Television Review

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The Independent Culture
I WAS WONDERING what it was that had disturbed me so much about the naturist lobby on Witness: Acting Naturally on Monday, and now I think I know. It was that something about being accustomed to having their bodies on general display seemed to have robbed them of all self- critical faculties. And all that is left when self-criticism is gone is a discomfitingly smug certainty that One Is Right.

This sits particularly ill with the slathers of self-disgust voiced by most of the participants in Naked (BBC2). Despite the fact that the kekless speakers were, in the main, beheaded (presumably to get round the decency laws, much as the Victorians were happy to see a naked female statue as long as she had no arms), all but two seemed infinitely more human than any of the naked-and-prouds. I don't know if the programme's makers encouraged participants, or edited their film to highlight the human tendency to suffer from self- loathing, but this study of people's attitudes to their middle-aged bodies was both comic and melancholy by turns. Only the couple who'd had huge amounts of plastic surgery to shave maybe four years off their faces were seen obsessively pumping iron to keep those bodies in trim. Everyone else discussed their drooping, spreading bits with remarkable charm and humour as the camera focused on tiny details: an appendectomy scar, toes, a nose, a discarded hair bobble full of lost grey strands. "You know when you buy woodchip wallpaper, before you paint it?" said one chap who sat in uncomfortably-stretched Calvin Kleins, "Everything looks a bit like that, really." Ooh, I do know.

This was a successful start to the series, which seems likely to tread lightly the fine line between titillation and worthiness. It gives rise to an interesting thought: did we develop clothes, not because of the misplaced prudery claimed by naturists, but because we can't bear to have strangers see us wobble?

Clothed self-congratulation was the theme of Omnibus: The Whirl of Vanity Fair (BBC1), which made use of unlimited access to clips from the current BBC dramatisation for an assessment of the life and work of William Makepeace Thackeray. Except that, because literary programmes are still not ratings winners - despite the fact that books are the New Rock'n'Roll, they cleverly dressed it up as a social analysis of whether such a world exists today.

One could probably have come up with a one-word answer, but still, one had a chance to gasp at Taki, mumbling staggering hypocrisy out of the corner of his mouth. "Britain is a wannabe society. The lower-middles want to be middle, the upper-middles want to be aristocracy. It's a big mess as far as I'm concerned..." And watch Kathy Lette shamelessly pile metaphor upon metaphor. "Amelia is like a cup of tea with too much milk in it; she's just human musak, the Taj Mahal of mediocrity".

One didn't learn much about human nature, apart from the fact that some people will take just about any opportunity to spout nonsense on the telly, but the revelation that Thackeray was every bit the snob he lampooned in his texts was an amusing discovery. Well, takes one to know one, as I'm sure Becky Sharp would have said.

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