Harry Hodges argues that TV shouldn’t depict children in such a negative light
Television has a relentless thirst for sensationalism to keep people glued to their screens. This often manifests itself in TV shows that portray young people as everything that’s wrong in a country where the moral fabric is coming apart at the seams. This is clearly unfair and self-perpetuating and a recent wave of new reality programs have continued a trend started by Big Brother at the turn of the millennium.
The reasonably new Channel 4 show The Joy of Teen Sex features, predictably enough, predominantly young people and is a good example. The people appearing on it include one woman who ludicrously believes herself immune to STDs and a number of others engaging in unprotected sex for a series of questionable reasons. Young people are further shown mutilating their bodies with genital piercing, depicted graphically in the show which I recommend you watch if you can spare the six hours afterwards to sit with your legs crossed, all for the purposes of an increased sexual pleasure that seems to be the driving force behind pretty much every decision made by anybody between the age of ten and twenty-five. That is of course if they are not so inebriated at the time as to make such functions completely impossible. This is simply one way in which discourses about teen pregnancy and underage sex have influenced the media and it’s a damning cycle. It is to the show’s credit that they attempt to take a rational, reasonable and pragmatic view of a serious issue but the use of live nude actors during the sex therapy sections hardly screams serious journalism.
If BBC Three’s Ready, Steady, Drink is anything to go by it is the near mythologised drinking games that are to blame for the vast majority of people in their late teens and early twenties waking up in a puddle of their own vomit in somebody else’s bed six days a week. It’s fronted by Emily Atack, most famous as Charlotte Hinchcliffe in The Inbetweeners, who maintains an air of general superiority throughout despite downing drinks like a rugby captain. Admittedly pouring vodka in your eyes is certainly not to everybody’s taste, but fairly innocent games facilitating a drink with friends before going out are made to look twice as dangerous and half as fun as a casual game of Russian roulette. The perspectives gained from this come from the extremes with opinions from people who clearly spend far too much time drinking and not from the vast majority of people who are capable of having a drink and a good night out and not passing out in the street on the way to a club. They also completely gloss over the fact that many students live on a tight budget that’s set to become tighter and everybody wants to have a good time when they’re young and free from their parents.
However, you don’t necessarily need to actually be free from your parents to engage in a bit of casual sex and a few brutal drinking games all in front of the cameras. Sun, Sex & Suspicious Parents is a show on BBC Three in which teenagers, most of whom have just finished A-Levels at the time of filming, go on typical holidays with their friends and are followed by a film crew. The voice-over maintains a perspective firmly situated in 1950s suburbia towards the sex and drinking culture that is clearly indulged in on such holidays. Patronising as the whole approach is it’s hardly helped by the subjects of the show spending upwards of €200 in a strip club, drunkenly breaking their necks in swimming pools or blatantly cheating on their girlfriends despite the presence of cameras and, unbeknownst to them, their parents who follow them for the week before announcing they know every sordid detail. Whatever exposing that goes on is undeniably the fault of the people depicted as they know full well there are cameras and that their family, friends and future employers are more than likely to see it. The choice of participants is therefore a shrewd one by the producers.
It would be unfair to claim that all shows are unfair to young people. Certainly many young people act this way and some shows seek to redress the balance but too often people in their late teens or early twenties are portrayed as either drunken yobs or people terrified of leaving a library. Where is the middle ground? It’s squeezed out by a desire to make sensationalist television, but it is sensationalist media that is coming to define and impact our culture. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to trade this high horse for a sofa, I’ve got Tool Academy on 4od to catch up on.