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Thursday, April 30, 2009

TV cruelty

I chanced upon the first programme on ITV of "Britain's Biggest Loser," and boy do I wish I hadn't.

In Victorian times people paid money to watch bearded ladies, the morbidly obese or people with afflictions like The Elephant Man. We now use TV as our medium to gasp and point, but now they don't get paid, unless you count the miserly £10k prize for whoever loses the most weight. And we call it progress?

The concept of the show is just awful. These poor people have heart rending stories like having footprints on their skirts because of being kicked in the street, and not going on holiday because of the potential embarrassment of aeroplane seats.

Instead of being treated with dignity and respect, and given counselling to overcome addiction, they're bullied and humiliated by two ferocious personal trainers, one of whom screams "you've treated your body like a dustbin all your life and now your body says it's payback time!" When they're weighed, the men have to take their shirts off to give the viewers additional titillation.

There doesn't seem to be much in the way of nutritional advice either. It's all about gruelling 4 hour training sessions resulting inevitably in vomiting and hospitalisations that allow the trainers to sigh and roll their eyes about the weakness and sloth of their charges.

Of course at the end of eight weeks, when one or two of them 'triumph,' it'll be smiles and hugs and talk of journeys.

But eight weeks is nothing --- if you're 26 stone you may lose, what, five? You're still be morbidly obese. And it's not long enough to handle the psychological issues or to change the habits of a lifetime.

Michael Parkinson was wrong when he wrote scathingly about Jade Goody representing all that was bad about modern TV. It's shows like Britain's Biggest Loser, which vilify and allow others to feel smug. Jade may not have known where East Angular was but she made a better living than she ever would have done as a dental nurse. For some of the people on Britain's Biggest Loser, this crass show may be their only chance to live beyond 30.

We should be looking seriously at ways to stem the obesity epidemic. Top of my list would be reinstating cookery lessons and PE in schools and stopping retailers and fast food outlets from supersizing everything.

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