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No Aphrodisiac: We Go The Knife on Embarrassing Bodies

14 December 2010 9,018 views No Comment

Embarrassing Bodies is a recent late-night offering from the Nine Network. Geoff Parkes takes up a scalpel and uncovers a patient in need of urgent surgery.

Programs which highlight the misfortune of others are proven winners on Australian TV. Some relate well to viewers because they are gentle and represent situations which viewers themselves recognize or even envy. Australia’s Funniest Home Videos, and Australian Idol and X-Factor auditions throw up embarrassing turns from deluded contestants, which are essentially funny and harmless. 

Others purport to be funny but cross over into meanness by playing on people’s misfortunes; try Sam Newman’s “Street Talk” segment on The Footy Show.

Then there are the plain awful; Cops LAC, Sea Patrol, where undeveloped scripts and dodgy acting combine to send the cringe meter to maximum. Where, unless execs at the Nine Network are playing a very cruel and expensive joke on us, the embarrassment is unintended.

This isn’t the case for Embarrassing Bodies, a UK reality series where a resident medical team enthusiastically assists everyday people with their out-of-the-ordinary medical problems. I appreciate that home viewers have had a long-standing love affair with voyeuristic television but since when did showing off your curvy penis, uneven breasts and scaly skin become a spectator sport? What moved these people and their issues from private homes and doctors’ surgeries to our televisions? 

Are these patients helping others with similar problems, or advancing medical science by submitting themselves as human guinea pigs? Given the actual nature of their afflictions, this would seem to be ramping up the self-importance factor higher than justified. Why not do good instead by anonymously donating organs after death? Perhaps that’s far too ordinary, and doesn’t get you onto the tele. 

After all there are far easier ways to claim fifteen minutes of television fame. For instance, roll your arm over for Australia, call yourself a talk-show host and get sprung  twitter-flirting and locking lips with a 45-year-old bikini model. Or perhaps become Leader of the Opposition, grab a mic and camera, and gate-crash an election campaign?

 Then again, Warnie has already shared his hair loss with the nation and one suspects that Mark would quite happily fess up to scrotal mange if it got him a few more minutes on camera.

Some of the ratings appeal of Embarrassing Bodies is that it is a close relative of the numerous makeover shows and connects to a seemingly wider cultural emphasis on cosmetic change. Where what we were born with is no longer enough. Patients are not so embarrassed about their wing nut ears and well-ground teeth per se, only that these “deformities” render them intolerably different to the rest of us normal people. This ignores the fact that, outside of identical twin conventions, our streets and offices are full of different people going about their daily business.

But for this reviewer, the biggest problem with Embarrassing Bodies lies with the 10.40pm timeslot, bedtime for many couples around Australia, when thousands of husbands are ripe for a gentle stimulus to kick start the evening’s conjugal activities. With sultry Sandra Sully no longer delivering the late news on Ten, the evening spark was instead recently provided by a young lass, sorry, “patient”, who presented her pendulous breasts for sympathetic analysis and subsequent reduction.

All swimmingly good until another patient shared her troublesome collapsed cervix. Anticipation quickly turned to fear as the camera took us for a stroll up the garden path, through the front door, past the umbrella stand, and all the way out back to the cervix itself. If my house is any guide, this instantly sent blokes everywhere diving for the off button on the remote groaning, “Why?”

“I hope you don’t think that about mine?”, came the question from the other side of the bed. To which followed a rather unconvincing discussion about context and personality, ultimately resulting in nothing other than an early night’s sleep along with a mental note to write to Ten to ask for Sandra back.

 I don’t wish any ill to this young lady and, being unlikely to experience her discomfort for myself, I appreciate her desire to have a regular cervix.  But, assuming she always had the option to keep this between herself and her gynaecologist, how is this actually embarrassing? Embarrassment implies exposure, some public humiliation factor. I challenge any of us to take a seat at our local Westfield, observe a hundred women walking by and correctly separate them into two groups, by cervix – normal and collapsed. We simply wouldn’t know.

Good television, regardless of personal taste, requires a purpose. Education, titillation, information, inspiration, entertainment are all valid raison d’etre. Embarrassing Bodies ticks none of these boxes and, with luck, will go the same way as an embarrassing case of hiccups; hold your breath for as long as possible, gulp down a glass of water and hopefully it will be gone.

Geoff Parkes is a Melbourne writer who is recovering from recent surgery, the details of which he has no desire to share with readers.

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