Last night’s telly saw another documentary about Temple Grandin, the autistic professor of animal behaviour based at a US agricultural college. Grandin is a favourite of TV programmers because she is on the spectrum for Autistic disorders and yet is high functioning, providing the fascinating opportunity of someone who can articulate her experiences for others. This is classic documentary fodder and God knows the poor woman has seen enough camera crews over the last few years.
Unfortunately, Grandin has been made to join the ranks of Channel 4’s freak-show series. We’ve had ‘The Girl Whose Skin Fell off’ and ‘The Boy whose Bones are Turning into glass’ and now, short of freaky medical rarities to draw in the easily bored we are subjected to titles that seem to indicate nothing less than callous sensationalism. The programme was called ‘The woman who Thinks Like a Cow’. I’m sorry? Thinks like a cow? Oh now I understand. So that’s Autism. What next? ‘The girl whose nose is a tap’, ‘The dog with an epoxy-resin anal ring’.
Grandin doesn’t like cud, or lie down when it’s about to rain. Famously she designed a cattle restraint mechanism that was inspired by her own experience of feeling secure when held still by her shoulders. She also enjoys the job of interpreting the complex patterns of behaviour displayed by the cattle at the university, but she is not some kind of weirdo bovine monster! This is TV for those who don’t like to think or read but who relish the chance to pull out some exciting sounding fact about whatever is the latest, trendiest frontier in that amorphous swill called ‘science’. Why understand something when you can marvel at it? Why read a book on Autism when you can say “I saw this thing on telly last night about a woman whose brain had been exchanged with a cow’s”?

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