'Gino and the Rat' sounds like a good title for an age 4-8 story book, but followers of celeb events in the UK will realize immediately that we are dealing instead with an incident important enough to make it onto the main news bulletins. Rumour started spreading yesterday that TV chef and winner of I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here Gino d'Acampo was in jail for the terrible crime of killing a rat. Immediately the political correctness hackles rose. After all, rats are vermin. Killing a rat is our right - and in his case he killed it to eat it, so it's doubly okay.
When the initial panic settled down it turned out that the effervescent Gino was not in jail at all, but on his way back home to the UK. However the Australian authorities were considering charges. Still enough to get those hackles up? I'm not sure. In fact, once you look beyond the over-reaction, it's a good spotlight to throw on the nature of reality TV shows.
On the one hand, what d'Acampo did doesn't seem particularly bad. After all, I'm sure those same Australian authorities merrily poison rats, as a result of which they die a much more horrible death than the rat that became supper in camp. But when we defend the TV company (and it's the TV company that's at fault, not d'Acampo) we are falling for an illusion. The illusion that these people are out in the wild, dealing with the wild animals they face.
Instead what we're talking about is a bunch of celebrities on a TV set. Okay, it's an open TV set, but it's not the wild. Specifically, the encounter with the rat took place when a group of celebrities had been sent to an intentionally down market second camp. And the chances are high that the rat was there because the TV company put it there. So rather than a chance encounter with wild game, what we have is a TV set to which an animal (quite possibly bred in captivity) has been introduced for a celebrity to kill. Suddenly it doesn't sound right.
I'm not a rabid animal rights person. I'm a meat eater, and I accept what that implies. But in a civilized society I expect people not to hurt animals for entertainment. There's rather too much of this on the programme. It started with horses, clearly distressed, being forced to swim across a river with people on their backs. It continues with a whole range of 'jungle critters' from bugs and spiders to rats and eels being trampled on, kicked, rolled on and generally damaged in the 'bush tucker trials'. The rat incident just brings it to a head.
Fine, let your celebrities abuse themselves for entertainment - but there's no need to make other living things suffer in the process. I have nothing against people killing rabbits, pigeons or rats to eat them. But there's a difference between going out in the countryside with a shotgun and stabbing a rat that has been dropped onto a film set by the crew.