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Why the Gogglebox takedown of the government’s lockdown advice proved so illuminating

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Kayleigh Dray
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Gogglebox in lockdown

It was unconventional, granted, but it served a purpose.

The reality show that lets you watch strangers watch TV, Gogglebox is easily one of the biggest success stories of lockdown. Indeed, the hugely popular Channel 4 show has seen its figures increase during the coronavirus pandemic, boasting around four and a half million viewers per episode.

Usually, you can rely on the meta TV show to give you a well-rounded summary of the nation’s mood. During their Brexit coverage last year, for example, we were served up a number of different opinions from the show’s stars: some were for it, some were against it, and some were just sick of hearing about it.

Essentially, the show’s producers always try to give viewers watching the show at home a mix of hot takes and reactions, in order to present a balanced view. Which is why it felt so strange to see Gogglebox stars so united in their response to the government’s new “stay alert” message.

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The eased lockdown rules came into action in England last week, replacing the original “stay home” guidelines we were given back in March.

“From [today], we want to encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise,” Boris Johnson explained in a televised broadcast. 

“You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports but only with members of your own household.”

Similarly, the government’s previous stance was that people should only go to work “if they must,” Johnson said.

“We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance, those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.”

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Naturally, the address was featured in the most recent episode of Gogglebox: it was, after all, big TV news. Everyone watching, though – from the Malones to the Siddiquis – made it clear that they weren’t impressed by the government’s new lockdown messaging. At all.

Siblings Peter and Sophie were taken aback at the messages coming out of number 10.

“Unlimited exercise? People are going to use that like the unlimited salad bowls at Pizza Hut!” Peter exclaimed, much to his sister’s amusement.

Lorry driver Tom Malone, pointing out that his place of work is “70 miles away”, turned around to the rest of his family looking extremely aggravated.

“Go to work but don’t go to work,” he said mockingly. “Get public transport but don’t get public transport. Stay at home but go to the park, but don’t go to the park get some exercise but don’t get exercise. Go to work, go in your car but don’t go in your car, go on your bike or walk, but go in your car.”

Sarcastically, Tom added: “That’s crystal clear to me, that.”

Even Giles and Mary, who have previously expressed support for Johnson, appeared frustrated.

“Oh, get on with it,” Mary snapped at her TV in Wiltshire.

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Coronavirus in the UK: why Gogglebox is proving so important in the age of Covid-19

Perhaps the best response, though, came from the Siddiqui household.

Umar, who has worked in the NHS as a biomedical scientist in microbiology for many years, noted to his brother Baasit: “In hospitals where we’ve got an outbreak of MRSA or something, we never say ‘stay alert’. We say something like, ‘use a shit-load of bleach’.

“We say practical, real things. Not concepts, not ideologies. We say real things.”

It’s worth noting, here, that lockdown rules are now different in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Indeed, the rest of the UK is still telling people to “stay home”.

Is it any wonder, then, that so many feel frustrated and confused?

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Images: Channel 4

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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