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Sexploitation

Written May 2024


In what could be seen as an incredibly hypocritical move, Channel 4, purveyors of all things perverted (see my article here), have recently released a three-part documentary, Miriam: Death of a Reality Star. The documentary teases and titillates as it rehashes the events surrounding the making of a reality show from 2003, There’s Something About Miriam, produced for Sky One. The premise of the show had its origins in the relatively innocent days of Cilla and Our Graham, Blind Date, but with a twist. Six ‘ordinary British lads’ were flown out to a luxury villa in Ibiza, to set about competing with each other to win the affections of Miriam, a beautiful 21-year-old Mexican woman. The huge twist in the tale, though, was that unbeknownst to the lads, Miriam was not a woman. Miriam was a man. Then termed a transexual, meaning that he was presenting as a woman, with breasts and a somewhat feminine face, he did in fact still have a penis and testicles, and in modern parlance Miriam would be termed a transgender woman.

 

Given that Channel 4 has made many of these absurd and exploitative shows itself over the years, it could be seen as a bit rich for them to be criticising Sky’s offering. Or perhaps it is a case of sour grapes, that they did not commission it first. Much of Channel 4’s own output, after all, has been equally distasteful. It has been responsible for atrocities such as Naked Attraction, a dating show where contestants gradually reveal their naked bodies to a fully clothed ‘chooser’, who eventually picks the winner based purely on bodily attraction. And Sex Box, another bizarre offering in which couples go into the said box on stage and have sex, before emerging to be quizzed about their sex life by the host. Yeah, me neither. And lest we forget Naked Education (see my article linked above), where grown adults were given license to behave like flashers, parading their naked bodies to embarrassed young teenagers. I personally feel this one should have been a matter of police concern. Desperate to outdo each other, TV companies competed fiercely with each other for the reality show market, and Channel 4 were front and centre. What was not to like, from their perspective? Relatively cheap to make, and the titillation ensured large viewing numbers. Win win. Ethical standards in general were remarkably low, as the awful events of Miriam revealed. Remember Shattered? Just a year after Miriam, Channel 4 released this show where contestants were challenged to stay awake, a known torture technique. The winner endured 178 hours without sleep, for a prize pot of £97,000. Unsurprisingly, the show was hosted by Dermot O’Dreary, the cold as ice man who has made his massive fortune from hosting such dross, and who might well have made a living as a Nazi prison guard in another time – ‘just doing my job’ etc. Seriously, Channel 4, you feel in a position to judge? You really are all as vile as each other.  

 

Anyway, despite their own less than scrupulous output, Channel 4 have pronounced themselves moral arbiters, and made this documentary about Miriam, in a bid to blame the show for the tragic events that dogged Miriam’s life in the 16 years post-television show, until his untimely death in 2019. Little sympathy or empathy is shown towards the six men who were the show’s contestants, a fact I think is shameful. While Miriam was undoubtably exploited by the production company, the men were clearly also victims, whose psychological wellbeing could, and probably did, suffer major damage directly as a result of their participation in the show. However, as we have come to expect from mainstream media, particularly Channel 4 and The Guardian, the only group they deem deserving of compassion and respect are trans people. And so, the suggestion is instead that the lads were in some way complicit in Miriam’s demise, notwithstanding the fact that it occurred many years later.

 

The documentary also features wall-to-wall back pedalling by those involved, with members of the crew insisting they all felt desperately uncomfortable with the entire thing from the beginning. Funny how none spoke up then. One character, Jo Juson, who was a Production Executive on the show, despite being quite unpleasant, is perhaps the only honest amongst the crew, as she refused to admit that there was anything wrong with the show’s premise, and denies it was anything but entertaining television.

 

Of course, Channel 4 are shamelessly using the tragic case of Miriam, and the link to the Sky tv show, to further the transgender cause, something they have been involved in for a long time. There is a tone permeating the entire three episodes of Miriam: Death of a Reality Star, that the lads behaved cruelly when the big reveal happened, and were therefore feeding the wider issue of transphobia that led to Miriam’s unfortunate end. The reality is that the production company and Sky One were the only guilty parties. They knew exactly what they were doing when they made the appalling show, and they must have known the risk of a negative reaction was not merely high, but inevitable. The young men who took part in this show bear not an ounce of responsibility for the misfortune of Miriam’s later life. Indeed, Miriam was already the product of a somewhat tragic earlier life, having been shunned by a father who could not accept his son as a daughter, and falling into pornography and other adult industries to make a living, prior to appearing on the Sky programme. The father is shamelessly interviewed by the Channel 4 crew, along with other grieving family members, and in the usual rewriting of history vibe, they portray him as heartless, cold, and bigoted. In fact, these are the characteristics bestowed upon all who referred to Miriam as a man, a he, or him.

 

I would be surprised if I were alone in having enormous sympathy for the six young men who were duped into appearing on the show. With all the hubris of youth, they saw a shot at fame and fortune, and perhaps love with a beautiful woman, and instead were left humiliated. At least one of the young men became quite intimate with Miriam, and engaged in what creepy schoolteachers might call heavy petting – waist up, obviously. This does fit in the category of the prosecutable offence of sex / sexual activity by deception, and it is unclear why this was not pursued. The big reveal, so to speak, does indeed make extremely uncomfortable viewing. The winning lad is clearly in a state of shock, as well as enormous humiliation. The five losing lads stand behind him, and descend into a strange mix of embarrassment and laughter, no doubt mixed with some relief. All are bereft and incapable, to be honest, of any other response. Their youth, the deception, and the very public nature of it all is undoubtably traumatic, and human reactions are notoriously skewed under such extreme circumstances. I wholeheartedly believe these lads were the subject of abuse, at least as much as Miriam was.

 

Television production is a brazen, heartless business, where exploitation runs rife, especially since the inception of reality shows like Big Brother - another Channel 4 gem. The first of its kind, Big Brother used the mirage of psychological exploration as a cover to exploit the voyeuristic nature of the public. Viewers watched groups of strangers thrown together in a house, under constant video surveillance, left to fight like rats in a sack. The more antagonistic and combative the footage, the higher the viewing figures, a sure-fire recipe for some behind-the-scenes coercive manipulation by the producers.  

 

And so, given their credentials in this area, Channel 4 have certainly not covered themselves in glory by making a smearing documentary about Sky One. They have merely highlighted the amorality of television production in general. Just to top this one off on a ‘whatever the current thing’ vibe, they even bagged Jonathan ‘India’ Willoughby in to offer up an opinion on the devastating consequences of a show about a transexual where a person with cock and balls is referred to as a man. ‘Literal violence’ according to trans activists. But as one would expect from hiring a narcissist like Willoughby, he commented little on the show itself, and the moral implications or otherwise, and instead made it entirely about himself. Apparently, it was this little-remembered reality show that set Jonathan back several years in ‘coming out’ as a ‘woman’ named India. Ok, Willoughby, if you say so. The Willoughby Show will no doubt be Channel 4’s next offering. Keep your eyes peeled on their Autumn schedule.


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