The other day I frowned at Love Island. I dislike adding (in my tiny way) to such shows’ publicity, but sometimes the obvious moral objection must be made, when sexuality is tackified, and when other commentators queue up to say what kitschy fun it is.
The worldly pundit smiles at my earnestness: ‘It’s the culture we live in, it goes with cultural freedom. Why bother disapproving?’ I picture a cool old cove like Simon Jenkins saying this. ‘On the other hand, maybe we do a need a new Mary Whitehouse, just to spice life up a bit,’ he smirks.
Well, I want to broaden my frown to another show, Channel 4’s Naked Attraction, and I want to step up the earnestness. In this show, people choose one of six candidates to go on a date with – first they look at their naked lower halves, then the whole body, discussing their responses as they go.
It is human nature to judge largely by appearance, to give huge weight to aesthetics, and physical desire. But in real life this is balanced by the fact that our personalities come into play after about two seconds (and in real life we don’t often meet naked). Culture that intervenes in this process, and gives more weight to external appearance, might be called ‘fleshism’. It twists normal human responses, giving the surface more authority, boosting the value of physical prowess.
Why does our culture want to give more authority to externality? Partly it’s just that huge money can be made by inventors of tacky entertainment. But it’s also, perhaps, that we want to escape life’s complexity. In real life there’s a difficult tension between my superficial response to someone, and my fuller, considered response. Let’s wish this away – let’s try a more holistic, primal, innocent response. But pretending we can have a holistic innocence, and evade moral complexity, is an error related to fascism. These tacky shows are not just a bit of fun. They open a fun-size door to the dark.
I like freedom too, but aren’t we giving too much of it to multi-millionaire TV producers to make our culture a bit crapper and darker? Who says this is the way it has to be?