This column appeared originally on Reaction.
Me and My Penis, Channel 4
If you’re the sort of person who likes to see lots of willies on TV, you lucked out last Monday on Channel 4. It came on the back of (if you’ll pardon the expression) last year’s Channel 4 female equivalent The Top 100 Vaginas, where women told their “intimate, shocking, moving, powerful or funny stories about how their vaginas have shaped their lives.” The mind boggled. But in my case, that was all.
Channel 4 considers that part of its remit is to shock, hence this sort of cockumentary. Naked Attraction, which I reviewed earlier in the year is another example of the genre. I wrote: “It surely can’t be too long before our TV shows feature full naked sex, including penetration, and there are no bars on what people say at all. TV executives will argue it’s the only way to compete with audiences on the internet, and given the decline in TV audiences, you can see their point.”
Well, Me and My Penis didn’t quite go that far, but it did show, for the first time on UK TV a fully erect member. Several actually, just for good measure.
The whole programme was viewed through the lens of a 57-year-old black self-styled “sex activist” and photographer Ajamu X. He was seen taking “arty” photos of a series of naked, very ordinary men. They weren’t professional models and they did not all possess the “body beautiful.” Some were clearly very comfortable showing their wares – others far less so.
One or two seemed to have their entire lives directed by the penis rather than the brain, others seemed completely normal and well-balanced people who just did not mind getting their kit off in front of a camera. A few had feelings of inadequacy and were concerned that they didn’t “measure up”. It was very revealing how a feeling of sexual inadequacy can cause anxiety and depression.
One of the most moving parts of the show – and yes, it was in parts quite moving – was the interview with a chunkier than average guy in his mid-forties. He turned out to be a military veteran who was in bomb disposal. It eventually transpired that he had had both his legs blown off when something went very wrong, and he related the moment when he was told he had lost his testicles. He remained calm and unemotional, but it was a life changing moment. Everyone watching was thinking the same thing: “how would I have coped with that?”
Penises, like vaginas, are either things of beauty or utter ugliness depending on your viewpoint or sexual predilection. And they do come in all shapes and sizes. In this programme they did seem to be of a rather large size, which might have given some viewers a certain sense of inadequacy. Not me, obviously. Ahem. However, what the programme did do is help women understand better the relationship between a man and his penis.
How to Fail, podcast with Elizabeth Day
I first met Elizabeth Day when we reviewed the papers together on Sky News. At that point she was a columnist on The Observer and was publishing her first novel. She is one of those people who you instantly like and I have followed her career ever since. A regular on TV and radio she has got a wonderful audio voice and her natural empathy comes across easily. That is what makes her podcast so addictive.
Even if you’ve never heard of the person she is interviewing – and that is quite often – she effortlessly introduces us to the person and it soon becomes apparent why she has invited them on. The essence of the podcast is what it says on the tin – for seemingly successful people to talk about their personal and career failures. It is a format that works brilliantly.
Most of her interviewees are very successful people and it is sometimes hilarious to try to discuss failures that most of us would not consider failures. They are the sort of people who are not overendowed with much self-knowledge. She doesn’t need to point out that these people are incredibly narcissistic. The listener can work it out for themselves. These are the exceptions though. Many of her subjects are riddled with imposter syndrome but in almost each case, they have managed to triumph over adversity or turned a threat into opportunity.
So successful has the podcast been that she wrote a best-selling book called How to Fail: Everything I’ve Ever Learned From Things Going Wrong. It is well worth a read and encourages a little self-introspection. And there is nothing wrong with that.