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Sunday, 2 October 2011

What's wrong with a celebrity travelogue?

ITV has three celebrity travelogues planned; Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey, Mighty Mississippi with Sir Trevor McDonald and Cornwall with Caroline Quentin. This reviewer is looking forward to them.



Why do we prefer watching celebrities presenting a show more than an experienced, eloquent travel journalist?


There's something homely about watching a much-loved character actor or presenter take us on holiday. We feel we know them: we've seen them onscreen, through their trials and tribulations with their misbehaving men or their feisty, boozy side-kicks. We've also watched them relay breaking news or, in the case of Michael Palin, dress as a Spanish inquisitor and inform us nobody was expecting him (or the inquisition). There's a certain charm to hearing what a famous face thinks about a certain area of our world and finding out more about them in the process. 



There's certainly not a shortage of these programmes - from memory, we've had Martin Clunes touring the Islands of Britain, Piers Morgan on  Las Vegas, Marbella and Shanghai, The Wonderful Stephen Fry™ across America, Paul Merton in India and Andrew Marr on cities across the world.



Whilst a lot of a travelogue often relies on the personality and the opinion of the host, whoever that may be, you often get to see a side of a country you might not otherwise get the opportunity to. Piers Morgan's series on the excessive glitz and glamour of Dubai was a prime example: profiling a place few might get to see before the greed of its denizens destroys it, leaving the sand dunes to reinstate their atrophy and reverting it back to a desert wasteland. 


Celebrity travelogues get a lot of flack from serious journalists, arguing that the personalities get in the way of the reality of the country and the people who live there: it's self-indulgent, egoistic and exploitative; potentially a way for a Westerner to mock the idiosyncrasies of other cultures, alien to our own. I've yet to watch one that I'd completely attach those arguments to.


So what makes a good travelogue presenter? I'd argue that humour and humility are the best mix. Too much of either makes the journey a mocking  'self-discovery' piece and indeed falls into the trap of self-indulgent nonsense that critics harp on about. I've never been a fan of Western celebrities going to Africa to cry in front of hungry children, urging us to donate, then coming back and cashing in on their exposure, when they could have easily donated a large portion of their salary to whatever cause it is without boosting their own career. Anyway, I digress. A good dose of humour (directed at themselves, rather than those living there) makes a programme - there's only so many shots of beautiful landscapes a viewer can watch without admiration turning to out and out jealousy at the cushy job they've landed. But if you love the celebrity hosting the programme, you'd probably watch them extolling the virtues of various supermarkets across the UK without batting an eyelid. 


Anyone who's travelled alone will have experienced the loneliness of witnessing a breathtaking sunset or a striking mountain and having no-one to share it with or relive it in nostalgic times. The vicarious pleasure of these travelogues is not to be sniffed at.


What do you think of celebrity travelogues? Will you watch ITV's new shows? Do you love them or hate them? Whose travelogue would you like to see and where should they go? We'd love to hear your favourites in the comments.


Posted by Tannice for thecustardtv. Follow Tannice on Twitter.

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