Tuesday 26 July 2016

Notes on Naked Attraction

We've had occasion to discuss willies and fannies on this blog, so it was only a matter of time before a programme came along and did the same. Naturally, it had to be ever-so-edgy Channel 4, and the presenter couldn't be anyone but their veteran of in-house sex shows, Anna Richardson. Naked Attraction is a dating show and works like this. The contestant is surrounded by six booths which gradually reveal the person inside. The twist is the reveal works from the bottom up, so we see their bits 'n' bobs before seeing their face and hearing them speak. Once the bodies are whittled down to two, the contestant gets their kit off so the viewers can check their naked bods out too. S/he then makes her pick and off on a date they go. It's enough to make Kenneth Williams blow a gasket.

What to make of it then? Some thoughts:

1. It's very of the moment, isn't it? C4 are always the terrestrial telly channel happiest displaying people in their birthday suits, though BBC2 gave them a run for their money in the early 90s. Naked Attraction wouldn't be happening if the channel hadn't already blazed a trail with reality TV. From the 'classical' phase of Big Brother (series 1-6 IMO) and mutating into all sorts of fly-on-the-walls and "real life" TV since, these shows laid bare the characters of real people who, for whatever reason, were fame hungry enough to put themselves in front of the cameras. A certain kind of nakedness has therefore been entertainment currency for the best part of two decades. Then just as interest in Big Brother was winding down, C4 moved into a wave of sex education programming that perhaps, for the first time on British TV, showed extreme close ups of genitalia. This was expanded on with varying degrees of gross through Embarrassing Bodies, which sometimes featured horrible ailments afflicting the nether regions. But Naked's immediate antecedent is the notorious 2013 Danish show, Blachman. Dubbed by the Daily Mail of all papers as "the most sexist show ever", it involved the titular host (imagine Toby Young as an X-Factor judge) sharing his sofa with a male guest and critiquing the body of a woman standing naked before them. Naked does exactly the same, but the conversation with Anna is designed not to humiliate but explore what the contestant likes, be it a tight bum, abs, curvyness, chunky legs, etc.

2. The other key context is our ever-present friend, the internet. We've talked about the ubiquity of porn heaps aplenty on this blog, so for our purposes it's enough to note it's never been more readily accessible, had as huge an audience, and influenced mainstream culture to the extent it has and is doing now. You have sex, or at least the digitally mediated depiction of it always on tap. Against this backdrop is the simultaneous explosion in internet dating. Originally premised on matching profiles and getting to know someone a bit through the exchange of messages about, well, whatever, the epidemic of (unwanted) dick pics and the rise of your Grindrs and Tinders marked the mainstreaming of hooking up. Naked takes that further by putting what's hidden away up front, and letting what is usually up front come second. It's more or less the broadcast equivalent of ads in old contact magazines, but without the sleaze and with a dose of light hearted fun. Naked is the dating show perfect for this cultural moment.

3. Do we have to talk about surveillance of the body? I'm afraid so. Someone is always watching you, but it isn't Orwell's Big Brother. On the way from the train station to work, I must appear on at least a dozen CCTV cameras (and these are the ones I've been able to clock). This is pretty unremarkable. That's life in most towns and cities. Surveillance, however, is deeply rooted in Western cultures and has been so for quite some time. The monitoring of celebrity bodies in the press and magazines inculcates habits of surveillance among ourselves. They provide sets of standards by which our bodies are viewed and judged, whether we subscribe to or reject that criteria, and by our perceptions of others are filtered. Naked is very much within this tradition. The bodies on show in the debut episode were within a range of 19 to 32 years old, were multiracial, but did not differ significantly. They were slim, chiseled, and slightly full. They were waxed, shaved, trimmed. Tattooed and not, and, continuing with C4's disability acceptance theme, one of the guys had a prosthetic leg. The size of the willies, the shapes of the vag, the contours of the stomach, the tautness of the chest, the camera captures each almost as objects of contemplation and, perhaps for some viewers, yardsticks of comparison. Contestant comments were along the lines of too big, too curvy, and so on. The question is will the show stick with youthful bodies. are the over 35s allowed to get their kits off and display all? And it being Channel 4, will there be (please, no!) a celebrity version?

4. The reactions on the part of those not picked were quite funny and rather telling, if one accepts the brittle masculinity critique of contemporary displays of manliness. One guy who got rejected because his willy was too big moaned afterwards "But I'm a really nice person." Another bloke given the heave ho told the camera it was okay because he didn't fancy the contestant and she had ugly tattoos on her legs. And the last bloke, a 30-something Jesus look-a-like was almost in tears as he could believe his not being picked by the bi contestant because she chose two women over him. Others came away with a spring in their step. One young lad was gleeful that his backside was praised as a particularly fine specimen. Just don't show it off in a g-string, fella. How future contestants will respond to body critiques will be interesting, Are we going to see more affronted men act all arsey?

5. All this said, I thought Naked was going to be awful. It wasn't.


Ken said...

Did I miss the insertion of Baudrillard or Foucault.

Lidl_Janus said...

Well, if it's half-functional as a dating show I'm sure something gets inserted somewhere at some point.