Listen, I think I’ve got a good one this time. A guaranteed hit. It’s a half-hour long, late-night slot set in some apocalyptic, totalitarian future where our robot overlords reign supreme. Fear and kneel before your Lord, Pod, or she shall unleash her wrath upon thee and even spoil your night out with the girls.
You try and run but those white stiletto heels catch in the gutter. You stumble, trip. Hit the curb. You struggle with twisted ankles. Your head screams for you to get up. Go. You hobble to your feet. Your cheap dress rides further up a streaked, tanned thigh. A glimpse of tangerine-tinted skin is bared beneath the streetlights.
“WHORE! HARLOT! SCUM!” scream the flashing, floating droids hurtling as if out of nowhere into the deserted alleyway where you stand, off balance, sobbing and begging. Sirens howl as you’re surrounded from all sides. Dragging you kicking and screaming into their sleek, windowless van that screeches out of sight…
Oh. Unfortunately upon further research it appears my idea’s already been taken; only now it’s in the form of a shiny, fun new makeover show.
But don’t worry, there’s still plenty more implied horror where that came from if you tune in to ‘Snog, Marry, Avoid’ on BBC3 at 7pm this Wednesday. And make no mistake, it’s bad. So bad in fact it’s even made me begin to question my lifestyle of actively seeking out material from the refuse-bin of television that I full well know is going to leave me even more enraged and bitter than I am now. I have a feeling I’m only one Gok Wan episode away from falling to my knees begging for a nuclear holocaust.
But since misery loves company, I’d better enlighten you. Though it’s essentially just another gimmicky makeover show, Snog Marry Avoid has something much darker lurking beneath its polished surface. It focuses mainly on transforming the ‘fakery obsessed’ or ‘slap addicts’ of Britain into ‘natural beauties’ by stripping them of their skimpy clothes, tans and layers of make-up – it’s kind of like the metamorphosis of a butterfly in reverse.
Only the caterpillars usually just end up looking like your average English teacher who’s been given a load of Oasis vouchers for her 50th.
So if you happen to favour stilettos over ballet pumps, bleached hair extensions over a sensible bob and a fake tan over melanoma, then watch out ‘cause they’re coming for you.
The show rounds up its participants – mostly women in their early 20s, though you do get the odd token transvestite chucked in there if you’re lucky – whose hinds, leathery from years on the sunbed, can easily be branded with society’s blazing slur of ‘FAKE’. Thus forming the ‘Before’ stage of what its presenter, ex-Atomic Kitten and out-of-control smirking machine, Jenny Frost proudly christens as ‘the worlds’ first make-under show’.
Wow BBC3, your highbrow powers of wordplay just fuck my mind.
Of course, BBC3 seems an obvious choice for a slut-shaming extravaganza such as this. A channel so early in it’s infancy that it’s still in its toddling stage; flinging the contents of its nappy in a tantrum towards it’s supposed idea of a ‘teen’ audience.
It’s trying so hard to be ‘down with the kids’ it becomes downright insulting. Watching this show it becomes pretty clear what the channel’s ideas committee envisions whenever discussing their teen demographic. It’ll be some kind of hideous, plebian, drooling creature squatted in a corner; sniffing glue and banging its head against the wall, giggling stupidly at Lee Nelson and fart jokes. Whilst tweeting.
They do however get one thing right about their demographic, and that is boy, are we insecure. We’re positively desperate for the acceptance of others at almost any cost. So hungry for it we’re beginning to welcome any form of criticism, no matter how cruel, so that we know what to ‘fix’. Why else do sites like Formspring and ‘Honesty Box’ apps on Facebook that invite tirades of anonymous abuse flourish so well? We seek out this un-constructive criticism to the point of masochism, no matter whom or where it comes from, we believe that they have a right to judge.
Hence the part of the show where a poll is taken from the ‘general public’ who delight in being their very meanest when shown an unflattering picture of a participant in their ‘fake’ stage. The poll is there to show whether the public majority would either snog, marry or avoid them.
Even ignoring the fact that the show is openly spewing out the message that a pleasing-enough aesthetic makes you marriage material, it’s still telling every WKD-drinking foetus-face out there that dressing in whatever way you choose could make you so hated that people will actually avoid being around you.
Now this may unfortunately be the case in our society, but since when is that a means to justify the horror of Jenny Frost’s face getting a whole half-hour of screen time?
Though maybe I’m getting a bit ahead of myself; we’re only at the premise and there’s been nothing especially awful yet. When you’ve witnessed the hour-long horror of someone’s face being carved up for your entertainment on ’10 Years Younger’, this is positively tame.
I’m sure it’ll fall into the typical Gok Wan-formula of oestrogen-fuelled ‘learn-to-love-yourself-but-then-get-a-makeover-anyway-so-whats-the-point’ kind of telly soon enough. Ten quid on them saying how much it empowers them. You know, so they don’t upset the femini-HOLY SHIT THERE’S A GIANT ROBOT.
The camera cuts briefly from the participant standing awkwardly in the gleaming white ‘make-under’ room, to greet us with a shot of a huge, CGI camera lens, black, shiny and staring. A single red beam glows from its centre; burning with judgement as if trying to scorch a hole of shame through your screen.
This is what’s going to be giving out the fashion tips tonight ladies and gentlemen, and there’s nothing you can do about it. After all, are you really going to stand up and complain to something that looks like the result of if Hal from A Space Odyssey decided to shag a hairdryer?
So this is the BBC’s answer to Gok Wan is it? Well fair enough if he were a possessed Transformer.
The Thing calls itself POD, an acronym for Personal Overhaul Device (again, BBC3, even trying to comprehend the sheer boundlessness of your creativity has given me an aneurysm).
The creepiest part is how the reason for the show having this giant robot-camera monstrosity for a makeover specialist is never really explained. I mean, what’s its back-story? How did it get here? Did they just think that their teen audience would like this sort of thing? I can’t tell whether it’s making some ingenious satirical statement by having an artificial device preach the benefits of ‘natural’ beauty or whether it’s something the producers’ eight year-old daughter dreamt up.
For a while we’re treated to Jenny Frost and the Thing; prattling on to each other about how they’re going to ‘rid the world of fakery’ and ‘make this make-under mission global’. For a show that aims to promote all things deemed ‘natural’, the back-and-forth dialogue between Frost and the Thing is so painfully forced that it makes almost as uncomfortable viewing as the make-unders themselves.
For most of the first ten minutes of the show we have to endure watching these women preening and pouting in preparation for a Friday night out before they’re ‘made-under’. The cameraman constantly zooming in and out, it’s clearly crucially important that we see every shameful stretch-mark, every tacky, ill-fitting outfit from the back of the wardrobe, every bizarre beauty regime.
You can tell that whatever poor, sweating, basement-dwelling individual whose job it is to feverishly edit these sequences together clearly wants me to feel appalled, shocked and even downright offended by the sight of these nice ladies posing in their glitter and tans.
But the programme seems to have made the fatal error of overestimating the caring capability of us poor, paint-sniffing plebs watching this teenage trash in the first place. Here’s a word of advice to you BBC3, maybe try giving it a slot slap-bang in the middle of Songs of Praise or something. That way you might get the Daily-Mail standard of jilted grumbling you’ve been aching for so badly eh?
At this point I’m struggling to wake from a boredom-induced coma in order to reach for the remote when something stops me. Someone, rather; it’s Anna, our next participant. She’s a lovely young Russian lady who just so happens to hold a remarkable resemblance to a human Christmas tree. Her face is almost entirely covered in intricate face-paint swirls and patterns so that when she smiles it looks like someone’s playing origami with an Escher drawing. Her head glows under a halo of huge plastic flowers and fairy lights as she smiles widely under shimmering green lipstick into POD’s soulless lens.
It is fucking brilliant.
Her ridiculous get up along with the heavy ruskie accent doesn’t make it at all difficult to believe everything she says. For instance I have absolutely no doubt that she certainly is the Goddess and Prophet of the new religion of Sheepology personally chosen by The Grand Green Sheep from Outer Space, and I will fight anyone to the death who says otherwise.
However, apparently this isn’t the attitude that our wise BBC3 guardians want me to have as a Teen Viewer. No, I’m supposed to want to throw fruit, screech and leap ape-like onto the back of the sofa in disgust and outrage, pawing dumbly at the screen. I mean come on, you owe it to them right? They spent all this effort preparing the monster for your entertainment. It’s the U.K.s equivalent of bear baiting.
This is the programme’s obligatory segment on a person that they see as a lost cause. They then try and make the best of a bad decision by turning what was before just an abysmal BBC3 programme into standard Channel 4 viewing; that being, a pathetic attempt at a freak show.
Thus the channel chose to simply shove girls like Anna into POD’s eye-line who’re either brave or desperate enough for the subsequent 7 milliseconds of on-screen fame. That person’s then probed a bit with a cattle prod or something to make them say something ‘weird’ before being told to piss off in the most sickeningly pun-infused way possible, (‘You are positively BAAr-my’ etc.) leaving them non-makeundered and soul-intact.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for 22 year-old James. Poor little piratey James. All he ever wanted to do was ‘accessorise’ with a few beads, bracelets, earrings and eyeliner; scavenged from what I’m sure was the very manliest section of Claire’s.
The result, with this bulky black leather coat, dreads and braided goatee is quite effective in emulating a good, solid Depp-level of piracy. Ovaries exploded across the nation after, in response to POD’s cattle prod, James giggled “I’ll shiver anyone’s timbers”.
And what did they do to our delightful James Sparrow? I’ll tell you what they did to him. THEY PUT HIM IN A LAVENDER JUMPER. THEY PUT HIM IN A LAVENDER JUMPER AND A SCARF. INDOORS.
They took a pirate and turned him into the type of person who wears a scarf indoors. Think about that.
The ‘after’ scene in James’s transformation is genuinely heartbreaking. For a few moments he seems somewhat shell-shocked by the sudden soul cleansing he’s just received, before smiling politely and assenting that yes, he does look better doesn’t he? The judgement of random strangers confirms this with polite but eager nodding. Yes, yes he will do.
Meanwhile at home I am screaming at the screen.
If you’re like me, you may have almost lost all hope with television nowadays. Squinting through the hypocrisy, constant contradiction and sheer stupidity of what you’re seeing; like the translucent smog of some acrid, toxic gas is fogging up the screen, hissing around the sides of the cold, glowing plasma, is enough to exhaust anyone into a stupor as the poisonous chemicals gradually seep their way into your nervous system until you eventually sag into the sofa; compliant. Accepting that trash TV is just trash TV and anything beyond sniffing in disapproval is just wasting what little breath you have left.
But stick with it, telly can be brilliant, sometimes. If you try hard enough, you can see through the fog, and glimpse those brief flashes of clarity, some coherent reason does slip under the radar right under the clip editors’ snorting nose. Believe it or not, it’s our dear friend Anna who dishes out the sanity this week before she’s zapped out of the make-under room forever, she says, ‘You can be natural and fake at the same time, it’s about the joy of dressing up…I can look as ridiculous as I want and you’re never going to stop me’
My final word is to you again, BBC3. Firstly, don’t try and kid yourself. This show’s never been about improving confidence or self-esteem has it? I mean if it was then it wouldn’t be preaching about the fine (hem)line between acceptance and debauchery now would it?
So, thank you, BBC3, for identifying what’s the real problem in our society. No it’s not our aesthetic-obsessed culture, not our still-thriving patriarchy. Oppression? Fascism? Of course not. It’s girls who wear too much slap. It’s girls who aren’t covering up. It’s how their decision to dress however they damn well please is selfishly upsetting the rest of us.
Well we won’t put up with this tyranny of feeling slightly uncomfortable anymore, no Sir-ee. A show like this is heroically making a stand against freedom of choice.