Category Archives: TV Thoughts

“And I know I’ll see your face again”

ImageHere in the UK, one of very few scientific studies into the effects of MDMA (the active component in Ecstasy) has been carried out – and televised – this week. The fact this experiment has found its way to TV is a result of funding being supplied by Channel 4, which adds an odd extra layer to proceedings. Once the pill was taken (each volunteer was tested twice to allow for a placebo control), the participants were first loaded into an fMRI scanner for two hours and then interviewed and asked to take personality and trust tests – all while still high.

The show was mostly filled up with clips of interviews with participants while high, framed with live studio discussions. Small segments of the program were given to displaying the impurities mixed in with the ecstasy that is sold illegally via an interesting analysis of drugs seized at Glastonbury, but for such a high-profile show with such a wide audience, this potential source of danger was not extrapolated anywhere near enough for me. There were also a few debates between the two scientists running the experiment, who were very prepared to argue for certain uses and a few other scientists with opposing views. These got extremely lively and confused, perhaps reducing the impact of these sections – personally, I mentally tuned out at times.

The whole show took place in a very strange atmosphere, with a room full of users and ex-users being constantly asked for their opinion. This added a certain air of legitimacy to the whole idea of taking MDMA, which perhaps went too far and portrayed it as too OK on occasion. And while the possible long-term negative effects are another aspect that is almost unexplored by science, the emphasis to proceed with caution that should have been there was definitely absent.

It is undeniable that, with the exception of the ex-soldier, all the participants reported overall positive experiences. Recollections of positive memories in the fMRI scanner are enhanced, while the experiment appeared to suggest that negative memories are easier to handle, with a reduced emotional impact. The scientists running the experiment professed a belief that these conclusions provided an argument for use of MDMA to unlock traumatic memories while blocking the emotions that had previously hindered recall.

Personally speaking, I have become very open to the possible benefits of legalisation of some “drugs” over the last few years. I do believe there are significant flaws in the current approach, including the fact it encourages the addition of unknown and potentially dangerous components to the inevitably available pills. However, this show seemed to be deliberately taking as much context as possible out of the debate. While perhaps attempting to mimic the isolated scientific approach that the core experiment correctly took, I don’t think that is the correct approach for a show that has been so widely trailed and will have been very well watched.

More important than this TV show are the results of the published research – which has obviously not been released yet. While the fact that the experiment has gone ahead is a good thing, the TV show focusing on 6 of the 25 subjects is an example of the anecdote-based response that far too much of modern politics and legal policy is based on. A scientific method must be applied where possible and should be encouraged to leak into politics – sensationalist shows like this are not the way to go about promoting that approach.

Experiments like this are essential, and should be encouraged, with the results used to inform and educate at the highest level. This experiment could be the one that sparks more and it is important that they are funded to be carried out in a understated and effective way, without the attention that TV piles on.

Olympian Standards

So, the Olympics are over and I managed to put aside many many hours to spend on my sofa multi-screening sport and discovering some of the mess-with-your-head combinations available: Basketball/Handball, Basketball/Volleyball and of course, Basketball/Boxing (Yes, I genuinely thought for a split second that two basketball players had started sparring).

But I also had the wonderful opportunity to actually go to the Olympic Park for one day. Lizzie Armitstead was being interviewed by the BBC as we walked past their strange shipping container-stack/studio:

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What struck me at this point was just how utterly stunned she looked by the (relatively modest) crowd that had gathered outside and were cheering constantly. While this was relatively early on in the week, she was one of the very first medallists and was absolutely adored by the crowd underneath her. Later examples are the same: From the truly excellent “We’re going to be on a stamp!” from the rower Kat Copeland, to the other end of the event and Mo Farah having simply no idea how to celebrate his incredible achievements in the heat of the moment, winning Olympic athletes have hit the pinnacle of their sport.

And it being a home Olympics must have made it even more special. Chris Hoy won his 6th medal, but the sound of a home crowd singing his National Anthem was enough to set him off crying for the first time. Laura Trott standing open-mouthed as the crowd cheer her achievement. Jess Ennis – expected for the last 4 years to deliver gold and somehow, ignoring the immense pressure and storming it. Truly amazing moments, enough to make me shed a few tears of my own at times. I unexpectedly won an award once – about 40-50 people were politely clapping for a bit and that left me speechless, so I don’t know how these incredible people coped with a 80,000 seater stadium pouring waves of adoration directly at you.

Unfortunately, now it’s over and we’re left with football. Two weeks of athletes that can be adored with every step and smile, replaced with the likes of Ashley “Only Fifty-five-f*cking-grand a week?” Cole. I do love football, but sometimes…it’s hard. And it’s not helped by the media style of reporting these player’s off-field antics and the oddly high expectations placed on them.

When reporting scandals, it’s not uncommon to hear footballers referred to as “role models”, which has always struck me as an absolutely bizarre choice of words. Sure, I can see why they might be an aspirational target (although I avoided that temptation by being terrible at football), but as people – not really. A lot of these people are basically young boys, taken out of normal society and near-drowned in money and with very little moral or even general social guidance. While sometimes this leads to the semi-endearing eccentricity of the likes of Mario Ballotelli, more often that not, it simply leads to a person with money….and not much else.

Some Olympians would kill for a gold medal. If you told a footballer they could pay their way out, some might do the same. Maybe money is the issue, but I’d be surprised if Jess Ennis and Chris Hoy aren’t pretty comfortable nowadays through sponsorship as well. I’d suggest it’s more likely to be the simple act of displacement – something that is common in other areas of reality (The famous Bullingdon Club is the example that comes to mind), as well as a topic that is deeply explored in books like “Lord of the Flies”. Perhaps all that needs to be done is to simply treat footballers as normal people and wait for them to act like it?