Monday, 4 February 2008

No emotion please, we’re afraid of litigation

I surely have better things to do, but I was half-watching Casualty the other night. For Americans and other aliens, this is a ‘drama’ set in a hospital, sort of like ER on a tenth of the budget and a nanomole of the wit. I don’t even know who anyone is anymore, but that’s by the by. I was tired, is my excuse. Anyway. I watched this story that featured the usual medical calamities, and as usual it all ended in tears for someone. However, as the credits rolled, something got my goat – reached out and plucked it right out of the pen, ignoring its bleats of protest.

Over the end credits, the announcer intoned, ‘If you have been affected by any of the issues in tonight’s programme, please call…’ and gave a helpline number. This is not the first time I’ve seen this, nor the only programme. I’ve seen this announcement (warning? disclaimer?) on everything from documentaries to soaps, and it is beginning to get, as I mention above, my goat.

It seems that programme makers are suddenly terrified that they will be held responsible for a viewer being so ‘affected’ by one of their programmes that the viewer tops him/herself. Am I alone in finding this a) weirdly arrogant and b) insulting?

We consume fiction (read it, hear it, watch it) in order to be affected, to be moved. If it makes us laugh or cry, we can say that it has done its job. But surely very, very rarely can it cause someone to become more depressed. If anything, the reverse ought to be true. Fiction provides comfort. It is itself a form of therapy; we don’t need added helplines. Fiction dares to touch those emotions that polite society would rather forget about: grief, anger and (yes) joy too. But now anything that threatens to provoke strong feelings has to come with a public health warning. Heaven forbid that we should actually feel something.

Perhaps this explains the ghastly proliferation of ‘nothing’ programming on TV. Property shows, cookery shows, gardening shows, Lark Rise To Candleford. When you can look at the listings and say, quite literally, that there is nothing on TV tonight.

At least we still have books! Perhaps one day they will have to carry stickers: Warning. Contains Feelings.


Lee said...

Terrific post! But I find the disclaimer neither arrogant nor insulting, just hysterically funny. About on par with the warning which - genuinely - accompanies a certain brand of infant's pushchair: 'Do not fold up with a child still in the seat.'

anngiles said...

But people do complain about just about everything these days. It used to be just washing instructions on clothes that were too cautious. Now it's everything. Our secondary school, the best in town, features regularly in the local paper when some parent has got upset over something to do with their innocent little darling. This is why Melvin Burgess' book stays in the librarian's office.Just think what the paper could/would do with a book about randy teenage boys.

Nick said...

I wonder Ann - do you have to go through some special procedure to check out the Burgess book? Perhaps a thumbprint, retinal scan, pass through two sets of double-locking doors, and the volume is passed to you with tongs – for research purposes only, of course! – and you have a strict time limit of an hour to peruse the book, fully chaperoned by an armed guard all the while?

I mean why don't they just throw the book away if they're that scared of it?! I'll have it.

The Ginger Darlings said...

I think I would have to phone to tell them how I have been greatly affected by the program in that it has stolen an hour of my time when I could have been doing something more interesting than trying to work out who is going to die in this weeks episode.
One of the reasons I no longer have a television set is that I failed to find the constant stream of programs about hospitals or murder, especially violence against women "entertaining".
Very occasionally there is something interesting on television, but life is too short to watch it.
ah well, back to the drawing board, and good luck with the book award.