A FRIEND of mine insisted recently that I watch circus extravaganza The Greatest Showman, a movie I was sure I would hate. It is a musical and I’m not a great fan; I am not a cheerleader for fantastical depictions of a magical world where people are accepted for all their weird and wonderful flaws. It’s how I would love the world to be, but as a realist I get annoyed at Hollywood exploitation of such things. It’s easy to sex these things up, but it doesn’t translate into real life.

But then I found myself, only weeks later, scoffing at Celebrity Big Brother. It was a ridiculous circus of freaks attempting to provide entertainment, I thought, for the umpteenth year running. It was pathetic, and I was better than that. Suddenly I became the journalist character in The Greatest Showman that I’d considered the villain.

In fairness, there may be some characters in the Big Brother house that we consider to be not only talentless, but pointless; people who offer nothing. People like Love Island’s Gabby Allen and Towie’s (The Only Way Is Essex) Dan Osborne leave me wondering how little is required these days to reach the fame that was once considered an honour.

But does it matter? The appeal of the circus was always the invitation to watch those who, in present society, were considered abnormal, or weird. Circuses and freak shows were a way for us to observe others we thought of as being on the outside; people whose personalities were so charismatic, or whose physical abilities or disabilities were so outlandish, that we could simultaneously stare at and be entertained by them – without judgment, because we’d paid.

When I was a kid, the arrival of the circus was a big event in my hometown; it was a breakaway from the boring normality of life and it replaced mundane routine with something so incredibly exciting it took everyone’s breath away.

Nowadays, the circus has changed. We’re less interested in the peculiar physical differences we each have, as well as the dazzling physical expertise exhibited by some. We appear to be fascinated by the more intricate psychologies of each other.

As cynical as I may often be, I too find this an interesting area. I admit to being a Big Brother fan, and I love the stream of supposed weirdos that the programme offers.

I suspect that it’s not because I am a cosy outsider revelling in the flaws of others, but because I share their apparent shortcomings, or extrovert tendencies. Not a single one of us is perfect, or even close to it, but we hold each other to a standard higher than we can ever realistically reach. Our one saving grace is that we keep our perceived failings to ourselves. In shows like Big Brother, we live vicariously through big personalities who put their flaws on a shiny pedestal for us all to see.

Yes, OK, they may be paid for it, but that’s not the point for the rest of us. Trashy TV is watched by those considered to be trashy people for a reason; we relate to it. It turns out that it doesn’t really matter where you’re from in life or what you can afford, we all have the shared ability to make terrible decisions and be terrible – or incredible, depending on your perspective - people.

Big Brother was one of the original reality TV shows and it maintains an audience because voters tap into the personality traits of contestants which happen to reflect our shared fears and optimisms. Political types can poll the public until their hearts are content, but perhaps it might be helpful to tap into the modern-day circus and try to understand how the public relates to today’s Z-list celebrities – if nothing else, this is what pulls in the ratings.

There’s a showbiz appeal, but it’s balanced with something much more human than that. It can be hard to make sense of it, but even as a cynic I’ve already chosen my winner for this year: it’s #TeamKirstieAlley all the way.


There was outrage in the last week after it emerged that Disney had reportedly cast a straight man, Jack Whitehall, to play the part of a gay man in new movie Jungle Cruise. The talking point wasn’t that Disney was thrusting a gay character on to the movie pedestal, it was one of identity politics. Some LGBT people claimed it was a travesty, which is incredibly short-sighted. Insisting that LGBT characters are only played by LGBT people pigeonholes LGBT people into very specific characters. Acting is about playing characters different to our own – if we can only play characters we share a personal lived experience with, let’s just kiss fictional characters and movies goodbye. It’s the obvious conclusion of such misguided logic. What a travesty.