Naked stupidity

Blurring the boundaries between childhood and adult sexuality endangers children

Artillery Row

Emily Thornberry’s press secretary aside, there can be few more dispiriting jobs today than commissioning editor at Channel 4. That’s not to say every ambitious young TV exec wouldn’t give their right gonad for a role in bringing some of the UK’s (and so the world’s) most brilliant, bizarre, beguiling telly to our screens. But therein lies the problem. 

History does not record whether anyone objected to this pitch

The kind of anarchic, rule-breaking programming that Channel 4 has always pioneered is a powerful drug that demands ever-increasing doses of transgression. The result? Every young lad or lass who joined C4 dreaming of delivering the next Big Breakfast or Father Ted finds themself, in middle age, commissioning yet another gawp-a-thon

Naked Education is the latest inglorious instalment in the genre, and you need not have run your own production company to imagine the meeting in which it was devised. 

“OK, folx, great job on Naked Attraction. Getting dicks and fannies onto primetime under the guise of body acceptance was genius. But we can’t rest on our laurels. How do we top it?”

Cue a cacophony of head-scratching and pencil-nibbling before some bright spark pipes up: “How about grown men getting their kit off except — get this — it’s in front of schoolgirls?”

History does not record whether anyone objected to this pitch, only that it was commissioned. 

According to the press release, Naked Education is “a body-positive, educational series aiming to normalise all body types, champion people’s differences and break down stereotypes”. Which is certainly one way to describe adult males disrobing in front of adolescent girls.

Full disclosure: I have not seen the full television programme. I live abroad and 4oD is denied me. I’ve only seen a clip on Twitter: the men striding into the classroom and throwing off their dressing gowns, the girls’ shocked faces, the painfully awkward discussion about penis sizes. Perhaps the remaining 40 minutes involved deep, meaningful and, joking aside, much-needed exploration of important issues such as body image in the age of digital media. 

Really, though: would any number of chin-stroking academics in the studio justify what, in any other context, would be an imprisonable offence?

As Tracy Shaw from Safe Schools Alliance told me, “We should not be normalising adults showing their genitals to children as progressive and educational. We are increasingly alarmed at how society seems to be constantly breaching children’s boundaries. This programme shows utter contempt for standard safeguarding protocols.”

The outcome is the same as if abuse had been their aim

Let me say, in good faith, I have no reason to believe any of the participants in Naked Education are paedophiles or — that word whose meaning has been dulled with overuse — groomers. To understand grooming is to appreciate that even good intentions can have terrible consequences, however.

Grooming is about breaking down the invisible but no less palpable barrier between adult and child. It can start in many ways but may involve some or all of the following: sharing alcohol. Telling dirty jokes. Watching pornography together. Exposure. Then follows the knee-sitting, the fondling and everything else that leads to a child being raped and suffering a life sentence of depression, anxiety, self-harm, substance abuse, suicide attempts and, all too often, suicide success.

To point this out is to invite the observation that the crime exists only in the accuser’s diseased imagination, that the naked participants’ intentions are entirely wholesome — indeed, that they are waving their willies purely for the purpose of pedagogy.

I’m sure — or rather I would like to be sure — that this is exactly what these men intended. The outcome is the same as if abuse had been their aim: to break down the boundary between adult and child, the same barrier that makes kids recoil from the park flasher and which causes the niece instinctively to squirm under her creepy uncle’s too-tender caress. 

This is best, if ironically, summed up by one of the programme’s presenters Yinka Bokinni who states: “I hope the teens take away … that no ‘body’ is out of place.” Well, quite. What lesson would 14-year-olds learn other than they should have no realistic expectation of spaces where adult males cannot proudly display their cocks and balls?

Further, the programme’s educational figleaf does not bear scrutiny. Feminist campaigner-turned-psychologist Helen White points out that there exists a rich range of educational resources for combatting the evil of the “perfect body” myth, such as online galleries showing the diversity of breasts and vulvas. They don’t make for great television, but still.

It takes a childlike naivety to think Naked Education is about education rather than a naked attempt to grab viewing figures. In parading nude men before teenage girls and recording the latter’s reactions, Channel 4 has exploited them twice: first in the classroom, and then for the edification of the chattering classes. More disturbing is the thought that the meeting has already taken place, where the programme’s producers brainstormed how they could possibly top it.

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