The other day I decided to take a break from writing to watch what looked like an intriguing documentary on Channel 4. It was called “Greg Wallace The British Miracle Meat” and seemed like it would offer some interesting science about lab-grown meat products.
I’m always looking for documentaries that will expand my horizons and expose me to new ways of seeing the world. The ones with nuanced takes rather than a single slant tend to stick with me the most. Occasionally a documentary will completely flip my perspective on something – the documentaries that change my mind are the best.
My typical TV lineup runs from news and political shows to daytime chat and comedy staples like Have I Got News For You and the late, great Mock the Week. I also love getting lost in the worlds of Black Mirror and anything fantasy or sci-fi. So you’d think a documentary exposing the inner workings of a futuristic lab-grown meat company would be right up my viewing alley.
What was Channel 4’s Gregg Wallace: The British Miracle Meat
The premise of the show was Greg Wallis doing his usual job of going around factories, acting all cheerful, and generally explaining food in a patronising way. You’ve probably guessed I don’t watch too many of his shows but this one seemed interesting. They didn’t explain what the Miracle Meat was but I did a quick look up before the show and found some soy based stuff online so I was looking forward to some proper science based stuff.
So I’m watching along, and just a few minutes into the miracle meat ‘documentary’ they drop the bombshell that this “Miracle Meat” is made of human flesh! I was totally horrified, as I’m sure you can imagine. Eating people is one of the biggest social taboos out there, and for good reason.
I immediately started frantically Googling to see if there was actually some company producing Soylent Green style people meat. I was so deep in my phone spiral that I missed the few hints they apparently dropped that this was all fake.
My husband glances up from his laptop and goes, “There’s no way that’s real. It would be illegal, Ceri.”
Except it is Greg Wallis and it said it was a documentary. I was still sort of convinced, since it was on a major TV channel presented as fact.
Then it brought on the children and they were taking samples from them and I put down my mobile because that was just stupid.
After that silly bit with children, I grabbed my phone again and pulled up Twitter, (if it’s even called that anymore). which I haven’t used in forever. A load of people were already on there confirming it was all a spoof. Some even pointed me toward the show’s IMDb page, where it was clearly listed as a comedy mockumentary, full cast and all.
I felt relieved but also annoyed for getting so worked up over a fake documentary. I guess that’s how they get people though – making something so convincing you don’t even think to question it right away. At least the Twitter crew had facts to get me back to reality! The next day, someone on Facebook said their relative was still convinced!
I’m very confused about what Channel 4 expected to achieve with that. I thought it was a social commentary about eating meat, but apparently it was actually touching on the rising cost of living in the UK. They only briefly mentioned things like struggling to pay bills and keep food on the table, but I didn’t absorb much of that commentary since my head was down in my phone trying to research if human harvesting was real.
To be honest, even if I had known it was a mockumentary, I doubt I would have found the scattered references to inflation and financial stress all that funny or insightful. Seemed like just a thin attempt at social relevance without much nuance. As a sci-fi show I get it, but the hammy acting would have put me off regardless.
How are people supposed to trust the media when they deliberately mislead us for giggles?
There is an ongoing issue with public mistrust in media truthfulness. This mockumentary stunt by Channel 4 exacerbated the problem rather than helping it. The network clearly attempted to mislead its audience rather than letting them in on the joke. They did not even try to signal that it was fake by the end, resulting in some gullible viewers still believing it the next day.
Channel 4 essentially handed conspiracy theorists more evidence on a silver platter to support their beliefs. In my opinion, this kind of deceptive “gotcha” approach only breeds more skepticism and cynicism toward news and documentaries. It was an unwise decision that failed to consider the wider climate of media distrust. A more transparent comedic framing could have prevented viewer confusion and manipulation.
Overall, I was quite unimpressed by this mockumentary and felt I had wasted valuable time that could have been spent on productive work, given the purported topic was the cost of living. The bait-and-switch approach came across as deceptive rather than comedic or insightful.
In the aftermath, I have not felt inclined to watch Channel 4 since this incident, as I prefer media outlets that are more transparent about their content upfront, rather than misleading the audience. This experience unfortunately diminished my trust in the network’s integrity.
I generally prefer to spend my limited viewing time on programmes that align with my interests, rather than prank-style formats that essentially dupe the viewer, where I have to IMDB every programme to make sure it’s genuine! Hopefully future documentaries will take a more nuanced approach to complex social issues.