Television

I Am The Elephant Man – Documentary or Reality TV?

On 7th April Monday at 9:00pm Bodyshock: “I Am The Elephant Man” was broadcast on Channel 4. Upon watching the programme an apparent microcosm of humanity, encapsulating a story with all the notions of hardship, plight, love, dignity, sorrow and optimism. We followed the life of Huang Chuncai a sufferer of neurofibromatosis: the same ailment that afflicted John Merrick – the Elephant Man, in the run-up to and after an operation to remove some the 20kg of tumour he has on his face. We saw his poor farming family, we heard from his perennially weeping/crying mother and felt his terrible pain and thanked God this disease is not afflicting any one of us or our families.

The producers did not skimp on the extreme close-ups of Huang mid-operation or choose not to film an adult pig being slaughtered, wailing while jets of blood was gushing from it’s heart to the earth.

Upon watching I realized I’m watching less of a documentary and more of the traveling-circus Haung and his family so dignifiedly refused to be a part of. And I thought this is just an obscene semblance of a credible heartrending factual program when in fact it’s little more than the abhorrent of reality TV shows.

We watched Huang tortured, emotionally and physically to learn more about China? To learn more about humanity? To learn more about about neurofibromatosis? Or as a form of sordid voyeurism, to look how yucky this puddle of a human being can survive, and feel how lucky we are?

I think my feelings are justified by Channel 4, choosing to show us slaughtered pigs and surgical images to entertain, their lack of consideration and respect having the show sponsored by the ‘Beautifully Formed’ Volkswagen Passat and how ending the programme with no noticeable conclusion. For shame.

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