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Sick kids and exploitation

I have found the ridiculous over reaction to The Chaser sketch on “Make a realistic wish” completed confected and completely out of all proportion this week. The idea that it is something that a Prime Minister would comment on either points to the enormous triviality of that Prime Minister, or the fact he is trying to hide something else. With “global recessions’ and resigning Defence Ministers you would think he would have better and rather more important things to focus his mind. But apparently not.

The other thing that occurs to me is the enormous hypocrisy. Sick kids are prime television fodder, and exploited mercilessly. All those RPA style television shows use the sick kid as the biggest heart wrencher. Their pain, their illness, their life expectations are dealt with endlessly, in the hope of wringing an extra tear, or another week or viewing out of the audience. Dramas are even worse – in between the broadcast of The Chaser and my chance of watching it, I saw an episode of Private Practice in which one of the key storylines was about the dying child and whether treating her cancer was worse than letting her live. In fact, there are sick and dying children in Private Practice all the time, given the fact that the main characters include a pediatrician and a birth-and-baby specialist.

No one blinks an eye about the use of sick children in drama or the emotional exploitation it so clearly engages it. But when it is humour, well apparently that is a national disgrace. Why is the sick child off limits to humour. It wasn’t as if the sketch was really making fun of the children themselves – it was more about the culturel of expectation and material rewards as being meaningful. Now, I am of course not begrudging a dying child their trip to Disneyland, but it is funny (in a dark and black way) to think about it from the perspective that The Chaser used. It actually interestingly contrasts with an episode of Grey’s Anatomy in which the dying child keeps asking Dr Karev to sign his form for a similar program, but Alex refuses, telling him he is not dying. It is only at the point where things go downhill that he does sign the paper. Once again, exploit the sick child – but also, what is this saying about these programs and how they are perceived by children?

The biggest disappointment in all of this is the fact that the ABC has now decided to take the program off air for two weeks. What has happened to the independence of the ABC? So much for being a bastion of free speech and challenging depictions. A clearly weak and populous Managing Director and Head of Television reign now. It doesn’t give one much hope that the ABC will continue to push any frontiers of anything any more. I guess we all have to depend on US cable channels for that now.

And ironically, I didn’t think that sketch was the worst-taste moment in the show. The very next sketch about the Fritzl family was in far poorer taste – though still amusing – and clearly The Chaser team also thought so, with the addendum of the outraged viewer writing in to complain. Given the reactions, that should have been the end of the item before….

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