Bizarre rise of naked dating shows
Monday, 25 July 2016

Undressed puts two strangers in a room and forces them to strip.

Thatís it. Thereís nowhere left for the dating show to go. Between TLCís Undressed and Channel 4ís Naked Attraction, the entire genre feels like itís reached its natural endpoint.

Weíve had shows like Blind Date, where desirability is judged by personality. Weíve had shows like Take Me Out, where desirability is judged by physical appearance. And now we find ourselves at a terrible new dawn, where desirability is judged by genitalia.

Undressed puts two strangers in a room and makes them undress each other before they sit on a bed and get subjected to a hideous Clockwork Orange-style barrage of orders from a giant faceless screen. Meanwhile, Naked Attraction Ė which starts tonight Ė promises to present its subjects with a cavalcade of naked strangers and ask them to pick the sexiest.

Aside from a thin veneer of slightly unconvincing psychological grounding to validate the nudity, thatís it. Naked Attraction is barely even a dating show. Itís Am I Hot Or Not. Itís a knobbly knees competition. Itís a place where your parents can validate all the unspoken disappointment they ever felt about you. Itís going to make Sex Box look like The Ascent of Man.

It feels like weíve painted ourselves into a corner here, doesnít it? How can anyone keep making dating shows any more, now that thereís a programme about people picking willies from a lineup? Unless ITVBe surprises everyone by commissioning a series where two crying strangers are forced to have sex at gunpoint in a dungeon, thatís it. The bottom of the barrel has been located. Dating shows: completed. Well done everybody.

Being the slightly less nude of the two, Undressed is actually slightly more tolerable. Itís exploitative, yes, and Iíd never watch it by choice, but it also has a touching intimacy that I wasnít fully expecting. The series doesnít shy away from the sheer embarrassment of being undressed in front of a stranger, and the vulnerability of the subjects Ė especially the subjects who arenít preening, gym-sculpted twentysomething dullards Ė is what noses it above the competition.

These people realise that nudity is weird and shameful, and that it should be hidden from a prospective romantic partner until the last moment possible, long after the point at which they can politely back out. They understand that nudity is humiliating, because it is, and the parts of the show where the contestants work through their anxiety over this is much better than the rest of the show, where they tend to just get barked at by a Twister-obsessed Jumbotron.

But perhaps my natural inclination to equate Undressed and Naked Attraction to the death of all civilisation is premature. I remember thinking something along the same lines when Take Me Out debuted six years ago. Like Naked Attraction, Take Me Out judged people on a single aspect of themselves. Nobody likes that. And when, in the case of Naked Attraction, that aspect is their flabby arse or lopsided boobs or fear-shrunken penis, your first instinct is to dismiss it as cheap and one-dimensional.

But (and I mean this within the parameters of lowbrow Saturday night ITV entertainment), Take Me Out grew up. It stopped simply being about what people looked like and became more about who they were. It grew a heart. And perhaps Naked Attraction can do the same thing, once its gimmicky premise flames out. Only then will it become a show to be taken seriously. And only then can the dating show move on to another new low. Celebrity Naked Attraction?

 


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