I thought it couldn’t get much worse than Game of Thrones. I’d just watched an episode in which several other characters were brutally murdered and raped. I was a bit shell shocked as I usually am after watching Game of Thrones.
And then I switched over to Take Me Out. Bloody hell. It’s terrifying. I had been thinking that there’s no way I’d survive as a man in the world of Game of Thrones. I think I’d stand even less of a chance in the world that is Take Me Out. And the scariest thing is that Take Me Out is real. These people actually exist and the thing they do actually happens.
Let me just describe what happens. Twenty women have to be in their 20s. They have to put on lots of makeup and choose some clothes that show what they consider other people will consider to be the best bits of their body shape. They may have to step into shoes that look like the vertical section of a roller-coaster. Then they line up side by side as if it’s an identity parade (clue: it is) and prepare to be judged.
There’s the idea that actually the women have all the power. There’s the idea that since this is a dating show where the women deselect themselves from the possibility of a date, it is the women who are in control. Obviously that’s not true: the producers and advertisers are in control. Some of them will be men and some of them will be women.
As the women are waiting to be judged, a man appears. He drops down a shaft and it could almost be like Mr Bean’s entrance at the beginning of his show, where he lands in a pool of light, hapless and prone. Except it is not. The Man descends and has to grin and parade about the stage with another man, the presenter who is called Paddy.
What happens next is a series of videos about the Man and his life, and as they watch these the women can deselect themselves from the possibility of a date with him if they don’t like what they see. They do this by turning off the light that they each stand behind.
One Man last Saturday found himself rejected by a huge proportion of the women in one go. This was when he was shown in a video to be an animal rights activist and vegan. I can’t remember his name so let’s called him Jack. Tall, not bad looking but not a stud either. A bit posh. His first video introduced him as a campaigner against the meat trade and abuses of animals. The film showed clips of Jack talking about his compassion for animals and the fun side of campaigning, such as organising a demonstration in which men and women took their clothes off and laid on the floor in public. Jack lost a lot of women at this point. I couldn’t tell whether it was because he was doing things with naked people, or maybe activism is a turn-off, or maybe campaigning with a compassionate side makes him unsuitable.
But what happened next was really interesting. He’d already lost a lot of support. Then they showed a video of him playing football with his mates. His friend told the camera not to be fooled by Jack’s soft side. The friend said Jack gets angry and aggressive on the football pitch. They showed clips of him tackling other players and going Grrr and so on. It was all pretty panto. This angry side of Jack didn’t lose him even a quarter as many women as the soft side did. Of course it’s not a fair comparison, because the women watching the hard-Jack video was not the same group entirely as the ones who’d watched the soft-Jack video, although they had all liked soft-Jack enough to stay in the game.
The point is, soft-Jack turned off a lot of women. Those who weren’t turned off by that were also not turned off by the angry and aggressive Jack. I’d love to repeat the experiment with the videos the other way round. Would more women stay after the first video if it was the hard-Jack one? Hilariously, he also didn’t lose too many women when a third video showed him visiting his boring posh parents only to steal his dad’s clothes.
Anyway, Jack ended up with someone who I’ll call Mindy. I don’t really know much about her except that she once took her dog with her when she went for a meal at a steakhouse. Apparently this was supposed to be a challenge to Jack and his vegan ways. He just seemed to be so ecstatic to find a date that he didn’t care about this false worry. Mindy, however, had to find out who Jack had really fancied when he first descended from the heavens or wherever it is the Men are supposed to come from when they shoot down the tube onto the stage. Alas, it wasn’t her. Out of the 20 women he’d picked someone else on first sight and then ended up with Mindy. Poor girl. But she’s used to complex emotions: she’d stuck around as she watched her potential date portrayed as both a compassionate vegan and a football hooligan. And then they were packed off on a crap package holiday.
One thing that struck me watching Take Me Out was how it dealt with space. Have you noticed that?
Paddy and the Man have an enormous amount of space on the stage. They mostly hover around a circle in the middle, but it is a roomy circle. Cameras can get to it from all angles. The women, meanwhile, are shoulder to shoulder and crammed together. It’s like they’re an police line-up on an Indian train. They have no space to move around really. When it comes to the climax of the game, when the Man chooses between the two or more women who are still in the running, he runs up and down, dallying, free, getting closer to the available women as if to inspect them even more than the camera is already doing. The Man frolics up and down gaily, happily free. The women have to stand still and hope he doesn’t reject them. They have no choice, they have no freedom to move or be anything other than they have been up to this point.
Another Man who took part in the episode I watched was called John. I didn’t see much of him, but what I saw was pretty heartbreaking. He’d already chosen his date, Charlie. They were on the crap package holiday together and it was becoming apparent that Charlie didn’t fancy John that much. She dressed herself up for him, big heels and a push-up bra.
But John flushed it all away by being too intense. He’s a chatty guy is John. He’d been trained to talk and to look into a woman’s eyes and to say that she looks beautiful and to be enthusiastic and to be thoughtful. John did all of these things. But he did them all at 10 on a 10-point scale. Poor guy. It’s almost as if the only alternative was to be surly and gruff and unkind. You get the feeling that he’d been this person before or at least was desperate to avoid being this person because it’s regressive and not what modern men are like. So he talked and talked and stared at Charlie’s face.
Too much, she said. I don’t think I’ll be seeing him again, she said.