WITH the proliferation of talent shows, standard Saturday viewing fare has been reduced to a nauseating circus of toe-curling bathos. But as our collective consciousness reaches saturation point with these shows, producers are faced with a dilemma: how to keep us watching when we’ve seen it all before.
The usual narrative into which the contestants stories are moulded – a tragic story spurring them on, a battle against the odds and so on – is worn out. Increasingly, as producers hunt for a fresh angle, the vulnerability of children is too easy to exploit.
Nine-year-old Malakai went on Britain’s Got Talent this weekend to sing, but broke down in tears halfway through his performance. It was reported that he was overcome with nerves but, after being consoled by Alesha Dixon, one of the judges, he went on and, predictably, received a standing ovation. He was hailed as “brave” and a “star” by the judges. I’m sure the TV executives were rubbing their hands with glee – just what they want to boost those viewing figures: a cute little boy, scared and nervous, crying, yet, against all the odds, standing up and belting out a pitch-perfect song. It’s a triumph for determination and raw talent. Or so they’d have us believe.
Children’s charities criticised the producers for allowing the youngster to perform. Peter Bradley of Kidscape said: “Year after year we see kids breaking down on BGT, all for the sake of entertainment.” But Britain’s Got Talent rejected the allegations, saying that they had stringent procedures for dealing with children on their show. Really? What procedures are those, exactly? Having worked in children’s mental health, there is no test or protocol I know of that can predict how a child will react when placed under such extraordinary circumstances as appearing on national television.
There is no way to protect them from the pressure, fame or criticism they experience. Likewise, there is no way of knowing the long-term consequences such public exposure will have on a child. Children cannot consent to such an experience and I’d question the credentials of any health professional who would sanction such a thing.
Just because it’s on TV does not mean it’s not rank exploitation.