My Life As An Animal: Pigs, BBC3

Did we like it?
Falling between the two stools of grunting about in the grime and maliciously using pigs to humiliate people was its main failing. Largely because the parts about the life of pigs were quite fascinating, with the episodes focusing on the people pigs less so, making you wish that more of the programme could have been devoted to the enigmatic hogs trotting about their pens.

What was good about it?
• When the show pulled tenaciously on the constrictive leash of a tepid reality show, it became pretty interesting and informative (we’ll assume the veracity of the facts simply because they were imparted by Terry Nutkins – although this might have been the makers’ strategy).
• After her hyperventilating nonsense spout, Rebecca Wilcox became a solid link between the curious esotery of the world of pigs and the banal world of Lynsey and Richard – the two people who ‘became’ pigs.
• Richard embraced the life of a pig with much more enthusiasm than radio presenter Lynsey. Through his experience it was possible to illustrate the vagaries of pigdom, and this was the zenith of this odyssey, the highlight of which was when he snuggled down in the pen as one of the other pigs as an impromptu pillow.
• Terry or pig expert Katie would explain how the pigs, for example, communicate, and then we observed novice pig Richard experience this. He was bitten by the over-zealous greeting of his new pen pals, but soon adapted by grunting aggressively, after being schooled in hog vernacular by Katie.
• Richard also, quite literally, embraced the etiquette of porcine amiability as he sucked his pen pals’ ears as an affectionate welcome, only pausing to spit out what he “hoped was grit” from his mouth. And as he tried to eat the unpalatable pig foodstuff, he was barged by one his pen pals, and unconsciously responded by butting him back – “I don’t know why I’m defending it,” he quipped, “it’s horrible!”
• While the pigs were lauded as the fourth most intelligent species on Earth, this didn’t preclude the inevitable conclusion to the journey – in the abattoir. Although we were disappointed that the slaughter wasn’t shown in all its unpleasant detail – rather as a naked exposition of the life of the pig than a love of gore – it was a powerful expression of the way that pigs are treated as little more than food from the moment they are born. A point that was countered by the pig farmer who said that if people didn’t eat the pigs they wouldn’t exist in the first place.

What was bad about it?
• The tabloid gloss spat out acrid bullets of condescension more suited to an astrology advert. “Imagine what it would be like to be an animal!” cooed host Rebecca Wilcox. The problem is that this isn’t an invitation to adopt your sensual side and truly imagine what it would like to be an animal – although was appealing to BBC3 viewers to inhabit their imaginations, which is rather like asking Jeremy Clarkson to dress himself in his own humility – it instead was like one of those risible holiday ads proclaiming the virtues of Miami as if the sand was made from gold dust and the sun beds forged from frozen champagne.
• Wilcox followed this up with “No-one has ever attempted to get to know animals like this before” as though it was some kind of Einstein-esque innovation when in reality it was because of more relaxed broadcasting standards (of which those that there always appear to be very flexibly applied on BBC3 anyhow) that two people were willing to endure the abasement of smearing their faces with pig faeces and eat pig feed (although The Hopefuls from The Word would have thought these a bit too easy).
• The random and haphazard soundtrack that mixed Franz Ferdinand’s inglorious misstep of Do You Want To? with Consider Yourself from Oliver!, and dozens of uninspired choices in between.
• The awkward profile shots of Terry Nutkins.
• Lynsey’s failure to adapt to life as a pig wasn’t so much a disappointment as the way it was presented, and the onerous time spent expounding her discomfort. Looking so polished that she appeared to have just been put on display as pride of place among wedding gifts, her debasement to the world of pigs was to be the vindictive sliver that prevented this show casting off the malignant shackles of reality TV.
• When she was bitten by one of the pigs she was understandably upset and stormed out of the pen. The problem was that she was exuding the Holy Grail of all reality TV – tears, and we then needlessly followed her as she blubbed nonsensically about her predicament. This programme wasn’t about her, it was about pigs.
• Although she did annoy us with her echoing whine of how “they don’t treat prisoners like this”. That, believe it or not, is because prisoners are human and are privileged to presume basic rights – unlike animals. And she later used the relative ‘comfort’ that she had hardly savoured among the free range pigs as an excuse for her even greater repulsion of the conditions among the intensively farmed pigs. If she had mucked in a bit more among the free range pigs, we could have understood her complaint.
• The explicit focus on the sex life of a pig, which shamelessly sought to be as grotesque as Rebecca Loos’ notoriety on The Farm – especially when Richard had to artificially inseminate a sow for no other reason than humiliation.

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