Despite their reputation for being a nation of repressed, stiff-upper-lip types, from the potty humor of "Benny Hill" through to the scolding clinical poop-talk of "You Are What You Eat," British TV has always been years ahead of the US in graphic programming--at least in the filth department. But with the medical series "Embarrassing Bodies," Channel 4 has gone even further. Specifically, deep inside the disease-riddled bums, boobs and babymakers of average Brits.
Once, over lunch, a friend told me about the programme she'd watched the night before. Wide-eyed, she used her hands to describe an operation they'd shown, where, in order to cure the man's perianal abscesses, they'd stretched his anus open with metal pegs, so that, square, it filled the TV screen neatly. The image stays with her still.
I haven't even seen it (thank God!) and that's an image that'll be with me for a while.
One of the more hot-button cases was that of an interior designer who was desperate to "fix" what she felt were oversized labia. The show agreed to do the surgery and, naturally, televised it. The result was a ratings bonanza and a shitstorm of criticism. When questioned by a reporter, Dr. Christian Jessen, the star (and surgeon) of the show said, "It's a hugely controversial subject, but she was having dreams about cutting off her labia. To me, that justifies the treatment - she was grossly psychologically disturbed."
While the show is unfortunately unavailable in the States (though I'm certain there'll be an inferior and prudish US version soon enough), you can glean a lot from looking at the website. To rebuke criticism of the labia segment, the show put up a gallery of different labia--so that anyone wondering about their own can see that vulva are definitely not one size fits all. (Warning: unless you work for a pornographer or a gynecologist, this link is extremely NSFW!)
Male bits also get equal play. Varieties in penis shapes and sizes were illustrated by having an entire rugby team drop trou in front of the camera. Naturally, there's also a penis gallery on the site. (Again, NSFW.)
Why hundreds, if not thousands, of people are willing to go on national television and stretch open their assholes, have their cervix scraped, or even get a gnarly foot fungus treated on-camera is something I can't fathom. Especially when we're talking about a country with national healthcare. I can only guess it's a similar urge to the one that drives families in turmoil to air their dirty laundry on shows like Dr. Phil or Jerry Springer instead of getting a therapist or a divorce. That said, I can't wait til we get our own version of "Embarrassing Bodies"--no matter how watered down and pixilated it might turn out to be.