Circuses used to parade the physically different - the hugely obese, the women with beards, the conjoined twins - as freaks, charging people money to look and be appalled. For all the repulsiveness of that, it was somehow more honest than what television does now, which is to take some sort of mock-empathetic stance and present the sad, the mentally ill, the physically extreme, as if TV producers are doing some sort of public service.
Vibe TV's Hoarders (8.30pm Sunday) must take the prize - and trust me, it's not one anyone should strive to win - for the most grotesquely pointless, cruel "reality" programme. I was about five minutes into watching a woman obsessed with dolls before I turned it off.
It was the pseudo-scientific nature of the programme, the interview with her son who piously proclaimed that if social services knew about his mother's obsession, they would take his brother from her care. Cut to smiling, intellectually deficient middle-aged brother, watching his mother cutting off a doll's hand ("She's a dead donor!") and sewing it on to another doll - "Like a kidney transplant!"
Over on TV3 (Saturday 8pm), Saving Gen Y is rescued only by the programme's sports psychologist Ihi Heke who - going by his smiling face and unintimidating manner - has a genuine concern for the wellbeing of the eight morbidly obese young people whom he's assisting to lose weight. At least half of them have horrific life stories. They all acknowledge that their lives are out of control. All of them need help, and such is our world that they see going on television as part of the solution. Nevertheless, it's hard to see what can be gained by showing them floundering through mud. A personal challenge or a humiliating variation of the wet T-shirt routine?
They're either courageous, or they've misunderstood what this "challenge" would involve. I just question what the viewer's role is in all this. Are we there to invisibly cheer them on? To mock them if they fail? Or are we, like circus-goers past, just rolling up to the tent, to pay our penny and have a gawk?
- © Fairfax NZ News
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