What? Tinder’s too slow for you? You’re fine with judging by surface attraction (after all, didn’t Oscar Wilde say only shallow people did otherwise?), but there’s still all that meeting and small talk and general dithering before you get to the Netflix and chill part of the evening. Wouldn’t you just like to cut to the chase? Well, in Britain now you can.
It was not always so. Long ago, when dinosaurs ruled the earth (all right, it was 1971; same thing), the hit show in London’s West End was No Sex Please, We’re British. Fast forward to 2016 and Britain’s cheeky Channel 4 is offering a show called “Naked Attraction.” With a buttoned-up host and a live studio audience, it’s pretty much “The Dating Game,” except the mystery daters stand buck naked behind a translucent barrier. It’s equal opportunity idiocy: A man deciding from among six women will be followed by a woman deciding among six men, and then a bisexual may decide among three men and three women — hey, fair is fair.
After each round of questions by the main clothed contestant, the barrier is raised a bit until the entire person is revealed: yes, full frontal on UK network TV. It turns the typical mating process of visual appraisal upside-down: feet first, face last. As you can imagine, things begin to get interesting — or disturbing, depending on your perspective — around the third set of questions.
During this segment of the show, a certain dry British wit emerges as commentary about what is being shown rapidly turns very explicit. Most conversation (if that’s the word) centers around the candidates’ appearances: “I think girth is more important. After I had two babies my vagina was like a jam jar.” (No, I am not making this up.) In another case, the presence of pubic and armpit hair proved a prime source of debate. It’s every bit as superficial as it sounds.
Once the field is whittled down and a “winner” is chosen, the main contestant also finally disrobes — again, it’s only fair. The new couple kisses, carefully keeping their naughty bits as far apart as possible. As is common in reality shows, they go on a date. Wearing clothes. Go figure.
The program, which began airing recently, is being (inevitably) characterized as proof that the Last Days are here, the plagues of locusts on their way. It has been described as “reduc[ing] human attraction to a kind of game show meat market” and like “’Blind Date’ in a brothel.” Apparently, “[f]or an entire generation, constant exposure to clinical sexual footage has ripped the soul out of erotic love.”
Of course “Naked Attraction” reduces people to pieces of meat, alien animals splayed out on the slab for clinical observation. It gives a middle finger to the pleasures of attraction, the thrill of the first glimpse of clavicle which hints at more to come, the allure of sexual tension, and the valuable obstacles to lust that ultimately make for greater sexual fun and satisfaction. Are people so lonely that they’re willing to reduce themselves to this?
Apparently, yes. When asked why they wanted to go on the show, one man said he was desperate for a date; a woman said she hoped it would reduce her shyness. The participants do not seem like kinky people with exhibitionistic tendencies. In fact, they seem more “normal” than characters on other reality shows.
And that’s the craziest thing about “Naked Attraction” — it’s far more honest than its natural competitors:
- VH1’s “Dating Naked,” which carefully blurs out all the interesting bits
- ABC’s “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” which essentially require the participants to get naked and intimate with all their dates, as long as it is done in a nudge-nudge wink-wink way behind closed doors
- Britain’s Channel 4’s “Sex in a Box”, in which a couple (surprise) has sex in a box on stage and then emerges to talk about it
- TLC’s “Undressed,” in which two strangers meet, undress each other to their underwear, and then climb into bed to be given rather sleazy pseudo-sexy tasks to perform
Unlike all of the above, the characters on “Naked Attraction” look and sound like real people rather than porn stars, actors, or personal trainers. They look decently uncomfortable, even a bit forlorn, reminding us that nudity is not just a ratings ploy (the premiere drew about 9% of the total available audience, easily besting “Big Brother”), it’s the embodiment of human vulnerability. The men come with the normal range of penis size and body shape; some of the women come full bush with less-than-perky breasts. Stripped of artifice, they do their best to present their real selves rather than their game-playing avatars. This is what I look like, they seem to say. I would like to have sex with you; do you want to have sex with me?
See how this differs from a show like “The Bachelorette”? We all know who is doing what and to whom. We criticize and comment on the game playing and back biting. But part of the fun is that we don’t really care, because none of them are people…only mannequins going through stereotyped mating dances, showing off their curves and their abs, pretending to have depth we know they lack, hiding the truth of the flesh under what they seem to think is wit. If you cut them, they would not bleed. Which gives us the guilt-free gift of self-righteous, moral superiority, however illusory.
So sure, “Naked Attraction” is unbelievably shallow. None of us wants to think we’d be judged as quickly and casually in real life as happens on the program. And like most dating shows, it doesn’t appear to work: the couples initially matched seem to quickly learn they have nothing in common.
However, “Naked Attraction” does reflect the way we (or at least a lot of us) go through life: as ordinary-looking people bravely exposing our flaws in the search for love (or at least someone to keep the darkness away). And it ain’t always pretty. As W. B. Yeats wrote:
A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.
Lust is built on flesh; love is built on lust. We all have to start somewhere.