Here in the U.S., our competitive reality TV situation is finally starting to move away from singing contests – with American Idol ending next year and The Voice having ratings problems – but I’m not sure we’ll ever get to the point where we’re pitting poor people against one another for shits and giggles. The BBC is cool with it, however, and their newest “social experiment” Britain’s Hardest Grafter is catching massive criticism for appearing to ape the Hunger Games franchise.
Here’s how the five-part Britain’s Hardest Grafter works: 25 of Britain’s poorest workers – those who earn or take in benefits that equal out to less than £15,500 ($23,712) annually – go against one another in a series of jobs both inside a specially created factory and out in the normal work areas, with the “least effective workers” get eliminated until only one person remains. (Thankfully, eliminated doesn’t mean killed in this case.)That winner will receive a prize of £15,500.
Assuming they’re not getting in bum fights and similarly outrageous situations, it doesn’t sound all that horrifying to me, but there are plenty out there who are already calling for it to be shut down. The Hunger Games comparisons are complemented by others calling it “poverty porn,” according to The Guardian, and there’s a petition at Change.org that was started two days ago and already has over 16,000 supporters at the time of this writing.
On the other side of things, production company Twenty Twenty has no problem advertising this as a show where people will make money by proving their worth. Here’s how they described things.
Britain’s Hardest Grafter is a serious social experiment for BBC2 which investigates just how hard people in the low wage economy work. Each week the contributors – who are all in work or actively looking – will experience a different ‘blue collar’ role as the series explores the truth about Britain’s work ethic.
Also saying that the series will “tackle some of the most pressing issues of our time,” the BBC and Twenty Twenty aren’t even quite touting the show as purely entertainment. The series was commissioned by Clive Edwards, who does current affairs commissioning for the BBC, so it doesn’t really fall into the fun times category. Still, category clarification isn't going to stop naysayers from expressing their hate toward the concept.
Hell, we just recently heard about the Czech Republic show where a family is living under simulated Nazi control, so watching non-wealthy people work for money isn’t really as extreme as it could be, even if it’s not exactly classy. And who was I kidding in that first paragraph? If Britain’s Hardest Grafter ends up becoming a ratings smash, I can easily see America’s Wickedest Welfare Recipient taking over domestic TV in 2016. Maybe we’ll have that purely entertaining Hunger Games theme park by then.