Body trauma tv
Medical drama on TV has never been more popular – or more bloody. Jerome Monahanreviews a new book which offers some explanations and analysis of this controversial genre:
Body Trauma TV.
Medical dramas are in the news. One controversy centres on the new Channel 4 series
, which depictsthe lives and loves of nurses at a Leeds hospital with dark humour. It has so upset the Royal College of Nursingthat its general secretary has condemned it for potentially contributing to the current staffing crisis in the NHSwhere there are 25,000 nursing vacancies. TV doc Phil Hammond subsequently praised it in the
,suggesting that the nurses warming up a dead body to hide how long it had been neglected on a ward may have abasis in truth. On the other hand, he was disappointed by the way the series depicts the working relationshipsbetween nurses and doctors, suggesting these are far less adversarial in reality.
resident doctor Ben Goldacre has also recently been on the warpath – this time concerning thegeneral level of inaccuracy in TV hospital dramas and soap operas(
). He was prompted to write by a recent story strand in
involving a character receiving an ‘emergency kidney transplant’ following a stabbing – a procedurethat no hospital would approve after difficult life-saving surgery and one, he felt, which would inevitably confuse thepublic.The vehemence with which these issues are debated suggests an intriguing link between such fictions and popular perceptions of medical and hospital realities. They also beg the question why is it that medical dramas have cometo rank among the most popular on television? For the answer to this question and the ideal launch pad into your own investigations of the genre, you need look no further than Jason Jacobs&Mac226;
Body Trauma TV
.If excessive media theory and jargon throws you, don’t worry – Jacobs is keener to explain his ideas than toimpress upon the reader how clever he is. There are some conceptually difficult discussions, but he clearlyexplores the social and economic factors that have guided the evolution of these dramas. He provides, for example, a direct link between the kind of cheap reality-style documentaries that emerged in the period of economic downturn in the early 90s, and the edgy, roaming camera style characteristic of
that studios wereprepared to fund when their financial circumstances improved.
Representations of medics
His analysis of the changing philosophical outlook represented by the key medical drama series of the past fortyyears is also extremely useful for anyone wanting to tackle the dominant outlook prevailing in current series. For Jacobs&Mac226; the earliest TV medical dramas such as
were keen to represent medical professionalsas caring and committed individuals – dedicated scientists for whom romantic engagement with patients would beboth distracting and unprofessional. Such dramas, while banishing any sight of actual bloody medical proceduresout of frame, were instrumental in introducing the combination of glamour and morbidity (attractive doctors andnurses involved with the care of those whose bodies are broken or diseased), which is still a key component of thegenre today.It isJacobs’s view that the roots of
world-weary outlook lie in the hugely popular satiric drama that ran from1972-1983,
, which depicted the trials and tribulations of a battlefield surgical station during the KoreanWar.
consolidated the idea of the ‘ensemble cast’ and of a kind of absurdist outlook born of the surgeons’roles – patching up the wounded so they can live to fight (and be killed or injured) another day. The same vision of medical practice occurring in a space just beyond a combat zone is especially true of those
story strands inwhich emergency care is required to save the lives of young gang members. Once healed they too are destinedonly to return to the mean streets for subsequent destruction.Jacobs examines the larger social phenomena which lie behind the ‘morbid gaze’ of current medical dramas. Intoday’s shows, the camera is rarely pulled away to save us from the sight of incisions, projectile blood or vomit or,as in the case of Doctor Romano, actual dismemberment by helicopter blade. Even the dead are not taboo,deserving their time as part of the mise-en-scène. It is here that the analysis may become a bit demanding, butJacobs makes interesting connections between our current fascination with the body, and our reluctance to getinvolved with the social and economic problems facing society. Today, in the face of the complex forces that shapeour lives, the individual’s body has become the centre of most people’s lives – their site of control (dieting); conflict(self-harm) and celebration (conditioning). It is hardly surprising, says Jacobs, that audiences are enthralled byfictions that examine the body in all its frailty and weakness – a vision offset only by the beauty of most of thoseshown practising medicine.So if you are thinking of making medical dramas the subject of a special study, grab your teacher or librarian andinsist that
Body Trauma TV
is a must-have buy.
Some key medical drama conventions and exercises
opening sequences of hospital dramas
are highly revealing and should reward detailed analysis. In
Body Trauma TV
, Jason Jacobs devotes a sizeable section to an extensive exploration of the opening credits of an