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.