Debate Documentaries

My friend and I were having a minor argument debate the other evening about a documentary we were watching on Channel 4. The documentary in question was The Human Mannequin and the reason for the differing viewpoints was because my friend saw the programme as a glorified and modern version of the freak shows in days gone by, where people would pay money to see people with disfigurements or disabilities perform acts. My friend felt that there wasn’t really the need for a television programme about the condition that Louise Wedderburn suffers from – Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), a genetic disease which causes soft tissue to turn into bone – because it is so rare (only 700 known cases in the world) that we may never hear or know of the condition again. I enjoy the Channel 4 and 5 documentaries about rare human conditions because I am always in awe (without meaning to sound patronising) of these people and their strength, mentally, to cope with what life has thrown at them, when we sit around moaning about a spot on our chin.

My friend felt that Channel 4 had exploited Louise Wedderburn in some way, by calling her a mannequin and literally making her look like one by filming her in a montage of different outfits and poses. It made my friend feel a little uncomfortable, and I have to say, at times it made me feel uncomfortable too. Perhaps people would say that it was because I was faced with a very unusual condition that I’ve never seen before or even comprehended existed, however before I saw the C4 documentary, I read a beautifully written article about Louise in Elle magazine and was touched by her strength (and jealous of her work experience at Elle!) and wasn’t at all fazed. Perhaps when something is captured on camera it becomes more real and reading the words in the magazine, maybe I was more distanced from the reality of Louise’s FOP.

It’s a tricky debate. I think the programme raised awareness and made me, again, realise how truly lucky I am and how I should count my blessings and moan less, however in some ways I do think the documentary was, at times, a little patronising towards Louise. Or maybe my friend and I are too sensitive and missed the point slightly. And then you think, well, if Louise agreed to do the programme then maybe she wasn’t exploited at all and was very happy with the outcome. I wonder how others felt who watched this documentary?