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Culture House Daily

Why is the BBC’s latest ‘documentary’ on China fronted by someone who doesn’t know anything about China?

7 September 2015

4:08 PM

7 September 2015

4:08 PM

The BBC’s latest pretty young face is Billie JD Porter. The 23-year-old is entirely lovable. With her brown roots proudly showing, that unmistakably London accent, and a chirpy personality, Billie is the latest in a string of young presenters who the corporation hopes will win back the younger generation. The result? Secrets of China, a three-part documentary series that barely scratches the surface of the country, let alone uncovers its ‘secrets’.

Of the Chinese language, she knows little – she can say ‘boyfriend’, ‘beer’, and ‘thank you’. Of the culture, she knows even less. Billie frequently treats the project as a gap yah – using her subjects as the butt of her jokes. You might as well send any London yoof wandering Portobello market to China and film their musings.

The episodes are linked together with a running theme: ‘conformity’. Yet so far she has failed to talk about Confucianism, the philosophy that has been used to justify social Chinese hierarchy for centuries. She visits a Mao-themed restaurant in Beijing, and sees some retro Communist souvenirs selling well, and concludes that the country is still being brainwashed by the party’s propaganda. Forget the deep-rooted tradition of conformity; it is, says Billie, undeniably a result of the last few decades of party oppression.

One thing is obvious – Billie has confidence in abundance. For instance, after chatting to a group of teenage boys at a school for misbehaving youths, she is immediately capable of making conclusions about the ins and outs of the Chinese education system. Their awkwardness in telling her about their gaming habits suggests to Billie that they don’t even like gaming. They only game, she thinks, because their school is so oppressive. It’s an act of escapism. A lesser presenter might have accounted for the natural shyness of teenage boys, but not Billie.

The problem, however, is not just her lack of background understanding and illogical arguments. What annoys most is her obvious disdain for Chinese culture. She talks back to the teachers at the disciplinary school as if she were a child herself. She rolls her eyes at local wedding traditions. She tells a couple that their silk bed sheets would be seen as ‘pimpish’ in the west. (Heard of the Silk Road, Billie?)

Now don’t get me wrong, Billie JD Porter has done admirably well for herself. At her young age, she has a series of documentaries to her name, incredible credentials, a budding career – and all despite having left school at 16 (as she was very keen to tell the audience). Undoubtedly, she has worked very hard. But this time she’s bitten off more than she can chew. During an interview, Billie once said ‘I try to avoid moralising. I think that a lot of yoof programming can be patronising’. Sorry Billie – you’ve failed.

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