The trailer for All 4’s ‘Misfits and Maniacs’ box set ends with “let’s hear it for the mess-ups, the oddballs… for the misfits and maniacs”. Let’s hear it also for Channel 4, who have managed to undermine the legacy of representation, acceptance, and understanding that their reputation has been built upon.
Calling anyone an oddball or mess-up or, worst of all, maniac, should no longer be acceptable in a society where the conversations about mental health demand sensitivity. Such labels will impede any efforts to alleviate the suffering experienced by too many people. Using them as a promotional sticker for the ‘Misfits and Maniacs’ collection should trigger some deep soul searching in Channel 4’s marketing department.
For some shows it is perhaps acceptable. Misfits is an obvious example where such a heading is appropriate (for the shared name if nothing else). Arguably, This is England ’86 is also suitable. When it comes to the other two choices, however, those who know what Channel 4 stands for will be left scratching their heads.
E4’s My Mad Fat Diary, which last aired two years ago, is one of these shows. It follows Rae Earl, a 16-year-old and 16 stone girl who has spent four months in a psychiatric hospital. Her best friend, who has been sunning it up in France over that time, is completely unaware of any of this. Rae does her best to hide her insecurities and mental health problems from her while trying to impress the rest of her mates.
How, under any good conscience, can you suggest that she is a misfit or maniac? This is all the more upsetting given the praise My Mad Fat Diary received for its portrayal of mental health. With a meagre three-word box set title, Channel 4 have threatened to undercut and forget the incredible work it has done in the past.
The other show is The End of the F***ing World, which started last month and is set for a Netflix release next year. It follows two 17-year-olds, James and Alyssa, who are “a psychopath” and “the cool and moody new girl” respectively, according to IMDb. It has been bunched under the same unsuitable slogan as My Mad Fat Diary, and this grossly underestimates the harm of generalisation.
Recent studies have shown psychopathy to be a more common trait in people than often assumed, yet there is still an obsession of ‘othering’ such people and deliberately making them look like… well, maniacs. The combination of ‘cool’ and ‘moody’ is also unlikely to win people over as a concept like it may have done so once before. People are more aware now of the misconceptions that such names fuel.
Channel 4 have done so much amazing work in allowing those who would otherwise not be heard speak out, and on their own terms. They should come up with a better title for this box set or ditch it altogether, unless they want to slowly claw away at their own values.
Image: Tom Morris @ Wikimedia Commons