Posts Tagged ‘The Observer’

Horizon: How Mad Are You?

November 19, 2008

how mad are you?

Do you know what I like?

I like TV reviews.

I like writing TV reviews because, given the throwaway medium, you don’t really have to put much effort in. I especially like reviewing reality TV because everyone, including those who work within the industry, takes the piss out of it. Getting paid for reviewing it? Even better – you make a few pre-judgements on the characters involved, watch the opening ten minutes and then go and do some knitting and listen to LBC. The copy writes itself.

Not my thought process, readers – but I assume this was what was going through Kathryn Flett of The Observer’s mind when she was pushed for time last Tuesday and decided to review half of Horizon’s How Mad Are You? on BBC2, presumably without even watching the bloody thing. You’ll get the picture from the laboured, unsuccessful pun that heads the piece.

I’m a lobotomy, get me out of here

Completely unfunny and guilty of trivialising the experiences of the people the TV show’s about. But – benefit of the doubt and all that – let’s assume a sub-editor wrote that piece of crap and move on to the piece itself. Brace yourselves, it’s just as bad. 

In her article, she accuses the programme of being ‘a game show, by any other name’ which simply isn’t true. The only clunky thing about How Mad Are You? was the title. Beyond that, it was a series of psychiatric tests which 10 people took part in – five of whom had a history of mental illness and five of whom were all mentally sound (as far as they knew).

There was no points system and no prize trolley. If Kathryn thought this was a gameshow, then that’s more a tribute to the fact she clearly watches too much shit TV, gameshows being her only point of reference when she sees normal people being tested on the box.

The whole point of the show was to highlight that diagnostic tests are simply an aid to diagnosis. Case studies are crucial, and the show set out to prove that three scientists can’t sit together and label mental illnesses from behaviour systems without a case history to work with. It was all about how dangerous labels can be and to prove that the brain is a complex beast that can completely cover its tracks when breaking down. Furthermore, it can completely heal or at least develop coping systems in the face of a potentially debilitating illness.

But that doesn’t bother old steamroller Flett!

She puts the word ‘science’ in inverted commas, as though this is science with a whimsically light touch. What really grates is the fact that she subtly accuses the show of being exploitative but then kicks in with a couple of tasteless ‘mad’ gags of her own. ‘But can Yasmin really be as sane as she appears… find out after the break…down!’ she jests. Brilliant stuff, right? She claims they may as well have called the show ‘bonkers’. She talks about ‘a small but strident voice in one’s head’ and then hits us with the hilarious aside: ‘yup, that’d be the old paranoid schizophrenia playing up again’! – because it’s great fun, undermining the paranoid schizophrenic for chuckles.

Perhaps the worst aspect surrounds participant Yasmin. In what was actually quite a thought-provoking piece of television, in episode one Yasmin – who in the past had spent three years plagued by depression causing her to give up work and become so detached she couldn’t leave the house – managed to elude the attention of the psychiatrist panel. They all judged her least likely to have a history of mental illness.

Flett says that Yasmin smiled ‘smugly’ when told the news. Yasmin’s recovery has been so successful that experts couldn’t see a single trace of her past condition. She rightly smiled – her struggle with her own brain had reached a point where even people who are paid to spot this stuff judged her to be completely normal. That’s not smug – it’s vindication.

A more definitive case of ‘smug’ could be, for example, the act of writing an article about a sensitive subject, jumping in feet first, completely misjudging the whole concept and then enjoying your earnings off the back of another piece of shit copy.

Well done Kathryn – quality journalism there.