As if there weren’t already enough reasons never to watch television, Channel Four’s new series, “Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners” looks set to perpetuate the myth of OCD as an amusing personality quirk, and thereby undermines those of us who already struggle to promote understanding of what is in fact a devastating and debilitating illness. Even the premise of the show is utterly revolting. From the press release for the first episode, to be broadcast next Thursday:
The average British kitchen has twice as much faecal bacterium as the average toilet and half a million people change their bed linen just three times a year…Yet there is a group of Britons who wage a constant war on dirt and order. This brand new series follows Brits who – by their own admission – are so obsessed with cleaning they can’t relax if there is a spot on a tap or a rain mark on the windows.
While this may seem innocuous (and potentially entertaining) enough, the release continues:
Linda Dykes is a compulsive cleaner from North Wales who cleans around the clock, day and night. She loves cleaning so much she’s set up her own cleaning agency…Linda, 47, believes that compulsive cleaners have a special set of skills and a gift for cleaning that could change the habits of the nation. So she’s recruiting her own army of obsessive compulsive cleaners to help clean Britain’s dirty homes and filthy public spaces. In each of the six episodes, these compulsive cleaners will be carefully matched with a contributor whose home is in dire need of a major ‘spring clean’….Her first recruit is 31-year-old Richard Searle from Sandhurst. Richard runs his own audio-visual company and is obsessed with order, organisation and tidiness. He spends two entire months a year simply cleaning and tidying.
So, the message of “Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners” is clear: Linda Dykes’ “army” of so-called “compulsive cleaners” is on a philanthropic mission to bring hygiene and discipline to the nation’s bacteria-infested homes. It’s the Big Society in action! It’s the perfect slice of British light entertainment (for there’s not much we enjoy more in this country than poking a little self-deprecating fun at our own adorable eccentricities).
The first point to be made here is that the makers of “Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners” quite evidently don’t know (or don’t care, or both) what “obsessive compulsive” actually means, that there is any difference between the colloquial and the clinical meanings of these terms, or that “obsessive compulsive” and “compulsive” don’t mean the same thing. Three minutes of rudimentary googling can explain to any idiot that if Linda Dykes is a “compulsive cleaner” who “loves cleaning so much she’s set up her own cleaning agency” then she almost certainly does not suffer from anything resembling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. OCD sufferers go to great lengths to avoid the obsessive thoughts that compel them to carry out their behaviours: they do not set up agencies to recruit others to share in them. As for the first of her recruits, Richard Searle, an “interview” (follow the link to see why the quotation marks) with him on another of the programme’s pages states:
“Richard has never been diagnosed with OCD. He describes himself as ‘a highly organised and efficient individual’, meticulous and genuine.
So, not only does the leader of the compulsive cleaning army not suffer from the illness that gives her programme its title, neither does her first recruit. Is “Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners” going to offer any insight into what it is like to live with OCD? Doesn’t look very likely, does it? The only clip I can find so far has been bootlegged onto YouTube by recruit Richard himself, and gives you some idea of the tone we should expect:
That’s entertainment. Get a group of people with at best a tangential understanding of a serious mental health condition, exploit their “obsessions” and “compulsions” for cheap laughs, to obfuscate what these terms actually mean in a clinical context; then send them out to clean the houses of other people who may well themselves suffer from another form of OCD that was handled only slightly more sensitively by Channel Four just over a year ago. It is difficult for me to describe how many ways in which this is grossly and willfully ignorant, at least any better than the charity OCD-UK did on their website a few days ago. To be fair to Channel Four (not that I particularly feel like being fair) some of the other participants in “Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners” apparently do actually suffer from – and have been diagnosed with – OCD (read the interviews with Hayley and Denise here). Some even apparently found the experience of contributing to the programme therapeutic. If so, this is apparently peripheral at best to the message of “Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners”, if there is one other than “ooo, look at this”, which is of course the message of 99% of every television programme that has ever been broadcast.