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David Basckin... On the Couch: For the Love of Friends and Freaks

Body Bizarre is a TLC Late Night Special. It reveals the health misadventures of people and as such, fits well into the 19th century concept of the freak show or carnie display in which various forms of human torment and sadness are made available to a fee-paying audience. Saartjie Baartman was one of these, so long ago.

Today’s victims are contemporary and easy to find on your remote. How does Body Bizarre differ from the treatment dished up to the Elephant Man and Baartman?
It seems the motive behind the show is to reveal the joyous impact of love which suitably marshalled, stage directed and arrayed in costumes of the sheerest spandex, will dazzle your mind with the purity of the motives which, needless to say, have nothing to do with rubbernecking, playing Peeping Tom or any other versions of schadenfreude available to us, the television-viewing masses.

Man oh man, there is just so much of love on this show, that I barely know where to begin.
Let us gather on the banks of a muddy pond somewhere in the Amazon jungle. Here lives a small person the size of a toddler, wearing make-up and dressed in a disposable nappy. She is 31 years old. What a surprise! Despite this, she is loved by her stepmother, played with by siblings and may soon drop down dead, though to be fair to the producers of this non-stop spectacle of love, love and love again, this denouement is anticipated, rather than revealed.
In steps a loving doctor, instead, who tut-tuts in Brazilian Portuguese. What a pity that these fine folk who love her so much hadn’t approached a doctor when she was very little, he says, since a simple course of appropriate medicine would have saved her. Shame, man.

But what about all the love she got instead? The fresh nappies? The repeated opportunities to play with stepmom’s make-up case? Come on, come on.
Enough with the cynicism. This is reality television like you’ve never seen it before.
Then we get to the little girl in India with six, or was it eight legs, the poverty-stricken Mexican boy with a tumour the size of his head and a collection of women, all of whom weigh more than 272kg and need personal fork lifts to take them to the toilet.
Staying with unlimited horror, although to be fair of an entirely different dimension, took this dazed hack to Friends on Sony.

Friends – and I know you know this, but it’s germane to my crit – is a very old television series. It was very famous for a long time and launched quite a few careers.
It featured the lives of some fresh and winsome adults, new to independence, earning their own living and spending masses of time in coffee shops on sofas that all faced the camera.
So arranged, these darlings of yesterday form relationships, break them, put each other down, build each other up and all in all, have no historical or cultural purpose other than to show how far Girls has taken the genre.

The past, even the near past in television, is a long, long time ago. What then can one do with replays of Friends, apart from thinking about GirlsWell, there’s always Wikipedia, which lets you know what has happened to all these friends since those first-time broadcasts. Sad stuff mostly, but what the hell, that’s showbiz, baby.

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