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Does Channel 4’s Naked Attraction Mark A New Low For British TV?

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Photo: Courtesy of Channel 4.
If you were innocently admiring the rugged Scottish landscape during Eden last night on Channel 4, you might have been a bit surprised at what followed at 10pm. You might, even, have choked on your glass of wine.

Last night was the first episode of new show Naked Attraction, a dating show in which contestants choose a partner based not on superficial attributes like their clothes, intelligence or personality, but on their naked bodies; before they’ve even met. Think long, lingering shots of genitalia. The guests' bodies are revealed in stages: legs and genitals, followed by their chests, faces and voices.

If that doesn’t sound voyeuristic and judgemental enough, the six potential dates are eliminated one by one at each stage until two candidates are left and the “picker” gets naked, too. With the help of Channel 4’s Twitter account, Naked Attraction even helped to reignite age-old discussions like: Width or girth?; A neatly trimmed, “wild” or non-existent bush?; Lights on or off during sex? No doubt bringing the cringe level to “unbearable” in family living rooms across the country.

Unsurprisingly, columnists, TV critics and Daily Mail commenters were incensed by the shamelessness of it all, with many claiming the show marked a new low for British TV. More than 20 viewers have complained to broadcasting regulator Ofcom so far, the Telegraph reported this morning. But the show can hardly be singled out as being unique in its (literal) naked pursuit of viewers. After all, we live in a world where Sex Box actually happened.
On one hand, it feels like we are in the golden age of television. TV shows are becoming the new film franchises, with award-winning filmmakers such as Cary Fukunaga taking over TV by making hugely popular shows like True Detective. Because of this, a huge portion of our TV-viewing lives these days is swallowed up by streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Video and other Video On Demand (VOD) services, where these big budget TV series tend to live.

On the other hand, it feels like the makers of traditional TV shows are increasingly feeling the need to compete for viewers by stooping to new, attention-grabbing lows.

ITV 2's Love Island came under fire recently after two of the contestants – Zara Holland and Alex Bowen – had (gasp!) actual sex on the show. To the probable delight of the TV execs, Holland was stripped of her title as Miss Great Britain, which drummed up even more publicity for the series. And TLC's Undressed began recently, too, in which two strangers strip off and talk about sex.
And who could forget the linchpin of the British reality TV landscape that is Big Brother? Contestants Marco Pierre White Jr and Laura Carter recently had sex on series 17, followed by countless other naked trysts. A critic for the Telegraph recently lamented how, while Big Brother was once a social experiment, now "notoriety trumps talent".

But scenes like this are nothing new to BB. With the help of alcohol and some seriously malleable personalities, it has been engineering sex and nudity-filled situations for nearly two decades. There was the naked body painting in series one, Makoski and Anthony’s fumbling in the hot tub, Michelle and Stuart shagging under a makeshift fort, and don't even get us started on Kinga’s iconic antics with the wine bottle.
A look back at Big Brother alone is enough to beg the question: are we really in the throes of a desperate clutch at ratings when it comes to terrestrial programming, or has British telly always been this sordid?

The fact that many of these sex-fuelled new shows resemble revamps of older, more modest series suggests the first argument might be the most accurate. Naked Attraction is basically “Blind Date in a brothel”, as one critic (from the Daily Mail) described it. Long gone are the days of coy post-mortems after budget romantic mini-breaks; back in the early 90s we'd have been much too polite to force Cilla Black face to face with a pair of testicles. Or at least I hope so.

Perhaps in the age of online pornography, we as an audience have become so accustomed to seeing sex on screen that we've come to expect this of our TV viewing too. Game of Thrones is renowned for its gratuitous sex and nudity – people have even made charts comparing the sexiness levels of each series – and the BBC's recent historical series Versailles showed couples shagging left, right and centre. One critic (again from the Mail) even called it "porn dressed up in a cravat and tights", suggesting that TV really is doing it's best to give us the same kicks as adult entertainment.

Personally, I say "whatever", as long as no one's getting hurt. I’m not ashamed to admit that I enjoyed Naked Attraction last night; watching while scrolling through the hashtag brought me to hysterical tears. All it took was an elephant penis tattoo to give me one of the most hilarious viewing experiences I’ve had in months. And with a reported 1.4 million viewers (9.1% of the total audience share) last night, an impressive feat for its first showing, I clearly wasn’t the only one who didn’t find it completely repulsive.

If this is what TV sinking to new depths looks like, I say keep descending.
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