Saturday, 19 January 2008
How To Start Your Own Country, BBC2
A delightfully quirky quest as Danny Wallace tries to claim land over which to rule benignly.
What to say of you didn’t like it
An idea dreamt up after a night on the beers which has been allowed to blunder onwards until it’s become one of the most indulgent and pointless TV shows this side of Changing Rooms.
What was good about it?
• Danny Wallace made a likeable host, and, even as his mission became ever more absurd, he rarely descended into irritation.
• We learned that one portion of Antarctica is unclaimed after the USA relinquished its right to snare a section of the continent. Greenpeace has set up a base there.
• The overall notion certainly has potential, and it wasn’t Danny’s fault that much of the first episode was brimming with diminished self-proclaimed icons under severe delusions of megalomania, whereas Danny seemed to be doing it for a bit of a jape. When he begins recruiting his citizens should provide the opportunity for better TV.
• Danny’s hapless invasion of Eel Pie Island in the River Thames. It began badly when he ineptly tried to row to its shores, only to abandon a seaborne “assault” once he saw the connecting footbridge. With just his friend John, who was once a security guard at Tescos, Danny set about winning the hearts and minds of the islanders with soothing posters and pacifistic loudhailing. He then set up a border checkpoint (a piece of striped tape spanning a walkway), but his invasion was concluded prematurely when a policeman drove past menacingly in his car.
What was bad about it?
• The faux intimacy of using a video camera to record intimate thoughts.
• Despite Danny’s genuine efforts, it’s difficult to regard the whole escapade as little more than a self-indulgent sashay across our TV screens. Each visit he made seemed to be to extend the joke that little bit further past its natural snapping point, and everyone he met was ostensibly a dumb stooge to facilitate the gag.
• Prince Michael of Sealand, the “independent” state on a disused World War Two fortress that stands in international waters. He looks like an émigré bouncer from London’s clubland and if he were incessantly chewing gum he would be bound by the International Convention of Stereotypical Appearances to abandon his throne and seek employment thumping blameless students in the West End.
• Prince Michael also exclaimed: “After World War Two, the government should’ve destroyed it (the fortress). They went against every international convention by not destroying it.” His embittered tone suggested that by not destroying the fortress, the British government had committed a war crime parallel to some civilian massacre, when in fact they had merely abandoned a rusting construction supported by rotund pillars like Vanessa Feltz’s thighs that was a minor blot on a
godless, featureless seascape.
• Also, having journeyed all the way out to Sealand, Danny didn’t venture on board. This meant that all the questions about it were left largely unanswered: How many people lived there? How do they get their supplies? Has anyone left to settle on the mainland? Would the Daily Mail object to any Sealander settling on the mainland? Would the Daily Mail conduct a witch-hunt culminating with any Sealander immigrant being burnt at the stake? Would ITN sponsor that stake and claim exclusive TV rights to the event? Sadly, we never found out the answers to any of these questions.
• Erwin Strauss, who wrote a book on starting your own country, was perhaps the most boring man to appear on television since After Dark finished. He had lists and programmes to guide him methodically through the day with tags to remind him to brush his teeth.
• Dennis Hope, who declares he owns the Moon. He doesn’t. He just “exploited” the international agreement that no nation shall own celestial bodies by saying he was claiming it as his own and that the UN and Russian and American governments should notify him if they had an objection. They simply ignored him.
• The gullible idiots who have “bought” three million plots on the Moon. Even if they were to win the right to contractually own areas of the Moon, what good will it ever do them? Unless, like it a game of stellar Monopoly, they will demand compensation should a spacecraft land on their plot.
• Danny’s inclination to ask the most banal questions in a pseudo-Jon Ronson style, but without the devious ulterior scheming. He asked an Army Major: “Why does a country need an army?”
• The decision (which he “arrived” at while gazing dolefully into his beloved video camera) to set up his own country in his flat was more born out of desperation than inspiration.
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