Portrayal or Betrayal

Is the way in which the demolition industry is portrayed in the media partly to blame for the sector’s inability to attract young people into its ranks. And, if so, is this a problem of our own creation.

No-one has ever walked into their kitchen, found a can of tuna fish, a carrot of questionable vintage and some left-over rice and thought: “Ah yes, I shall fashion a lobster Thermidor from this lot”. Likewise, no-one has ever ordered a meal in a restaurant and then set a stopwatch running because we all realise that food needs to be cooked until it is ready, not to satisfy a specific timeline.

Yet both these things are standard tropes in the realm of TV cooking shows. This is known as implied jeopardy; a way in which to make the usually relaxing and catthartic process of baking a cake seem suddenly like defusing a ticking timebomb.

Now that implied jeopardy is fine in its place. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing a collapsed souffle, a failed fondant, or a piece of lamb so undercooked that it could be revived by a decent vet?

The problem arises when it is applied to an industry in which there is (a) real jeopardy and (b) when it merely reinforces the public perception that the industry in question is dangerous.

Directly or otherwise, I have been involved in lots of TV shows about the demolition industry. I have worked with TV researchers and I was even named as an executive producer on one series.

Each time I am asked to participate, I trot out the same two questions: Are you planning to pay me; and are you planning to make demolition look like a death-trap?

The answer to both those questions is generally no. So I swallow what little pride I still possess and I point the research team in the right direction. I explain patiently that, no, they cannot blow up a building next Tuesday at about 2.15pm. I explain that explosive demolition represents just a tiny portion of what the demolition sector does, and this it’s not blowing up but a blowdown. I introduce them to companies and individuals that are media savvy and who I believe are good ambassadors for the sector. And I remind them that demolition is carefully regulated, constantly monitored, and legislated to within an inch of its life. Risks are assessed and are mitigated, I explain. There is no need for any form of implied jeopardy.

Fast forward about six months and I am sat in front of my TV, waiting for the show to begin. “On tonight’s episode, a bridge must be blown up against the clock, placing men and machines in mortal peril”. Bollocks!

Now we all like to see ourselves on TV. Chances are, the company involved in such a show thoroughly enjoy their moment in the media spotlight. Their competitors may scoff whilst quietly cursing about not being invited to take part. Those in the know will look beyond the implied jeopardy (I find turning off the sound helps) and just enjoy seeing demolition on the small screen.

But what of 14-year old Johnnie who has tuned in because he quite fancies himself a demolition career in the future. Constant dangers and ceaseless stress are not great selling points are they? And what of 15-year old Jenny, watching with her parents and thinking that she too could forge a future in the destructive arts? “Yes mum, I have heard the horror stories of falling debris, collapsed buildings and deadly machines and I have decided to abandon my plans of being a midwife to take up a front-line role with a demolition company.”

Doesn’t seem likely, does it?

Demolition is already an industry with a largely undeserved reputation that is akin to a long weekend in Helmand Province while playing Born in the USA at maximum volume. The last thing it needs is for that reputation to be reinforced and even magnified by a TV executive desperate for viewers and desperate to try out his shiny new work boots.

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Mark Anthony

Mark is a journalist, author, podcaster and daily live-streamer specialising in the field of demolition and construction.