Brian Boyd: The naked body is a powerful thing

That we now live our lives through camera phones and Instagram filters means the human body has never before been so centre stage.

Channel 4’s Naked Attraction:  160 people have  complained but thousands called in asking how to apply to be on the show.

Channel 4’s Naked Attraction: 160 people have complained but thousands called in asking how to apply to be on the show.

 

In 1983 Channel 4 broadcast a programme called Mini-Pops which featured primary school children dressed up as the pop stars of the day and miming to their hit songs. The children wore heavy make-up and scant clothing as they bumped and grinded to the music. One six-year-old sang the Sheena Easton song 9 to 5 which features the line “night time is the right time, we make love”.

After the first edition of the show aired, Channel 4 reported it got 30 phone calls of complaint. Yet it also received more than 100 phone calls from parents wondering how to get their children on the show.

Last week Channel 4 began broadcasting Naked Attraction, a dating show where people are judged solely by the appearance of their naked body.

Figures show that after the programme went out 160 people complained either to Channel 4 or the broadcasting regulator Ofcom. Thousands called in asking how to apply to be on the show.One person’s outrage is another’s opportunity.

But because it has been shown that people who say negative things are viewed (erroneously so) as more intelligent that those who say positive things (negative emotions involve more thinking and more processing than positive ones) we attribute greater weight to critical reviews.

Ask anyone who has been complimented nine times but then criticised the 10th time which remark had the most impact for verification purposes here.

Hence the microwaved moral panic about Naked Attraction, a show that has become a pop culture phenomenon quicker than it took Cilla Black to say “what’s your name and where d’ya come from?” on the more traditional TV dating show Blind Date.

MediaWatch UK, a lobby group established by Mary Whitehouse, has said of Naked Attraction: “This has to be the worst programme ever shown on television.”

The Daily Mail took the very existence of the show – along with the fact that “a couple copulated in broad daylight” on ITV2’s Love Island reality show last month – as evidence that we are, indeed, in the end of days. The Guardian took the positives and decreed that Naked Attraction was “the surprise remedy for Brexit angst” as people were now talking about something else.

Ratings success

The moral outrage provoked by the show has enabled it to become a ratings success, helped by the low-hanging fruit of a summer TV viewing audience.

The show is making the not unreasonable point that Naked Attraction is merely the televisual equivalent of the Tinder dating app (give or take the odd bit of clothing). There are already reports that a “celebrity” edition of the show is in full swing (as it were).

The show pretends to be nothing else than a light entertainment, post-watershed dating show updated for our swipe left/swipe right Tinder culture. But it has achieved full-blown, front page outrage status. To paraphrase a Wildean remark: morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards TV shows we personally dislike.

In all the salacious and censorious talk about the show, the naked body is being used as a point of social control. The naked body is far more important than that.

One of the people whose work I admire most is a 70-year-old New York photographer called Ellen Fisher Turk. For decades she has been working on the extraordinary, transformative effect of the naked body.

Turk began her pioneering work by photographing the naked bodies of incest and rape victims. She found that her subjects, on viewing their traumatised naked bodies, found their emotions of rage, shame and anger were greatly lessened. The very viewing of their bodies that had been violated seemed to reassert their status as its rightful owner.

A chronic anorexic woman – referred to Turk by a therapist – looked at the photographs of her naked body. The subject’s legs buckled under the shock of how she really looked – not fat, but dangerously emaciated – and she collapsed in a heap. She began eating normally again.

Comfort and hope

Women who had undergone mastectomies, women who were carrying a baby they knew would not survive birth, people with terminal illnesses – all found solace, comfort and hope in viewing their bodies naked.

The results were more positively dramatic than any healthcare professional dared to believe. The brain can’t tune out an image the way it can tune out the spoken and the written word. Put to proper use, the naked body can have a potently beneficial effect on how we view – and how we heal – ourselves.

The outrage over Naked Attraction is an opportunity to literally refocus. That we now live our lives through camera phones and Instagram filters means the human body has never before been so centre stage. Concomitantly, it is the cause of so much neurosis. And the propellant for judgment and shame. The people in Turk’s photographs had a moment of clarity: the sweet relief of acceptance.

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