One of the things I’ve been doing for Lent is to listen to, or watch, or read something I would not normally listen to, watch or read. I thought it might be interesting, and bearing in mind my other Lenten discipline of stopping work at 10.00pm, I thought it might fill in an hour or so before I go to bed.
The reason I thought I ought to do a “new thing” is that I’m naturally conservative about art and literature etc. I do like modern music and art, but it’s always a cognitive leap to get there. I would unconsciously turn to Bach or Tallis, but I have to make the effort to put on some Ligeti or Boulez.
So I thought I’d kick off my “doing a new thing” by watching something I really wouldn’t normally watch. So that was basically anything on BBC3.
I’ve been meaning to catch up with BBC3 stuff for ages. An old schoolfriend of mine, Stuart Murphy, now incredibly important in Sky, used to be the controller of BBC3, and he was always brilliant, funny, inspirational. But I’ve probably been out of their demographic since I was about fifteen years old.
Looking at their schedules, there was a good deal of stuff I might well watch –so I ignored those, and instead chose…
Snog, Marry Avoid.
Snog Marry Avoid is definitely the sort of thing I would not normally watch. The basic premise is a make-over for the over-the-top.
So what happens is that they take people who look like they have been dressed by the BBC Special Effects Department, and subject them to some ritual humiliation from a computer who, for some reason, is allowed to say horrible things to them.
Then the results of the “survey” are shown – basically some researcher goes out with a camera and a photograph of the victim, and asks the man-in-the-street, whether they would Snog, Marry or Avoid them.
Everyone in the survey says the person (almost always a straight woman or a gay man) looks “fake” and “scary”. They would “avoid” them, unless they look “easy”, in which case they would snog them.
Then, having suitably crushed them, with their confidence at their lowest ebb, they are told to remove all their clothes and make-up, and then they’re dressed in Kate Middleton’s cast offs. That’s basically it.
There’s a vague moral edge to it – the programme seeks to show people that they are naturally good looking, and have nothing to worry about. But, you know, it’s only a very vague moral edge, and it treats often shy nervous people with a good deal of scorn.
You know, I wanted to like it, and as I say I think there is at its heart something which is more than simply “making fun of freaks”. But in effect, that’s ends up being the main point of the show – making fun of freaky people. No-one can like being told they’re “freaky” “scary” or “fake” – but those are the words that seem to be used for everyone who takes part.
There’s also something a bit horrible about telling people that they look awful, and then changing how they look into something which makes them “normal” and acceptable to society. I suspect it set out to show people that they don’t need to conform to the “porn-star” look and flash their flesh in order to find someone who will go out with them. But because the folk they pick aren’t the ordinary man or woman who just needs a bit more confidence, it ends up saying “You’re not normal. Stifle that creativity! Dress in a way which makes it possible for people not to have the prejudices about you that they have.” Which makes it a good-natured “Auntie Beeb does Orwell”.
The thing is, it’s slightly addictive, and very easy to watch. I looked at a few episodes on YouTube, and I found you can actually boil down the essence of one episode into about three minutes tops without missing any useful or interesting information.
But generally as a programme, it’s very easy, a bit freaky, quite fake, and sort of scary. Avoid.