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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Can ‘The Taking of Prince Harry’ have any purpose beyond sheer titillation?

Later this month, the U.K.’s Channel 4 will air a “dramatized documentary” about a fictional kidnapping of Prince Harry by the Taliban in Afghanistan entitled The Taking of Prince Harry. From the Guardian:

In the 70-minute programme to be shown on 21 October, Harry, played by Sebastian Reid, is kidnapped after the Apache helicopter he is flying crashes, and is then taken to Pakistan. When a British-born fighter recognises him, he is forced to appear in a video for the Taliban demanding troops leave Afghanistan.

Harry is shown appearing on a Taliban video saying: “My name is Captain Harry Wales. I’m being fed, I’m comfortable and I’m being looked after very well. The price of my release is that coalition troops must leave Afghanistan, starting immediately. If that does not happen, I will never return home and you will never find my body.”

Prince Harry, an army helicopter pilot, did serve in secret in Afghanistan in 2007, but was returned home after his presence became publicly known. It certainly does seem like a pretty stupid idea to put an heir to throne in a battle zone, but does anyone really need what sounds like a lurid bit of sensationalism to appreciate that?

[T]he broadcaster says it has acted responsibly and was careful not to show anything on screen that experts did not believe could happen.

It also says it is correct to question whether Britain should allow high-value targets to be on the front line. “If you’re going to analyse that it’s probably a story best told by looking at the number one target in this situation. And Prince Harry is the number one target,” [Hamish] Mykura [Channel 4’s head of documentaries] said.

But must the question be phrased like this? Is there some inherent value in dramatizing a potential event in this way instead of exploring it in a more traditional documentary form? Can something like this legitimately be called a documentary at all?

I’m no fan of the British royal family, and I ask these questions not out of any desire to protect Prince Harry, but out of what seems to me to be a clear matter of entertainment ethics. Can The Taking of Prince Harry have any purpose beyond sheer titillation? And if that’s the only purpose it serves, is that okay?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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