Naked Bunch

The new nudism in reality television

Two naked performers in the reality program Naked and Afraid
TV undressed: Reality programs such as Naked and Afraid present television viewers with a new genre of skin-baring fare — for better and worse. (Discovery Channel)

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It’s a Hollywood fact of life that TV producers who lack naked ambition are TV producers who lack hit TV shows. Sad, but that’s showbiz. Lately, however, something is different. That roiling naked ambition has putrefied into just plain naked. As in: actually naked-on-the-screen TV. Specifically, reality TV. It’s all the rage, ladies and gentlemen, and it has sparked both condemnation and veneration because, well, it’s nekkid.

Paid exhibitionists can be found practically everywhere on cable these days. The shows on which they appear come with provocative titles. Among them, Naked and Afraid, The Naked Truth, Dating Naked, Buying Naked, Naked Castaway. What they share is an assumption that American audiences are libidinous, voyeuristic, a bit creepy.

But let’s not get too excited. The unspoken reality of naked TV is that it’s manifestly sexy-less. Observing all that unsecured flesh rumbling around beyond the confines of clothing can only lead to the gross suppression of one’s sexual appetite. And yet TV producers are aggressively seeking ways to disrobe talent. A colorful take on all this was offered by Teresa Strasser, co-host of The List, a syndicated TV program about popular culture. She sent along a note saying, “If I were working on a TV pitch right now, it would involve a family of little people who run a pawn shop while getting into massive cat fights drunk on Moscato. Naked.” Okay, she’s kidding. Barely.

From a producer’s point of view, it’s easy to see the advantage of going commando. All you need is men, women, and a location. What you don’t need: a fleshed-out script. Or wardrobe. It’s cheapo television. Even better, based on the evidence, viewers and advertisers love it. Why so? Did I mention nekkid?

If I were working on a TV pitch right now, it would involve a family of little people who run a pawn shop while getting into massive cat fightes drunk on Moscato. Naked.
Me, personally, I don’t do nude in public; it would amount to a full-frontal assault on others’ aesthetic sensibilities. Unless you’re a figure model or someone who could be on the cover of a fitness magazine, few adults should ever be unclothed within 1,000 yards of a lens. Clearly, though, not everyone shares my inhibitions. That’s too bad, because it leads to TV programs such as The Naked Office, the very title of which frightens the pants off me — a horrifying visual. Eric Streit, a longtime producer of low-budget reality programming — his New Girls on the Block, about transgender couples, just aired on the Discovery Life Channel — concedes that “Hollywood generally plays to our darker angels.” Still, he said to me recently, even the most reviled shows can perform a social benefit. How so? “Because of our puritanical history, we may never actually normalize a subculture of people walking around the street naked. So, these shows can serve as a good thing. They could have redeeming social value.”

They could. Or, on the other hand, not. I checked in with Samantha Joy Pearson, who was a participant last year on the Naked and Afraid series. A 41-year-old Texas marketing consultant, Pearson says she was afraid going in and exuberant coming out of her 21-day filmed adventure. But, surprisingly, she claims it never dawned on her that viewers would actually flock to her show or others like it. “It’s a bad trend. I’m not sure what good comes of it,” she told me. “People watch just to see [someone else’s] assets. What purpose does it serve?”

For those offended by TV’s latest thrust, here’s some good news. Biblical series are trending, big time. Culturally, a coarse correction may be on the way.

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  1. “Unless you’re a figure model or someone who could be on the cover of a fitness magazine, few adults should ever be unclothed within 1,000 yards of a lens.”

    What a very sad attitude. Being naked feels wonderful: The sun and breeze on your whole body. Swimming without a suit bunching up, hanging down, twisting, slipping, and then being soggy.

    You are thinking of nudity as a spectator sport rather than something to participate in. Most people probably shouldn’t play golf, or basketball, or baseball either, if you are going to compare them with professional athletes people pay to watch. But people do all those things because they enjoy it, they don’t care who’s watching, they don’t care if they’ll ever go pro. Same with nudity. Many people have discovered the joy and freedom of not wearing clothes. And they end up around other not so great looking people who also enjoy it.

  2. The naked truth now on T.V.
    Is that there is more nakedness.
    Reality is nudity,
    Baring more profits tiz best guess,
    Cuz cable T.V. can bare more
    Than the old stodgy networks can,
    So birthday suits do really soar.
    No cover up – woman or man,
    Drooling viewers, game in the skin.
    Nekkid bods were not always lewd.
    Before that original sin,
    In the beginning we romped nude.

    Adam and Eve did sin and so
    Covered themselves up – doncha know!

  3. These shows would be great if only they would get rid of (fire, sack, dismiss) the guy that pixelates everything in sight—who wants to watch a bunch of people run around with out of focus parts—they may as well be wearing cloths—what’s the point!

  4. Amazing. Of course that doesn’t even discuss cable scripted shows with nudity, and those are sexy. Part of the problem is there are so many networks that have so much time to fill that almost any cheap show with a hook (like nudity) will get on TV.


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