TV: The Biggest Loser

The latest American TV fad, The Biggest Loser, makes fun of fat people, making Conor Barry wonder when TV became such an asshole…

Remember when TV used to be friendly – when it tried to help you in life? When Blind Date would set up socially inept couples, or when The Generation Game encouraged family values and rewarded contestants with prizes? TV was your buddy, giving you advice and looking out for you.

What the hell happened? When did TV suddenly become a jerk? Nowadays, TV constantly informs you of how ugly and stupid you are: Jamie Oliver is forever reminding us that we’re terrible at cooking, Super Nanny is appalled with what we think is the proper way to raise our children, while What Not To Wear smugly laughs at our attempt to get dressed. Why do we keep watching this patronising insult box?

biggestloserProbably the most depressing example of this hideous new sub-genre is The Biggest Loser. The show gathers a group of horribly obese people to compete in a type of fat person boot camp. The US version of the show is hosted by stock attractive health freaks Jillian and Bob who look as if they would spontaneously combust at the sight of a hamburger.  The duo deal with the overweight the same way the sergeant from Full Metal Jacket treats Private Pyle: constantly insulting them to exercise more than physically possible, until they either lose the weight or put a rifle to their face.

Sure, the concept of the show is a promotion of healthy living, which is not something to be dismissed. But marching these people around like circus freaks is hardly going to do wonders for their self-esteem – I mean, even that title! The Biggest Loser? Oh, very witty, guys. You simultaneously get across the idea of the show as well as patronising all of the contestants. Way to perpetuate the idea of fat people as failures, as they watch from their mother’s basement and cry into their large pizzas.

And what the hell is up with the voting off system? Surely there’s no need to make the show a competition. And even if you do, surely the most overweight person – the person having trouble losing the weight – should stay on rather than be voted off in favour of the guy making huge progress. In fact, nobody should be voted off. That makes sense in a talent show, but this is like voting someone out of hospital.

I miss the old cuddly TV; Rosie and Jim would never hurt my feelings. But we’re stuck with what we’ve got: TV that just pretends to be your friend, offering to help you get back in shape so you can be a cool, attractive person. Just be aware that when you’re not paying attention it’s calling you fat behind your back.