Television: Tune into rude health

It never ceases to amaze me what people will do to achieve their precious 15 minutes of fame.

Or, in the case of not-for-the-squeamish UK television program Embarrassing Bodies, free medical treatment. 

The patients featured on the show  have to be getting free medical advice or treatment to compensate for the humiliation of having their private parts displayed, full screen, in high definition, don’t they?

Watching an episode of Embarrassing Bodies is akin to staring at the sun. You know it’s causing damage, and that you shouldn’t do it, but you can’t look away. It is utterly, and revoltingly, compelling.

(I’d like to take the opportunity, at this point, to assert that I do not watch the show regularly. If I happen to see the start, however, there’s a good chance I’ll be transfixed until the end. That is partly due to the humorous social media exchanges occurring as my friends and I watch.)

The show’s mantra is ‘‘No shame, we’re all the same’’. Doctors Christian, Dawn and Pixie will have you believe that the show exists, purely and simply, to aid people suffering from ailments that they are too embarrassed to show their GP.

Hmmm. I will address this point shortly.

The show’s website claims the program can also help viewers ‘‘self-diagnose at home without attending a doctor’s appointment’’.

This is marginally more believable, but also risky for a patient. 

Self-diagnosis is fine until you decide to self-medicate, or start to ignore medical treatment altogether. 

But trying to justify the show’s existence by saying people who are too embarrassed to see their GP about an ailment would rather it was dealt with on television, to an audience of millions worldwide? Puh-lease.

Whatever its medical worth, Embarrassing Bodies is a hit because of its shock value and cringe factor – not for any alleged altruistic public health service. 

An episode I watched a few weeks ago is a case in point. A young woman is led into the stark white consultation room. Correctly, I predict that she has an ailment concerning either her breasts or genitalia. 

Within 30 seconds she is on a bed, in a gown, and a view most commonly reserved for gynaecologists, obstetricians or midwives fills the screen.

We are also ‘‘educated’’ by a close-up of a man’s penis (he was being treated for a skin condition on his chest – go figure); shadowy footage of a woman giving herself a coffee enema (to which she is addicted and, while embarrassing, this is not exactly a common ailment); and a woman with a breast implant gone horribly wrong. 

The program gives the impression the Embarrassing Bodies team travel around the UK having random patients drop by for medical advice. The show’s website, however, makes it clear that one must actually apply for the privilege of worldwide humiliation. 

What is interesting about cringeworthy reality television is not the content, but the people who willingly agree to bare all in the interests of entertainment. 

Never mind showing up to work the next day knowing your colleagues have had a long hard look at the rash on your testicles. Never mind chatting to your father, knowing he knows you  urinate during intercourse (yes, I saw that episode).

How are these people able to look anyone in the eye ever again?

As for the people who turn on the TV and contribute to the ratings? That’s another column altogether.

Embarrassing Bodies  is on Nine Network at 9.30pm on Wednesdays.

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