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Seat of emotions

20 July 2012

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WE ALL know that the heart is merely a pump, I am fond of saying, thus reinforcing my up-to-date, radical credentials - except that David Malone's film Heart v. Mind (BBC4, Tuesday of last week) suggests, I am completely wrong.

Malone took us on a surprisingly tentative and provisional exploration that attempted to redress the understanding of humans as rational beings who happen to feel emotions, of brains that control a complex organic mechanism; and, instead, to recover a balance between head and heart, placing real significance on the fact that it is inside our chest that we feel love, fear, and excitement.

There is a subtle line between TV documentaries in which the personal engagement of the presenter feels like an ego-trip, and those - such as this one - where he or she reveals involvement with the subject without so filling up the foreground that nothing else can be seen.

Malone showed us a number of medical and physiological experiments that appear to support his thesis: we must look at the whole person, not exalt the brain as though it is the only thing that counts. He suggests that, rather than considering our rationality above everything else, it makes more sense to think of ourselves as emotional creatures who can think. Our feelings are primary, and they, at least, feel as though they are centred on the heart.

I found particular food for thought (ha!) in his exploration of the empathy of the heart: it literally beats in sympathy with the emotion, pain, and joy of those around us. I was not convinced by all his arguments, but this seemed important TV. Perhaps next time the not exactly unrelated consideration of how faith and religion contribute to the head/heart debate could be included.

Multiple heartbreaks were the order of the day in Riots: The aftershock (BBC3, Monday of last week). Gemma Cairney, similar in age to many of the rioters, displayed a splendid combination of empathy and steely determination as she explored what effect the four days last summer had had on both perpetrators and victims.

She found lives ruined, one way or another: the prison sentences that clanged the door shut on not just a few months of liberty, but on entire future prospects; the destruction of shops, cafés, and homes which wrecked carefully built-up dreams. It put a human face on some of the rioters, revealing them to be loving, if far from perfect, partners, parents, and children (in other words, just like you and me).

It showed some of those who admitted to being swept along in a moment of madness glimpsing what effect their actions had on the victims, and on their own families. I found it sobering and tragic.

Bank of Dave (Channel 4, Thursday of last week) is a two-part series showing how the entrepreneur David Fishwick used his anger at the failure of conventional banks to spur him on to regenerate his home town, Burnley, by setting up a small-scale bank to lend to local businesses.

The first episode showed him entangled with FSA regulations - but going ahead anyway, to the despair of his lawyer and advisers. He is direct and energetic, and never takes no for an answer. You long for him to succeed - and rejoice that you are not working for him.

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