Tuesday, February 08, 2005

TV: Pushing Back The Boundaries, or Cynical Exploitation?

Channel 4, widely viewed as the most innovative of the UK’s terrestrial channels, is to put a new twist on a genre that is fast becoming clichéd – by producing a self-proclaimed “Guantánamo-style” torture reality show. The programme is part of a 4-part series examining the use of torture in the “war on terror”. The Guardian notes that:

Using an east London warehouse and declassified internal documents obtained from US sources, programme-makers mocked up conditions as they are inside Guantánamo, before subjecting seven volunteers to some of the milder forms of torture alleged to have been used by US authorities.

The programme exposed the volunteers, three of whom are Muslim, to 48 hours of "torture lite" including sleep deprivation, the use of extreme temperatures and "mild" physical contact.

As at Guantánamo and more vividly in Abu Ghraib, the volunteers were also subject to periods of enforced nudity and religious and sexual humiliation.

The seven male volunteers, one of whom withdrew after just seven hours suffering from hypothermia, were recruited initially by adverts asking how "hard" they were.

My own initial reaction to this is a deeply ambivalent one. On one hand, the potential benefits are clear: a programme such as this could serve to translate the news concerning the acts of torture into a more immediate, more pressing medium than has previously been available; a medium that (perhaps unfortunately) allows many of us today to relate or empathise better with those whose maltreatment we are aware of. On the other hand, it would be extremely easy for it to become nothing more than a cheap and cynical caricature of the real issues involved, aimed more at boosting viewing figures than increasing awareness. The jury is still out on this one; but, given the Channel’s history of producing provocative and intelligent programmes – and the fact that the show is to be presented by its respected news anchorman, Jon Snow – there are certainly grounds for hope that it will be a worthwhile broadcast, rather than a simply crass one.

Only, of course, if the public gets to vote for the winner…

1 comment:

spaceboy said...

Seems to me that the program also runs the risk of, in a way, almost legitimizing the tactics used. Millions of people watch survivor or fear factor, for instance, and marvel at the conditions that the contestants are "forced" to endure. However, nobody thinks for a second that this is improper or inhumane because none of the contestants are "forced" to do anything against their will. The same will hold for a show in which contestants willingly endure the very same conditions of extreme physical discomfort and/or humiliation (sexual or otherwise) as have been alleged to exist at Guantanamo. Isn't it possible that the viewing public might begin to seriously wonder if our standards for "war crimes" are unsupportably low if people are willingly signing up to endure them?