06/01/2011

Britain's Fattest Man - Cautionary Tale or Freak Show?

Paul Mason at pre his Gastric bypass at 58 stone
So last night, whilst still valiantly struggling against Manflu (I'll be milking this for a while, get used to it), I inadvertently stumbled upon the C4 documentary (and I use the term loosely..) "Britain's Fattest Man".  Worrying about the 4lbs (1.8 kg for the metric amongst you) that I had put over the festive period seemed, more than stupid when confronted by the surreal figure of 58 stone (368kg) Paul Mason.  Apparently he had eaten his way to that point as a result of the stress of looking after his invalid mother and then couldn’t stop himself. By the time of the documentary he had been bed bound for a decade and was costing the nation countless thousands of pounds in around the clock carers and other related expenses.

So the to point of the documentary I hear you cry? Well at the top of the show the narrator announced that "Britain is in the Grip of an Obesity Epidemic" and I assumed that the debate would centre on that and what we as a nation should be doing to curtail it. Also, should morbidly obese people, who could essentially be seen as the cause of their own problem, be entitled to treatment funded by the taxpayer? I was wrong, the point of the documentary appeared to be: to give the viewer endless shots of the unfortunate Mr Mason in the altogether; to allow us to marvel at how someone allows themselves to get to that size; but also, I suspect, to pander to the furtive love of the ‘freak show’ that we all secretly subscribe to.
Paul a year later, having lost 18 stones
There were moments of real pathos: Paul suicidal because of potentially not being able to get a gastric band operation; Paul upset upon hearing his extensive care package had been reduced by social services. There were also some quite uplifting bits, for example, his first trip outside for over ten year. Paul seemed like a reasonably nice guy and his distress over his condition was obvious on more than one occasion. Paul’s life saving gastric bypass surgery was finally approved by the NHS and within a year he had made significant progress, losing 18 stones (114kg). However, the show ended with none of the original questions answered for me. At the end of the day, the NHS funds the treatments of smokers, drug users and people with alcohol related problems (and let's face it, there are many of us skating close to the edge re the latter…), so why should a food addiction be treated differently? I really don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that the documentary did nothing to try to answer them.  Plea to Channel 4: I know you’re trying to win the ratings war and by all accounts, you did with this piece, but next time be honest. Let’s not pretend that gratuitous voyeurism is an informative documentary....
 

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