What’s the collective noun for reality TV shows that spotlight obscure behaviour? A slurry perhaps? Or a sluice? A sluice of crap TV. That works.

UK’s Channel 5 recently dished up Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners, an offering that, despite its title, managed to leave a small but lasting off-white smear on the bottom right hand corner of my mental IMAX.

The set up is well known and simple: find people with extreme behaviour, script in an offhand reference to some science and roll the cameras. In this case the behaviour centred on domestic cleaning, where some of the ‘cast’ were obsessive about cleaning and others were the polar opposite. Put ‘em together and watch the human story play out.

The little nugget of science was a reference to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Some of those on camera had been diagnosed OCD, others had not. It didn’t really matter since the thing everyone will remember about this little slice of life will be the housewife who gives her kids a bath in Dettol once a week. For those not familiar with the brand, Dettol is a disinfectant primarily designed for ‘environmental surfaces such as household floors and the walls of slaughterhouses’. So, not children.

The other nod to something sciencey was the use of an electronic gizmo to test for the presence of bacteria. Dettolmom’s bath registered zero. Anything below 500 is safe to eat off. They didn’t test her kids., but they were probably sub-500 too, meaning she could use them as little portable dinner tables.

OCD is complex, where some sufferers can become slaves to their obsessions. Were we witnessing genuine obsessive compulsive behaviour on this show? Maybe. Or perhaps these were people with too much time on their hands to wrestle with a perception of risk that is monstrously out of whack?

This might be an example of modern life clashing with the limitations of human perception. After all, let’s not forget that we’re essentially unchanged from our ancient ancestors who evolved in small, close-knit communities that were unencumbered with the worrying complexities of the global village, science and technology. The modern world is full of things that are partially understood and apparently threatening: bacteria, the internet, banks, nanotech, global markets, tax law, corporations, radiation and Boris Johnson to name a few. Is it any wonder that our brains, running on software older than the ice age, sometimes struggle to maintain perspective?

Mind you, it would be great if we could solve our problems simply by giving them a sponge down with Dettol. Imagine that.

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