Art for all the young dudes
Pier Pressure is for people who think Melvyn Bragg is a drag. Or who think that arts programmes on television are aimed at middle-aged toffs. Or who think that poetry and opera have no relevance to their lives.
Reading between the lines, you will have gathered that Pier Pressure, an offshoot of the arts documentary series The Pier, is for young people. Producers Antelope South gave five young people who were interested in the arts, but who had no television experience, the opportunity to make their own shows.
They were given basic training, Hi-8 video cameras and the services of director Toby MacDonald. Then they went off to make the kind of programmes they would like to see themselves.
The pay-off is eclectic with presenters that range from Tyler Balfore, a 24-year-old Big Issue seller from Hastings, to Alison Hulme, 20, a media studies student at Sussex University.
But it holds some surprises, too. In among the graphics and the oddly angled camera shots, there are snippets of interviews with Eddie Izzard, Danny de Vito, Right Said Fred and Boyzone, as well as with various mere mortals in the arts world. It all makes for a series of programmes that if not insightful, might at least tell viewers things they did not know.
Seventeen-year-old student Nick Fettiplace's visit to Kent Institute of Art and Design yields a fresh look at sculpture. Head of sculpture Roland (people in Pier Pressure only have first names) talks about the employability and self-motivation of sculpture students. For young people thinking of studying art after A-level, this could set them off in the right direction.
Similarly, aspiring actors might be turned on by Kate's visit to the Guildford School of Acting. After sitting in on a character-building class in which people had to pretend to get in and out of a bathtub, her assessment is honest. "I didn't see the point of it, but the others seemed to enjoy it. So what can I say?" Enjoyment seems to be dripping off the walls at the school, whether students are dancing, performing songs for other students or building stage sets.
While the visits to galleries and art schools tells us something about those places, the star turns fall into the predictable realm of vacuous pop magazine shows, characterised by short spurts of anodyne chat and uncomfortable sets. Why is Kate arranged sardine-like on a leather sofa with Eddie Izzard and three other comedians for a discussion about improvisation? It may have something to do with only having one camera at her disposal. Never mind. To spice these bits up, the interviews are intercut with clips of performances or music videos. Izzard and Right Said Fred in full swing are an absolute joy, even if we only get them for a few seconds.
Luckily, we get to hear Jah Wobble, the poet performer who Nick goes to see at the Sussex Arts Club, for a bit longer. His explanation of how powerful the language of poetry can be and how we devalue it at our peril ("I've noticed that variations in speech are disappearing. . . it's all Benetton blandness. . . when poetry's good it can turn kids on fire") is angled just right. When Nick says to him, "the stereotype of poetry is that it's for upper class and well-spoken people. What would you say to that?" Mr Wobble agrees. The message is that poetry's cool, it's young, it has a meaning for you if you look for it.
Which is, in a nutshell, the message of the series as a whole. If arts programmes have traditionally come across stodgy and Reithian, Pier Pressure is an attempt to reclaim the genre for younger people by giving them the chance to present arts through their eyes.