by Niall Walker
There is a fear which outweighs even the most fearsome of bushtucker trials...
Welcome to The Jungle. Forbidden, mysterious, deep: The Jungle.
Overhead cameras swoop through sardine-packed shrubbery, to rest their gaze on Holly Willoughby’s chic denim dungarees. The Amazon shakes, and twitter storms reverberate for miles around.
Much has changed for the waxed and uncoiled simians who departed these climes some 4 million years ago. Now we uber. We trend. We stare at nature through mirrors.
Who are we?
I’m a Celebrity casts its audience’s mind back to our place of origin. A handful of our kind, Homo celebritus, reenact that fabled voyage from branch to TV studio, in a ritual performed to millions at home since the early 2000s.
We, the obscure of the species, view their travails in the wilderness like toucans, mesmerised by chimps fighting over a stick. Emily Atack screams as she is showered in cockroaches by an unseen executive hand. John Barrowman busies himself arranging toys in a spider-infested doll house.
The natural world seems more like a postcard from a myth than something real. We may choose to enter it, but we are not a part of it. I’m a Celeb draws on the abject fears of our evolutionary unconscious – the snakes, the rats, the kangaroo penis – to leave us screaming for home, for the civilised shield that protects us from the horrors of our past. Get me out of here!
The Forest Floor
In the comfort of our new environments, we have constructed new jungles. The rich of our species swing from artificial tree to tree, stopping to fuck, fight, and fiddle with tools, safe from the danger of the forest floor. This, however, is not a sign of our primitiveness. This is our culture: the city, celebrities, The Jungle.
Unimpressed by Nick Nowles’ daring red Y-fronts, the audience sends him swinging out of shot, to the shadows of off-camera. Could the jungle be more distant in our minds than it is now?
As it slips from memory, we look at its destruction with unstinting ambivalence. The Jungle of I’m a Celebrity stands in its place: scripted, controlled and sterilised.
In a matter of days, the forests of Murwillumbah will return to emptiness. Gone will be the buffet carts, the snake tamers, the Geordie charm. All that will be left is the jungle's vast eternity, and the faint echoes of its fleeting and fickle former foragers.
All as it seems?
A bug is carefully extracted from Harry Redknapp’s earhole. Why should we worry about the natural world when we can sculpt a utopia like this?
But take a look at that set again. The camera, with its circuit boards of gold and silver, aluminium core, hydrocarbonic frame. That leopard-print dress, tight-knit fibres from the cotton plant seeds’ protective shell. And most of all those upright primates, scratching at the bug bites on their bums, twitching with instinctive fears of the unknown, and still finding survival through co-operation.
At its best, I’m a Celeb re-enforces this human need for team work and mutual appreciation. Yet there is a fear which it fails to address, one that outweighs the most perilous bushtucker trial. It is the thought that culture is a lie. That there is no artificial barrier we can construct between ourselves and nature. That those 4 million years which span from our days in the jungle to our nights viewing it reclined on a piece of oak wooden furniture aren't really that long, or significant, a length of time.
So farewell to The Jungle, for another year. Though the truth may well be that we never really left it in the first place.
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