Imagine that you are a young child in an alternate universe, a future world in which the European Union has been disbanded amid popular uprising and economic depression.
Then imagine that you are circling Berlin in an airplane suffering a technical emergency, while Angus Deayton (of all people) sits next to you and bores you to tears with dull morsels of selectively-remembered EU trivia, interspersed with told-you-so left wing laments about how everything would have been so much better if only his generation had spent more time loving the European Union.
Even the most happy-go-lucky child would be willing that aircraft into a terminal nosedive and sweet oblivion after an hour of such torture. I certainly was, after just ten minutes watching The Great European Disaster Movie on BBC Four last night.
The Telegraph says that the rare elements of truth contained in the film were completely overshadowed by the condescending delivery:
Despite this there were plenty of interesting statistics quoted: such as that the UK has the fourth highest rate of immigration after Sweden, Spain and Germany; and that in the past decade the 2.3 million EU migrants living in the UK have paid £20 billion more in tax than they have taken in welfare.
But these were so swallowed up by the rank melodrama of the speculative elements they carried no authority whatsoever. Not least when the final moments turned to the Ukraine and Syria, and effectively suggested we would all be living under either Putin or Islamic State if we don’t shape up and get behind the European project.
Rarely has a film supposedly in support of one cause seemed more likely to drive people in the opposite direction simply by dint of patronising and infuriating them.
But I have to disagree. I don’t think it is possible that this was intended to be a persuasive rhetorical piece designed to win converts to the side of the pro-Europeans. The documentary was produced by a former editor of The Economist, a newspaper that certainly knows how to deploy words and arguments to good effect, and this BBC mockumentary did not even attempt to do so.
If anything, The Great European Disaster Movie sought only to give eurosceptics and conservatives a poke in the eye, to flaunt the fact that taxpayer money was lavished on something so unbalanced and nakedly partisan.
Of course Nigel Farage is Prime Minister in the BBC’s nightmarish dystopia; who else? But not Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. No, he is the leader of a new entity called “Great England”. Quite how this came to pass is not revealed, encouraging endless speculation on the part of the viewer. But it would be a safe bet to assume that a “Yes” vote in a UK-wide referendum to leave the EU caused Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to reach for the smelling salts in panic, and hold referenda of their own to dump racist old England in order to stay coddled within the EU’s loving embrace. Such a sequence of events may seem unlikely, but it is actually one of the more plausible parts of the docudrama.
Throughout the programme we cut away from the action to hear from various talking heads, some real-world people, some hopefully (please God) fictional and others ambiguous. Each is introduced on screen by their name and their nationality, expressed as a country with the mandatory suffix “-European” added on the end like an unwelcome hangnail that just won’t fall off. Thus your blogger would appear:
Samuel Hooper, Conservative Blogger
(They try so hard to forge a common European identity using words as a weapon, but of course if one actually existed such symbolism would not be necessary; you’ll never find an American introducing themselves as Nevadan-American or Californian-American, because the “American” goes without saying. The desperation of the producers to place all of the characters in Disaster Movie into neat European sub-categories is evident throughout).
The “core” of The Great European Disaster Movie is spent looking back at the reasons behind the alternate-universe EU’s collapse. And basically, it boils down to the Evil Bankers and the fact that European Union governments were not collecting enough money in taxes from their beleaguered populations. And that’s it.
No introspection at all. There is certainly no consideration of the idea that maybe the EU’s shamelessly undemocratic institutions might lead to the prevalence of policies which people strongly resent (be it uncontrolled immigration in the rich countries or austerity in the poorer ones). Neither is the thought entertained that another unwanted layer of European government, with all the bureaucracy and expense that it entails, is fundamentally incompatible with empowering individuals and local communities. No – the bankers and tax dodgers are to blame for everything, and the poor EU is the innocent scapegoat.
The Great European Disaster Movie, while trying to satirise and ridicule right-wing and eurosceptic beliefs, actually ends up laying bare the extent to which left-wing and pro-European thinking is trapped in a closed information loop. In reality, it is possible to “cherish our European diversity”, as one robotic character says, without dissolving ourselves into an undemocratic superstate. But to the documentary-makers, such a refusal to renounce the nation state and embrace ever-closer union can only be a sign of festering nationalism, or worse. No wonder Nazi symbols featured so prominently throughout the film.
Last year the Almeida Theatre in London staged the European premiere of another dystopian tale, entitled “Mr Burns: A Post Electric Play“. This bizarre work imagined a world in the aftermath of an unexplained apocalyptic event, in which a group of survivors attempt to rebuild society based on a half-remembered episode of The Simpsons. And until The Great European Disaster Movie, it was the craziest, most incomprehensible thing I had ever seen. But at least Mr Burns was good. At least it made you think.
The Great European Disaster Movie makes no such demands on its audience – it’s just bad, plain and simple. The docudrama doesn’t even succeed as an exercise in left wing confirmation bias, because the message is hammered home so simplistically and incessantly that it must be an embarrassment to thinking pro-Europeans.
UKIP and Nigel Farage have already called foul, angry that the BBC broadcast the film given the fact that they are a regular recipient of EU funding, and asked why there are not “Funded by the EU” signs at the start of every BBC programme in the same way one might see the EU flag symbol affixed to a new bridge or public building. It’s a fair question.
But it isn’t a “Funded by EU” sign that BBC Four’s awful mockumentary needs the most. What it really needs is a health warning.