Sunday, 10 January 2010

Rinse and repeat

Way back in the 1990s, a show called The Word changed the world of television forever. One particular segment, called 'I'll do anything to get on telly', foretold the future of broadcasting, by showcasing a bunch of hopeless wannabes who would willingly strip off on a bus, French kiss a pensioner or lick a fat man's armpit in exchange for 15 seconds of fame.

Since then we've enjoyed a decade of Big Brothers, I'm A Celebrity Give Me A Tapeworm, and fly-on-the-toilet-door documentaries, depicting all manner of humanity with its pants around its ankles. We're now so immune to acts of public debasement, that I wouldn't be surprised to switch on Newsnight and see Jeremy Paxman experimenting in coprophilia with Jodie Marsh in a perspex box.

In a world where Jackass might best be described as the 'thinking man's Dirty Sanchez' we can at least take solace in the fact that no-one is under any illusion that these shows have any redeeming social value. If anything, they're just filmed auditions for the Darwin Awards.

So what are we to make of a show like 'Man vs. Wild'? Ostensibly a grown-up documentary series about survival techniques, the programme depicts real-life action man (complete with eagle-eyes switch and plasticised genitals) Bear Grylls attempting to endure some of the most inhospitable places on Earth - Antarctica, Amazonian rainforests, Doncaster.

It all sounds very noble, and Bear has certainly done his research, but there's still a slightly exploitative, lowest-common denominator edge to it all. For instance, the latest edition showed our handsome hero adrift on a raft in the Pacific, with no water reserves to stave off the dehydration.

So the resourceful lad did what any of us would do in that situation with a camera crew following his every move. He took a conveniently placed piece of hose, attached it to some 'foetid water laced with bird droppings' and stuck it up his gryll to give himself an enema. TV producers thoughtfully blurred the sight of Bear's quivering buttocks, so as to not to appear distasteful.

However, we did get to enjoy Bear's blow-by-blow description, including the classic line: "I'm not expecting this to be partcularly pleasant" as though there's a sliding scale of pleasure when irrigating one's own colon in the middle of the ocean. Maybe if the pipe's nozzle had been heated...

Ever the professional, Bear also reminded viewers that "This must only ever be undertaken as a last resort," as though he pictured men all over the country in their sheds, excitedly unspooling the garden hose.

This might be 'educational' TV, but it would still be worthwhile taking another leaf out of Jackass' book. A simple warning saying 'Don't try this at home' could at least prevent an ugly scene in your local B&Q.

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