Deja View

A new show has been launched on Danish television. The idea of the show is that women walk on in a bathrobe, stand in front of two men, take their robe off and stand there silently, completely naked, while the men discuss, praise and disparage the various parts of their body. That’s it.

Blachman claims that he is doing the women a favour because ‘the female body thirsts for the words of a man’. I wonder what woman wouldn’t be positively throbbing at the thought of being gawped at and criticised by two such fine specimens of manhood?!

…Or perhaps not. Do they do it for you ladies? No?! But of course that isn’t the point: it’s the women who are there to be judged, examined, measured up, approved of or found lacking. It doesn’t matter what he looks like: middle-aged, overweight, bald, mop-headed, double-chinned – women will be grateful to be looked at, the show implies, just because he’s male. Women will accept his authority to judge and validate or invalidate them as a person, or, more accurately, as a collection of body parts.
Blachman, who named his show the imaginative, descriptive, and not at all narcissistic title Blachman, has remained ‘humble’ about the achievement of this obviously important creative endeavour. At the deluge of criticism the show immediately faced, he fled to his home in New York and claimed ‘Ungratefulness is the only thing that can really wear down the few genius who reside in our country.’ And I’m sure Denmark is anguished by the loss of the genius who invented the idea of giggling at breasts and marking them out of ten.

Of course, one of the reasons Denmark and the rest of the world hasn’t been wowed, and hordes of naked women haven’t started begging their co-workers, shop assistants and neighbours to sit on a leather sofa looking smug and remarking on their labia, is because of how distinctly unoriginal this show is. Women are objectified and judged on their looks and bodies all the time. Despite the outrage, this is hardly a new way of thinking, damaging and sexist as it is. Blachman’s assertion that the female body – not the woman, but her body – longs for male approval is hardly a new idea – women have been being encouraged, to view themselves as an object to please the male gaze for centuries. Mainstream porn is a key genre where women are meant to get their satisfaction by pleasing and serving men. Female porn stars are often surgically enhanced and ‘perfect’ and the men performing in the films (beer belly, hairy crack, socks and all) are often unattractive.

The idea that men can have other features – wealth, power, a good sense of humour – that make them attractive irrespective of their appearance is common, whereas for women these things alone are never enough: they can instantly be disregarded or mocked if they don’t shape up to standards of female beauty. That’s why this show, far from being original, creative and avant-garde, almost seems like a parody. It makes explicit a vague, shifting but pervasive idea that we all recognise and encounter – in newspapers (page three girls), on television (in adverts) on such archaic events such as Miss World and just walking down the street (builders first started to wolf whistle me when I was 11).

In my films I enjoy turning existing (gender) stereotypes upside down. I often try to subvert exactly this kind of objectification of women by handing the power to women and making men the ‘objects’. In The Female Voyeur we shot a sexy, tongue-in-cheek male talent show called XXX Men, where the boys had to parade in their underwear and perform a sexual talent for our all-female judges panel, such as pole-dancing, masturbating and giving oral sex.

The shoot of this unconventional scene empowered the female as well as the male performers: The guys enjoyed being the object of desire, and ‘prey’ instead of predator for once. And the women loved having the power, being the voyeurs and judging jury for once. When the female jury ‘marked’ the men it was fun, flirty and approving, and of course in some contexts – like this one – consensual objectification can make people feel sexy and appreciated.

Some people have criticized this XXX Men scene as ‘too simple’. I feel that sometimes we have to turn existing patterns upside down to make us aware how engrained gender-patters are. It rubs us up the wrong way when suddenly the women do to men what is the male prerogative. And that exactly is the point. We need images that show women in control and men to be passive and/or submissive as a counterbalance to the flood of images that empower men and objectify women. I would like to live in a world where we can chose how we express ourselves and our sexuality – independent of our gender. The choices are not just black or white but there is a kaleidoscope of colour out there for all of us to be experienced and enjoyed. Maybe one day we want to be looked at and the next day we enjoy being the voyeur. What matters is that we can choose.

But this is not what’s happening on Blachman: the clinical examination of different body parts (Blachman is reported to have asked his friend ‘how’s that pussy working out for you?’), the enforced silence of the women, and the sneering, chuckling smarminess of this self-proclaimed ‘genius’ demonstrate just how chauvinistic and dated this programme is.

One of the worst things is that this is state-sponsored sexism. DR2, the channel that airs Blachman, is a publicly funded station. Sofia Fromberg, the producer of the show, has attempted to justify the show by saying that DR2 ‘is a society channel. Our main focus is what’s going on in society and we debate it.’ Well, she’s right about one thing: Blachman does show something that goes on in society: sexism and female objectification. But she’s very wrong to call it a debate. On the most basic level, the women are being silenced and we just hear and see the male perspective. All this show does is to replay and condone the objectification of women in the most blatant and unashamed way, and it deserves every bit of ridicule it receives.

Oh and Mr. Blachman, just so you know – the male body thirsts for the words of a woman, and if you have a quick look through The Female Voyeur you’ll see the proof…