TV is the real master of sex

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Channel 4’s Masters of Sex plays on our obsession with copulation. White, middle-class Britain is set to drool.

Masters of Sex is certainly right on one count; if there’s something that you can universally say about humanity, it’s that we are completely fucking obsessed with fucking. We’ve managed to breed to such a point that we are actually a burden on our own planet’s resources. The whole world is crumbling under our feet because we just love shagging that bloody much. Even better, few people will publicly admit that it’s a problem (we all know it in private) because – and this is the real shit kicker – who the hell is going to tell everyone that their instinct to mush their squishy bits together and make those noisy, fleshy things is what’s causing all of the economic and environmental problems our world currently faces? Certainly not anyone who’s trying to get elected, which basically means “no-one with the power to do anything about it.”

The majority of us love sex. Consumer culture reduced this complex psychology into ‘sex sells’, and now it’s everywhere

The vast majority of us love sex. Which is probably why it’s constantly plastered all over our television sets. No matter how elevated above a Neanderthal you think you are, there’s a little hidden bit of your brain that is going to fire up when a near-naked person starts awkwardly flailing about on screen. This phenomenon is called scopophilia, and it’s a big part of why everything on television is so heavily sexualised. Inevitably, consumer culture reduced this complex psychology into the completely inadequate colloquialism ‘sex sells’, and now we’re all stuck with it bloody everywhere. Yes, the media think you’re a mindless, rutting animal (especially you, men). Yes, that is offensive. Yes, you should be annoyed about it.

Enter Masters of Sex, which is, of course, all about sex and features lots of people talking about sex and lots of scenes with people naked or having sex in various ways. Almost none of this explicit nudity actually needs to be shown to convey the plot, but they show it anyway because, hey, scopophilia. This is a show for grown-ups after all, who are at liberty to indulge their voyeuristic tendencies. In fact, in a self-referential twist, the central question that the show poses seems to be “Is William Masters a voyeur?” The answer to which will probably be suitably murky and unclear for a series of this type – a series for grown-ups.

Masters of Sex

This is how far adults have had to come in their quest for a show that doesn’t talk down to them. But apparently without anybody noticing the irony that this show’s mere existence inadvertently talks down to us, by assuming we’re incapable of squatting and paying attention unless the story is punctuated with low-cal pornography. Supposedly this show is going to replace Mad Men, but how anyone is going to take it seriously enough for that to happen is a mystery. This may be middle-class white people’s new series of choice, but given the subject matter and the fact that the whole concept of the show is to shamelessly pull in viewers with explicit sex, perhaps a little lightheartedness would have been appropriate, where instead all we find is melodrama and pomposity.

When supposedly high-quality, intelligent drama feels the need to shove pointless nudity in your face, you start to despair

It makes sense that critics would love this show. After all, Willam Masters’s approach to sex so perfectly mirrors the average critic’s approach to film and TV – remove passion and replace it with calculated measurements and careful analysis. White male lead? Check. Complex characters the audience need to ‘figure out’? Check. Nudity in spades? Checkmate. Better thumbs-up this one boys, it’s going to be bigger than David Cameron’s head and twice as loved by middle-Britain.

So you’d better get used to critics jizzing all over it. For a variety of reasons relating to its formal deconstruction, as well as all the wanking they’ll be doing while they watch the naked people having diodes attached to them and giant, light-up glass dildos being shoved in old men’s faces. It is difficult to deny how the high production values, script and acting have all come together here to produce a stand-out piece of television. But it could have been done without all the tits.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with nudity when it is actually necessary for the plot, but put it this way: Would you watch a series about a demolitions expert where every ten minutes someone violently explodes? Not because it has to be shown, but because that’s what we’re all supposed to like. Big dumb explosions and violence. Perhaps that is a prudish sentiment, but really, when supposedly high-quality, intelligent, straight-faced drama feels the need to shove pointless nudity in your face, you do start to despair of humanity. I’m looking at you too, Game of Thrones.

Bloody hell, where’s The Wire when you need it?


All images: Channel 4

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