Endemol & Channel 4 Unacceptably Sensationalise Tourette Syndrome

Last year I made a decision not to watch Big Brother. I made that decision because I wanted to enjoy my summer without feeling I had to know every evening what had happened in a house-come-studio in Elstree. I felt good at the end of it all that I’d managed to pick up enough through the press to be able to discuss it at work but I hadn’t wasted my evenings with the modern-day equivalent of the 19th Century circus freak-show.

Last night the 2006 housemates entered the fray and frankly I was appalled. Channel 4 have felt it acceptable to put a tourette-suffering young lad, Peter Stephenson, in there apparently (due to Davina’s evident guffawing) to make him a national point of mirth: effectively, ‘look at the funny man with the tic who swears’. Ultimately Tourette Syndrome is a psychiatric disorder and I really thought we’d gone past the days of finding these inherently funny.

Last year the Tourette Syndrome Association (TSA) in the US released a press announcement “It Ain’t Funny & It Ain’t True; Exploiting Tourette Syndrome for Laughs”. There is no doubt in my mind that Big Brother is attempting to sensationalise this condition and is being aided and abetted by The Sun. They also quote a spokeswoman from the TSA in the UK: “Sufferers should be laughed with, not at. We hope Big Brother will help viewers understand TS and be supportive.” Detailing some of Peter’s other behaviours (his apparent lack of sexual inhibition and cross-dressing) the Sun builds a picture of someone with co-occurring conditions. Often Tourette Syndrome sufferers exhibit Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) which in adults manifests itself in excessive talking, interrupting others, blurting out answers before questions are finished and saying what's on your mind without regard to the ramifications. I’m not an expert but a degree in Psychology does at least qualify me to say these do correlate with the behaviours Pete apparently displays.

Pete’s presence at the house in Elstree is designed solely to grab audience attention – it’s certainly not for any other reason – and whether he’s fully aware of what this means in a social context for his disorder, it remains that this encourages a climate of discrimination. A counter argument may run that this is actually better than hiding Pete away as a form of social censorship but that is not what I am advocating either, merely that this programme demonstrates an artificially skewed sense of social order and what suffers like Pete need is inclusion and acceptance. BB7 is not educating the Great British Public about psychiatric disorders, it is (in my opinion) unacceptably sensationalising it.

Also: Brand Republic: "Channel Four reveals Big Brother's freaky 14"

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Anonymous said...

I am a bit behind, have only just read this post, but have to hope 'we' have moved on from:
"ultimately Tourettes Syndrome is a psychiatric disorder.."
No, Tourettes is a neurological disorder. Profoundly important distinction.
Those unaware my perceive the symptoms as psychiatric, which says a lot about their perception of psychiatric disturbances.
No, further on in time in BB7, and these posts, hopefully there is more awareness.

smorgasbord-design said...

It's interesting that you felt the need to comment on this point. I agonised for some time when writing this post as to how to refer to Tourette Syndrome. Mental illness seemed wrong and I settled on psychiatric disorder. I happen to concur with the generalised view of a psychiatric disorder namely: "emotional instability, behavioral dysregulation, and/or cognitive dysfunction or impairment." Whilst Psychiatric Disorder may be a better way to describe the behavioural effect or symptoms of Tourette Syndrome (please note this is not spelled 'Tourettes') there is truth in your statement in that the etymology of the disorder is neurological. I am not sure that your last sentence makes much sense but I remain convinced that there are serious concerns regarding Pete's stay in the house in terms of his own condition and the public perception of Tourette Syndrome. I acknowledge I am not an expert in this particular field and would welcome informed dialogue from qualified Psychiatrists, Neurologists and Psychologists at any time.

Anonymous said...

Just had to add my support to the first response to your post - and to back you up when you say that having a psychology degree does not make you an expert (having done one myself i can vouch for that)- please please do not confuse tourette's syndrome (or however you want to say it) with a psychiatric illness or disorder (again, semantics in this case). Psychiatric disorders/illnesses in most cases affect a person's ability to differentiate between reality and unreality (a very simplistic summing up i realise - my dad had schizophrenia so I've done my fair share of reading up on psychiatric illness) - pete, on the other hand, clearly has a mind that functions as soundly as yours or mine does (regardless of how his behaviour may appear to the ignorant) and is therefore perfectly capable of understanding the full implications of his appearance on big brother - to suggest he should be "protected for his own good" is patronising beyond belief, not to mention prejudiced. You are putting limitations onto him that don't exist. I 'suspect' he may have figured out by now that he's got tourettes, and probably has a fairly good idea of the various reactions he is going to get, what with having lived with the condition most of his life. How people react to him is a reflection on them, not him and he should never be expected to limit what he does in order to accommodate the ignorance and prejudice of others.

P.S I realise this post is 2 months after your last one, sorry, only just came across your blog and just had to respond. I have said the same thing since before he went into the house, by the way, so this is not just hindsight talking, but of course that helps!
And of course I am not qualified - but not uneducated or stupid either and this issue is very close to my heart so its something i have put a lot of thought into, hope that goes some way to make up for lack of qualification. Sorry, this seems to have turned into a very long post!