Thursday, 8 January 2015

Weighing up the Enemy

The first episode of Weighing up the Enemy can be seen on 4OD here: (This link will only be live for a limited time; if a more permanent link becomes available I'll edit it in; keep checking back.)

This programme had the working title of Fatonomics, and if that rings a bell to regular HPANWO readers, it's because I've written about it before when I was invited to take part myself, see: I realize now why they wanted people with strong views on current affairs in the UK. From the brief intro you can see that they specifically seek participants with diverging viewpoints of various issues for effect; there's a hunter and an animal rights activist, a woman on benefits and somebody who hates "dole scroungers" etc etc. No doubt if I'd said "Yes!" to Maverick TV they'd have lumped me in with an overweight Skeptic, probably Penn Jillette or somebody like him. Presented by the suave and sophisticated Dr Christian Jensen, this series is clearly inspired by Maverick TV's previous production, the BAFTA winning Embarrassing Bodies. The two competitors in this first episode are ideological opposites who want to shed those pounds. Harriet is a wealthy shopaholic doctor with a jet-set lifestyle, big cars, expensive tastes and the "carbon footprint of a Yeti", whereas Jo is an eco-warrior on a crusade against consumerism. Dr Jensen provides a strong negative incentive for the two women to compete against each other; the loser has to donate money to a cause supported by their political rival. Harriet plans to spend Jo's cash on hiring a gas-guzzling racing car and taking it for a polluting spin around a racing track. Conversely Jo would spend Harriet's donated reward on sending her children on a course to build eco-toilets. A study from the USA has revealed that apparently dieters are far more likely to stick with the programme and not be tempted off it if these kinds of competitive incentives are added. The contest begins with a weigh-in that is similar to the one before a boxing match; the winner at the end will be the woman who drops the most in weight. Interspersed with this calorie duel, Dr Jensen explores the emergence of plus-size culture among women, about how it's become cool to be chubby. This is possibly a positive reaction to the conformist promotion of skinny models in the past. There are now many fashion shops which cater to women over a size sixteen and beauty pageants for them. I myself have always found many women on the large side attractive, I believe the colloquialism for men like me is "chubby chaser". And I'm impressed by the rebellious and nonconformist aspect of those who enjoy their appearance. There are many women who are proud to be fat. However, I don't think it was just my imagination and prejudice that made me detect a subtle mocking tone in the narrative. And Dr Jensen laments that this new "fat pride" movement is discouraging women from losing weight for purely health reasons. Why? Would he prefer seeing them shamed and shunned into smaller dress sizes? It doesn't work; it's more likely to produce anorexia and overdoses than athletes.

Jo and Harriet find it tough going. Jo is a vegan and fails to maintain her protein levels, so begins to reduce her muscle mass instead of her fat. Harriet falls right off the wagon during a birthday weekend and munches her way through squadrons of Doritoes all washed down with champagne. The girls' head-to-head is hotting up; they have jogging races and boast about how many steps they can walk. In a second interlude, Jensen delves into the diet industry, which is worth over two billion pounds a year. Unlike the plus-size pride community, the diet dollar positively denounces those who are not the prefect zero and lauds their product as the answer, so long as you put the weight back on afterwards and have to buy more of course. In the end it's the moment of truth, the two girls step onto the scales... would it be a catastrophic spoiler if I tell you that Harriet won? Jensen blames Jo's defeat on her high-carbohydrate and low protein diet. This was not a very entertaining programme; weight-loss seems a strange thing to compete with one another over. I like competitive drama, but what's wrong with normal sports? I find football and cricket more exciting. Although this programme was not as bad as some in the past I could mention, it's still pretty weak. It's not mind-controlling so much as just dull. I can't imagine why anybody would find it entertaining. In the midst of the boredom is a kind of fun-poking fantasy that a lot of these prime time shows indulge in; Harriet and Jo are the kind of people whom others are likely to gossip about. I myself am one of these people too; I remember many occasions walking into a staff base and everybody suddenly becoming silent and looking away. Maybe that's why I was selected? Having watched the first episode you may wonder if I've changed my mind over whether I made the right decision to refuse to be featured. No. I am still glad I turned it down. Weighing up the Enemy is not quite as bad as I expected it to be; it certainly has a better title now. However my expectations of the mainstream media are very hard to undercut. It's still a shallow, cheap and pointless piece of pulp TV, which makes it pretty average by today's standards.

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