Monday, January 4

Review: Generation XXL

C4's longitudinal study of fat kids is cynical and expoitative, says Mark Lewis

“When so many of our children are so big what does it really feel like to be growing up fat” asked the disembodied voice of some presumably chiselled porn Adonis on Generation XXL (Monday, 9pm, C4). “A long-term programme of research about obese children” was how it was billed like making it a longitudinal study somehow gives it intellectual purchase. As if it were a deconstruction of the third Reich as it related to the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche rather than an excuse to have a tut at the parents of some fat kids.

“Eeeh, look at her! No wonder he’s fat. God. Size of that one… Eating chips ‘n all.” The compulsion to patronise the poor, fat, northern slobs, buying clothing from Sports Direct, for their sedentary kids, is almost overwhelming. “I’m doing the cooking,” said one mum. “How is it my fault? It always falls back on me. It’s very hard on me.” The abject selfishness is almost jaw dropping enough to fit in all the oil soaked victuals she is serving up to her kids.

But the stupidity of the parents is even more likely to send you into spasms of po-faced paroxysms. “I were upset for her. I could see it were getting bad,” said one dad of the bullying his daughter was getting at school, as if parading her in front of three million self-righteous voyeurs on Channel 4 on a programme called Generation XXL was going to starve the bullies of material somehow.

As dopy as the parents, and as unpleasant as judging the parents is, it is not nearly as risible as the programme makers whose cynicism in subjecting the children to the public eye with their faux air of concern is more toxic than a Frey Bentos pie. Filming a ten year old girl gazing confusingly around at the saggy old ladies at a Weightwatchers weight loss group, then giving Weightwatchers the heads up so it could advertise during the commercial break is hardly the height of Reithian public service. And the concern of the narrator as he intones solemnly about the struggles of being a chubby child is about as authentic as one of its eponymous chocolate bars.

But really the innocent remarks of the nine and ten year old children reveal why this programme - however sympathetic its representation of them is - is so self-servingly cruel. “My worst worry was to get picked on and lose friends because of it,” said one poor girl. “At school it has really been getting worse.”

And when the sweetest, most likeable, boy in Britain says “I think of myself as Jake the fat boy who gets bullied,” perhaps it is time to switch it off.

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