Now, before I begin this post, I would like to make the following points. I am not a stereotypical Angry from Manchester, nor a BBC basher, and finally in no way shape or form, a serial complainer.
Nailing my own colours to the mast and being honest, I have done some work for the BBC in local radio, I love the BBC. It is a bastion of creativity and pushing boundaries. It is also very hot 0n inclusion, and being relevant to oppressed minorities, and this is something that people in the BBC are highly passionate about.
They believe in innovation and highlighting important issues, and along with Radio 1,BBC Three in particular believes in presenting issues of importance to other young people.
To be honest as well, I am glad we have the BBC. I would far rather we have democratic PSB than autocractic, Government led state run television.
I spoke when writing about My Transsexual Summer about Channel 4, and BBC Three’s ability to create compelling, and innovative documentaries.
I do not subscribe to the view that BBC Three is trash television. After all, they have handled such subjects as bipolar disorder and coming out with sensitivity, maturity, and integrity. This is what makes the following clip all the more surprising.
Thanks to my good friend Sarah for uploading this clip. How do you feel when you watch it? What emotions are conjured up?
Upon hearing this, my first emotion is surprise. It is only twelve seconds long, but what a televisual timebomb, and what on Earth are the Exec Producer, the Producer and the Director playing at? How would this stand up to scrutiny under BBC Editorial Guidelines and policy?
I was surprised because of the BBC’s good track record in minority representation in general. I would be delighted to hear the rationale for this part of the script, because transsexuality is not even pertinent to the show.
The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines state that;
“We aim to reflect fully and fairly all of the United Kingdom’s people and cultures in our services. Content may reflect the prejudice and disadvantage which exist in societies worldwide but we should not perpetuate it. In some instances, references to disability, age, sexual orientation, faith, race, etc. may be relevant to portrayal. However, we should avoid careless or offensive stereotypical assumptions and people should only be described in such terms when editorially justified.”
As you will see from the part I have emboldened, the BBC have utterly failed to avoid offensive or stereotypical assumptions in this case.
The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines further state that;
“When it is within audience expectations, we may feature a portrayal or stereotype that has been exaggerated for comic effect, but we must be aware that audiences may find casual or purposeless stereotypes to be offensive.”
Again, I am sure you will agree that the BBC has roundly failed here too.
For them there is nowhere to hide. This was not a little F-Bomb the BBC forgot to bleep out. It was not even live. On live TV anything can happen. So therefore you can apologise, and hope it blows over, as was seen on The Voice UK in respect of Becky Hill.
But this was not live, or as live. Snog, Marry, Avoid ? is pre-recorded and as such pre scripted. I do not blame the voice of POD. I blame the production team, who failed in their duty to check this script against the Editorial Guidelines. Remarkable really since it took me and Google all of five minutes to find them and reach the relevant section on portrayal.
But the fact that this script was waved through, shows me that the production team were well aware of what they were doing. This escalates it from a simple, naive mistake to complicit bullying. There is no other way to describe it.
With v/o’s there are two simple processes, scripting and directing. The producers will have in mind on any show how they want the script to be delivered. It could be as a straight narration, i.e just normal speech, or with certain emotions or characteristics, i.e exaggeration, sadness or sarcasm. Some narration involves saying the same thing in different ways?
It was clear, from the sneering tone adopted by POD, that the programme meant to cast transsexuals as joke figures, as little more than a bad pastiche or over exaggeration of the female form. This is inexcusable, since no two people, with the exception of identical twins or triplets look exactly the same.
To reduce a minority group to a singular clone is an insult. To further describe them using an unbalanced crop of bad attributes further adds to that insult. All the attributes could be described as relating to all women. Have you ever heard of the term ‘bad hair day’ BBC? I know I have.
What also confirms the programme makers intentions is the deliberate juxtaposition of the contestant’s name Rachel, with a male name Richard. She too is a victim here, not due to being compared to a transsexual, but because the programme makers have allowed her to be used to make this insult stick. She was a pawn in a programme makers game, and she looked visibly shocked and upset. Yes she chose it, but would she have chosen that narration?
However though, there is a cynical, sinister side of this. Some programme makers, and producers love complaints. They give shows the oxygen of publicity, that bit of edge, talkability, and notoriety.
Some shows even go through stages like that, where shows become known more for their off screen antics than what happens while the show airs.
POD is well known for satire, and this is within the spirit of the show. However, discriminating against a minority group in a crude, wholesale manner is not. You see, discrimination is a slippery slope. Replace the word transsexual with another oppressed minority and the backlash may be far greater. However, that does not make the impact any less.
The Queen of trans activism, Paris Lees has started a hashtag trending on Twitter, to show BBC Three that transsexuals instead of being singular are quite pluralistic and varied in terms of appearance and characteristics as all human beings are. #WhatTranssexualsLookLike is the hashtag you need, microbloggers!
What also was the Controller of BBC Three playing at? This happened on Zai Bennett’s channel, and he needs to take responsibility.
Minorities have a right to watch television, listen to the radio, or indeed browse the Internet without feeling got at, or victimised. That right was not just ignored here, it was trampled on by BBC Three getting too big for its boots, and not following its own Editorial Guidelines.
As I suggested at the outset, this saddens me. I do love the BBC, and it normally has a fantastic record of minority representation. Why allow it to be tarnished by a needless, unnecessary, irrelevant but highly discriminatory error. It is vile.
Would I snog BBC Three at the moment? Erm no! Would I marry them at the moment? No! But would I avoid them, no because they do produce high quality, gamechanging programming.
However, they need to remember that as part of the wider BBC, they are a public service broadcaster. Their target audience are impressionable, and malleable. Do they want to send out the message that bullying and victimising transsexuals is ok?
I hope BBC Three learns a lesson from this, learns it fast, and well, and further hope they never make such a crass mistake again.