Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Going Cold Turkey - why bother?

Channel 4's grim new experiment in the name of - who knows what? Science? Education? Entertainment? - well, whatever, sees 3 heroin addicts go from being regular drug users, as they have been, for the last x years of their life (in all cases, more than 10), to cold turkey straight away: no comedown, no rehab, just straight into a clinic and no drugs. It's barely educational. It's too grim for entertainment. How might science benefit? At best, it might be reality TV - the problem is certainly real enough, dealing as it does with the reality of the destroyed bodies of heroin which, if the project is successful, may raise the self-esteem of those trying to kick drugs and maybe raise the awareness of the drug problem in many cities nationwide.

The show pits a bizarre mix of Big Brother-esque live footage from creative camera angles and serious comment together, fronted by Channel 4 News' respectable Krishnan Guru-Murthy. The background 'story' footage contained needles being inserted into legs, heroin being smoked and captured the eyes of one user who's dull eyes before her fix seemed ready to pop out afterwards. 'Live' footage sees 26 year old Darren throwing up the contents of his stomach over his bed, his face and his clothes before trying to go back to sleep (I think they had all been heavily sedated going into the Big Brother house, I mean clinic).

While the images may be hard-hitting, it is hard to feel too much sympathy for the addicts as, after their last 'fix' before the detox, they talk confidently and easily about getting off the drug that they have been dependent on every fucking day for more than 10 years. For instance, the arrogance of Alison, "my last fix before I'm clean" she laughs, as though she's about to go on a diet to lose a few pounds.

What's worse is that clearly these people and their families have been through the turmoil for many years, without any sign of breaking the problem as the users carry on injecitng. Yet, confront the addicts with a Channel 4 camera and suddenly on cue "there's tears coming out from everywhere" (1) as the mum of two sits in her bathroom waiting for the heroin fumes to disperse so her daughter can use the toilet, and the parents talk to the interviewer about how they are/aren't coping with an addicted child. Then there's the sudden revelation to the mother that her duaghter's been popping about 30 pills a day, and Channel 4 is there to capture the moment when she receives this news which her daughter had kept secret for 6 years until blurting it out on live television. You can almost imagine:

Dr: How many pills do you take?
Patient: About 30 a days.
Dr: Jesus Christ. Hey Krishnan, get the parents in here and film me asking these questions again. This is astonishing.

So call me a heartless bastard, but on tonight's first episode, you'd have to ask, first, why bother making this programme? It's implied that heroin is overpowering for all those addicted to it, yet there are just three people here being helped. None of the patients endear themselves to the viewer, none of the stories are heart-breaking, or if they are, it's only because ANY heroin addict's story would be heart-breaking. He wanted to be an RAF pilot but heroin has blown his chances of any decent career? How sad. I hope he gets cleaned up in this special clinic funded by advertisers' money. But where, then, is the television piece on the homeless heroin addict who's dying from AIDS contracted from sharing a needle?

Secondly, you'd ask: why bother helping these people at all? Clearly, they've never bothered to help themselves before now, and only one of the three contestansts/patients has expressed what appeared to be a genuine desire to get off the drugs before they were picked for this programme.

Whatever Going Cold Turkey is supposedly in the name of, it seems that all the programme will do is highlight the reality of being addicted to heroin, bringing it into the public eye for a week or so like Comic Relief does with Africa, before the real reality; the scope of the problem, crushes belief and interest and people return to their normal lives, glad it isn't them. Channel 4's hopeless mix of emotive documentary and reality tv serves only to blur the problem further still.

(1) The Libertines; What A Waster. (Up the Bracket, 2002)

What a waster, what a fucking waster
you've pissed it all up the wall, round the corner where they chased her
there's tears coming out from everywhere, the city's hard, the city's fair,
get back inside, you've got nothing on, no
you mind your bleedin' own, you two bob cunt.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Cynical on Valentine's Day

No it's not because I didn't get any cards. What can I expect after being too hungover in the morning when I was meant to get cards to send to others? In all seriousness though, it was something about Hollyoakes on tuesday which inspired this post.

A lot of people, nowadays, view V Day with huge skepticism because it has, in the age of consumerism, become a big commerical event now. Millions of cards, countless 'love' compilation CDs, overblown flower bouquets, DVD releases of films just at the right time: advertisers now have yet another date for the diary for exploiting the average sap in the name of love. My cynicism, though, isn't about the commericalised nature of Valentine's Day. The point is, the advertising must work because every year it grows and the campaigns start even earlier. So what does that say for love in a 21st century global village?

Has Valentine's day become the one day a year where, to quote Hollyoakes, "we can say how we feel about each other?" If so, then is the only way to do this through material goods, i.e, the more you love someone these days = the amount you spend on them? Is that what love is in today's world of speed-dating, 1-in-3 divorce rates, online relationships and "i luv u" text messages? Love is supposed to be something you can't pin down, something immaterial, something unmeasurable, something you can have but can't hold, the one thing above all things...

Isn't it?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Don't have a cow, man

I wonder if this post title will offend certain religions who see cows as sacred creatures: cartoon Bart Simpson's infamous retort about not getting overly stressed out over something. Which is a rather ingenius segue into the content of this post: the Islamic demonstrations after the publication in European print mediums of 'offensive' cartoons; damaging the holy image of Mohammed, their God.

Since the publications, the Islamic protesters haven't helped their image in this country by marching through the capital carrying placards proclaiming: "Behead those who insult Islam". Lord knows that's all the Sun readership need to be persuaded to sign petitions about taking away Asylum Seeker rights and whatnot. I think these Islamic radicals wandering through London have overestimated the effect, certainly the intent, of the pubished cartoons. Would they have really been published as anything other than cartoons, when this is the reaction they get? Quite dryly, a leading Irag newspaper announced today that it is setting up a competetion for anyone to enter; drawing cartoons about the Holocaust. Quite what this tit-for-tat game will achieve is not clear. When it comes from the Holocaust though, it seems that Kate Winslet's (Extras) opinion on it would be appropriate: "We get it, it was grim, let's move on."

However, those who are hysterically outraged at the extremity of the Islamic protests would do well to take a balanced viewpoint. Sure, no one can go around freely announcing all Europe's impending decapitation. But simply saying 'That's too extreme, they can't do that' is too biased. From an Islamic point of view, publishing cartoons caricaturing their God is something that wouldn't even be dreamed up in Islamic countries. There's always another side. Incitement to terorrism, as an effect of the protests, is something more major than a 'jokey' cartoon, surely? But a cartoon to you or me is someone else's call to arms. Reluctance on both sides to negotiate, apologise or stand down from the conflict isn't helping. But each side is in the wrong to the other, so diffusing the situation before it comes to a head is the crucial next step needed, quickly.