I thought about it and realised that it might be interesting and it might be fun and on top of that we might be able to take some of the money from a wealthy TV company and give it to some less wealthy Armenian people. Which felt like a result to me. Some people thought that the £8000 we had to blow might have been better spent on those in dire need and I couldn't agree more with that. But the TV company was not offering to do that. And maybe we could do some good with it.
As well as to find out what it is like if you are the kind of person who can spend that amount of money without flinching or fretting. Would it be good? Or would it make us feel empty and hollow.
A TV producer friend of mine had talked about working on Secret Millionaire, which some might dismiss of a rather showy, gaudy and in some ways inappropriate entertainment show. But she said that in reality they were managing to dedicate an hour of prime time TV to a show about what it is like living on the breadline. In a sense you can trick viewers into watching something that is worthier than it seems. And no TV station would put a worthy show about that subject on in this slot, so by stealth some social comment was being made. I am not saying that this is necessarily the same (I don't know yet and it might turn out to be trashy or be edited in such a way as to make us look like pricks - or we might actually be pricks), but before today I knew nothing about Armenia and its interesting history and the terrible struggles of its people and probably nor did you. But if you watch the show you might find out. As well as hopefully laughing at our stupid antics and desperation to get rid of money.
And ultimately I realised that all TV shows (especially of this kind) are the same as this. It's money being spent ostentatiously for entertainment, and at least this show is up front about it and lets us address it. In truth £8000 is a trivial amount in most TV budgets (less than will probably be spent on cocaine for the executives), so you could argue that any TV show should stop spending all that money on triviality and give all their budget to the poor. But that won't happen.
But think of the expense and wastage of a show like Big Brother or more pertinently perhaps An
Idiot Abroad where the premise is a man who doesn't want to travel but
is forced to travel and waste lots of money is sort of more offensive
(though in reality I am sure he wants to travel). He is spending more than £8000 a day creating a piece of entertainment. So at least David and me both wanted to travel and were interested in addressing the issues that this concept throws up.
It's awful and it's brilliant simultaneously, but maybe it will give you something to think about. It's certainly given me a lot to think about.
I don't know how the programme will turn out, but I think these issues are interesting and also feel that in a time of austerity and sluggishness, if all rich people blew £8000 in a day then things would probably pick up. Or if they spent some of their money on others.
I don't know yet what it will be like as we haven't started doing it, but I know it's going to be difficult. We have over 5 million dram to spend and I noticed that a coffee costs 200 dram (about 30p). We are going to have to blow some of it in ostenatious and offensive ways, but I hope we will learn a lesson from that. It should be funny, but I think this format might be more thoughtful and interesting than it appears. And possibly by accident. Let's see how it turns out and what happens in it before we judge it. I am including myself in that.
Yerevan seems to be a fascinating city, in the shadow of Mount Ararat, with parts that looks like French boulevards and parts that looks like a Stalinist dystopia. What I find most amazing from talking to the man acting as our guide is that after it was conquered in 1045 Armenia did not exist as a country again until 1918, and even then it only lasted two years before being taken over by Turkey and then sucked into the USSR, and only became independent in 1990. So in a thousand years it only had two years as an actual country (right near the end) and yet the concept of Armenia still survived and people still saw themselves as Armenian. They have survived wars and genocide. And the people, whilst resenting and hating Turkey, remain proud, welcoming and generous. I had no idea about any of this before today. I am not sure how much of this will feature in what will ostensibly be a sligthly tasteless entertainment show, but I think some of it will. And even if only I am educated about a piece of history that maybe I should know more about, then that can only be a good thing.
I am not pretending I am only doing this for noble reasons - but I don't think it should be dismissed immediately as an idea. In the right hands this could be a subversive and fascinating show - though David and I also plan to enjoy the experience and send it and ourselves up and do some of the things that we would all like to have a go at if money was no object, even if they help no one but ourselves. It will be intriguing to see what happens. Our ultimate aim is to be funny. But don't make the mistake that by laughing at something that doesn't mean you take it seriously, or that it can't teach serious lessons (and probably more effectively than po-faced sermonising will do).
But mainly how fucking weird and stupid is my job that occasionally I get to do something like this? Wish me luck. This is not going to be as easy as it seems. Obviously we can't just give the money away and we can't own anything at the end of the challenge or spend more than 10% on any one thing. And remember we could buy 25,000 cups of coffee with the money we have (if we were allowed to spend it all and knew 25,000 people here). Sometimes a dream come true can be a nightmare. Careful what you wish for.