Grace Dent on TV: Bodyshock: The Man with the 10-Stone Testicles, Channel 4
It's rude to gawk, but there's something worthwhile in these stop-and-stare documentaries
Like most people, I've often pondered on the natural splendour and aesthetic perfection of male testicles and sighed, “If only… oh, if ONLY I could see what a scrotal sack looks like when blown up to the dimensions of a Space Hopper, weighing around 140lbs, its skin tones resembling the surface of the Moon.” It's the television dream we all dream. Thankfully – due to the unique way Britain makes prime-time educational documentaries for wholly non-comedic purposes – on Monday night Britain was allotted this chance.
Upbeat, affable 49-year-old Las Vegas resident Wesley Warren Jnr, we learned, was living with a rare medical affliction of the groin. His tale began one night in late 2008 when he knocked his testicles accidentally while turning over in bed. First, Wesley felt a sharp shooting pain, then tissues around his testicles began to swell and inflate. Then they inflated some more. And then a bit more still. First to the size of grapefruit, then to a watermelon, then bigger than a portable television and, by the time we met him, his balls resembled a small planet with a sad, panicked penis floating about atop. Wesley, I thought, was a bit like a character in a Roald Dahl manuscript which his editor would hand back with one big red cross on it and a note: “No, Roald. Just no. Wesley's Enormous Nutsack will not do for the Puffin Club.”
Eventually Wesley's balls grew so ridiculously massive that he could no longer wear trousers. Well, he could possibly have worn MC Hammer's trousers, but we all know how protective Hammer is about people touching his stuff. You just can't. Soon Wesley was almost immobile. In fact, if he wanted to move his testicles around the house, he had to hoist them up in a large beach towel and hoist them onto available surfaces like milk crates or small shelves. There was a lot of hoisting in this hour. Wesley's lack of clothes and therefore lack of dignity began to bother me. In all of Wesley's futile trips to doctors – where they would scratch their heads mumbling, “Ooh, um, this is bad isn't it?” – not one person gave him the number of someone with a sewing machine who could whip him up a ball-covering smock. Ah, America, land of the free, home of the brave, a place where if your testicles swell up and you don't have the requiste health insurance, no one really cares if you have to wrap them in an outsized Gap hooded top with the zipper up, so your scrotum looks like ET on Halloween.
Despite my jokes – my policy during all tough times is 'you laugh or you cry' – I have mixed feelings about TV shows such as this. By the first ad break, this episode of Bodyshocks had amassed so many gawpers – I mean, 'amateur medical enthusiasts' – who had opened laptops and taken to Twitter to type 'look at the size of those spuds', that I had concern for the stability of the national grid. But it's far too easy to write Wesley's tale off as plainly voyeuristic and exploitative, when there are subtler ideas present. Our bodies often behave in a beastly, seeping, swelling, fetid, obnoxious manner. It's good to remember this in the face of non-stop The Only Way Is Essex-style 'No Carbs Till Marbs' perfection. In a world of 'post-pregnancy snap-back diets' and the norm of whitening one's teeth to the colour of a Star Wars lightsabre, it's useful to be reminded that our bodies aren't ours to truly tame or control.
As a viewer, one began the journey beholding Wesley's monstrous condition and, by default, treating Wesley as something of a monster too. But Wesley wasn't an ogre or a bogeyman– he was blatantly delightful. He was a big-hearted, daft-humoured man with many pals who doted on him. Gosh, life can be mean, creepy and completely unfair. Why should Wesley die of a treatable condition in a poky Las Vegas apartment when expensive doctors down the road could save him?
Wesley's tale was an unflinching look at the reality of today's American healthcare system.By the end of the first half-hour, Britain was standing firm behind Wesley in his struggle to get rid of his giant balls. It took a gang of philanthropic surgeons almost 24 hours of chopping, stitching and sculpting to cut away the mass but eventually, with a massive cheer, the theatre crew carted the balls away on a trolley. We didn't find out what happened to Wesley's ex-testicles, but I like to imagine a really annoying medical student woke up wearing them as a hat. Wesley was left sedated where he slept for 48 hours, which worried doctors.
But then he opened his eyes and smiled, proving, for me at least, that F Scott Fitzgerald's notion of American lives having “no second acts” was frankly a load of balls.
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