What I wish to discuss here is relatively contentious. It’s contentious because it’s a taboo topic, and it’s contentious because we all react emotionally towards it.
I’m speaking of course, of the tendency for The Voice to choose entrants who have been through hardship as their poster boys and girls for the show.
Now it is necessary for me to preface this with a disclaimer as I obviously realise the positive effects that a show such as this could have on the lives of a Rachael Leahcar or a Harrison Craig. So too, I admire them for their ability to front up to a national audience, and the hardship they have been through. But I wish to bring into the question the way the in which we as an audience react to these ‘feel good’ stories, and the way in which The Voice feeds them to us.
After all, are we not amazed and all warm and fuzzy inside because of our low expectations for these people who are deemed disabled? And hence, when they exceed our expectations we are delightfully surprised?
In this case, I am not sure whether we can hold the creators accountable for these actions. As producers and writers, they have deeply considered the desires and expectations of their audience, thus, the best way for this show to have an effect on the audience and hence be successful. After all, all shows create characters regardless of whether they are pitched as fact or fiction.
However, should we not question the motives of the producers to cast these entrants as remarkable and extraordinary by virtue of their disability?
Take the marketing for The Voice through Harrison Craig. Backed by emotive music and dramatic inter-titles the young man stutters through his explanation of how he has come to be there. It truly tears at your compassion and empathy. But how can we possibly sit there and remain passive to the blatant exploitation of Harrison’s speech impediment as a means of evoking an emotional reaction from us, the audience?
I do not dispute that his story is one of great strength, and indeed an inspiring one, but for The Voice to monetise his disability strikes me as morally unsound. The emphasis should be on ‘The Voice’ rather than the back story, and through the voice we should learn learn more of these people their story. Not the other way round.
Further from this, perhaps we need to consider our own reactions to Harrison and Rachael Leahcar.
Are we not submitting to an able-bodied hubris that makes us vulnerable to the poorly informed constructs of The Voice?
And how does a show such as this affect the family dynamic discussed in my post Media Consumption and its affect on the good old days of TV viewing?
I would think a show like this covers all bases. Going with Lee’s Hypothesis 1, that of ‘preference for family viewing relates positively to consumption and evaluation of conventional mass television broadcasting’ (Lee, 2010), one could extrapolate that a variety talent show like this would appeal to all heterogeneity existing in a family, to include Hypothesis 2. However this, of course, would not always be the case. So who exactly is the audience that desires for the emotional hooks The Voice wishes to drive in? And what kinds of families might actually sit down to watch such a program?
The show itself attempts to show supportive families and friends that accompany their progeny to the blind audition. They attempt to cover the back story of the contestant. But do these feigned attempts at content really constitute adequate representations of Australians? Is the appeal in the feel good euphoria we feel about our nation when we watch those who achieve having been through hardship? And lastly, what sort of message is this pumping into our homes?
After all, taking the example of Jersey Shore and James Poniewozik’s reading of how it has affected the characters of that show, will The Voice and its audience take a similar turn?
Lee, FF 2010, ‘The influence of family viewing preferences on television consumption in the era of multichannel services’, Asian Journal Of Communication, 20, 3, pp. 281-298, Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 16 April 2013.