Last Night's TV: None of them were over the Moonie

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The Independent Culture

My Big Fat Moonie Wedding, Channel 4

Binge Britain: Diet

You can build quite a good programme on the basis of the phrase "Do you remember x? Wonder what happened to them?" Naturally, it helps if x is a bit eye-catching to begin with, and there are few things that snare the eye quite like a bride and groom, particularly if they're multiplied several thousandfold, as they were when the Reverend Sun Myung Moon decided to conduct the world's biggest mass wedding in New York in 1982. On 1 July of that year, 4,000 obedient devotees traipsed into Madison Square Garden and pledged their troth to the soul mate that the Reverend Moon had selected for them, setting aside erotic chemistry and the conventions of love to do their bit to bring about a sinless world. "If I was an outsider, I would have said, 'Those people are out of their minds completely,'" said Forrest Wright, a man still glumly yoked to a life partner chosen for him by a dumpy Korean tax dodger with a messiah complex. Very big "if" that, and one I suspect Forrest is still pining over.

By his own account in the documentary My Big Fat Moonie Wedding, Forrest hadn't exactly been overwhelmed when first told that Anna, a bonily sombre Dutch woman, was to be his wife. Already unnerved by the fact that the Reverend Moon's marital lottery offered no appeal process, he also seemed wary of European dentistry. "I didn't say it," he recalled, "but the first thought that came to mind was, 'Let me check your teeth.'" Anna, to be fair, wasn't all that thrilled either... and judging from the archive film of the event, she wasn't alone. A line of decidedly queasy-looking people filed warily through a kind of spiritual car wash, with the Reverend Moon and his wife sprinkling them with holy water as they passed. And the worst thing was that this was the fun bit. Those hoping to consummate their marriages (not everyone was utterly dismayed by their blind date) soon discovered that they would have to be patient. First they were instructed to beat one another on the buttocks with what the Reverend Moon called the "indemnity stick" and then they were forbidden to have sex for up to three years.

Even when the big night came, it was something of a strain, the lucky couple having to follow a complicated set of instructions about pre-coital ablutions and mid-coital positioning. For two nights, the women were on top and taking control, and for the third in an attempt to overturn the fatal dominion of Eve the husband reasserted control. Sustaining carnal appetite under these conditions was not easy, and not helped by the instruction that a large photograph of Moon had to be placed so that it could oversee the event. After everything was over, the participants had to wipe themselves with the Holy Handkerchief, an unusual family heirloom that was to be preserved, unlaundered, for the rest of their lives. Rummaging through their bridal clothes, Anna and Forrest discovered their Holy Hankies in a polythene bag, a moment that didn't appear to fill them with gladsome, giggly nostalgia. It would have been nice to have a tiny bit more about the Reverend Moon's continuing contacts with Republican politics and the Religious Right, but even without that, this was a strangely compelling film, the standard derangement that underlies all religions amplified until even the faithful could see how mad it looked.

In Binge Britain: Diet Doctors Special, super-fit athletes are invited to sample the couch-potato life in the interests, I take it, of couch-potato health education. This week, it was the turn of Katharine Merry, a former Olympic 400m runner. "Katharine is going to have to binge drink two bottles of wine every three days, all in the name of science," announced the voiceover, a line that prompted a double-barrelled exclamation in our house. First barrel: "You're not seriously calling that a binge!" Second barrel: "How come science takes the rap rather than television, which actually procured the crime." Like most Olympic athletes, Katharine was a rather driven personality, so instead of parcelling her ration out over three days, which would have been more manageable, she downed two bottles in one night. The next day she felt crap, which was hardly surprising given that she's normally teetotal. If an ordinary punter went out and ran a 10K race without any preparation, they would feel terrible too. What she needed to do was train a bit more carefully and build up to the big events slowly. Shortly after her first bout with the bottle, she was put on a course of antibiotics and had to give up drinking entirely, although she did return to the programme later, establishing with a simplicity that any prohibitionist would have been proud of that alcohol coarsens the skin, enfeebles the spirit and debilitates the body. Personally, I think she was just going cold turkey from her rather serious exercise addiction, but that thought is not in line with current government health advice.