Denmark's 'naked lady' TV show causes furore
- 30 May 2013
- From the section Europe
A year ago I visited the headquarters of the Danish public broadcaster DR to film a piece about the international success of their dramas Borgen and the Killing.
The two protagonists in those series were strong, feisty females who took no nonsense from anyone.
So it seems a little surreal to be back in Denmark now to talk to the same broadcasting company about their new show, called Blachman, in which a woman is required to stand naked in front of fully-clothed men and to remain silent as those men talk about her body.
"It's not reality TV!" protests the show's inventor and host, Thomas Blachman. "And it's poetry, not porn."
Yet it makes uncomfortable viewing. Blachman, shirt carefully unbuttoned, sits with a fashion designer friend of his and stares at a woman's pubic hair.
"I'm not really keen on shaving and waxing," he comments, before remarking to his co-host that the woman has nice feet.
The woman, paid around 250 euros (£214) for her appearance, just stands there and takes it.
"Oh come on!" says Blachman, when I say I find this deeply unnerving.
"Women talk all the time - this show is about letting men say what they think about women's bodies."
Blachman believes that in modern Denmark, where there are strict equal opportunities laws, men have become emasculated by powerful women and silenced under a cloak of political correctness.
"Women's bodies thirst for men's words!" he insists. "We have had so much bad reaction from aggressive feminists and I didn't see it coming... Sure I wanted to provoke a little bit, but it's not sexist."
When I meet Nina - an attractive, bubbly primary school teacher who was one of Blachman's naked studies - she tells me she felt empowered by her appearance on the show.
Although she admits she would have liked to have been able to speak, particularly when Blachman and his guest were discussing her Caesarean scar.
Following the broadcast, Nina has not only had scores of fan mail letters, she has also had five marriage proposals.
But feminists - like Danish comedian Sanne Sondergaard - are outraged.
"In Denmark, sexism is not an issue," she says. "And then this show came along. It's sexist rubbish.
"I'm sorry but even if he says nice things, a man is not entitled to comment on my body, just because I'm a woman!"
DR2 has had more complaints about the Blachman show than any other. It has also had a huge number of viewings, particularly on its "watch again" internet site.
Sofia Fromberg, the commissioning editor of the programme, insists she is not chasing ratings with breasts and bottoms.
"Blachman certainly did not have the highest ratings of any of our shows. DR2's objective is to create debate about important issues in society. And it has created a lot of debate!" she says.
Thomas Blachman has been accused in the Danish media of being little more than a "sleazy middle aged man in a strip club". But, for much of the programme he seems ill at ease and a little awkward. His focus tends to be tamely set below the knees rather than on the more predictable breasts and bottoms.
"Nice ankles - I'm an ankles kind of a guy" he says. Before making a single remark about the nude female in front of him, one of his co-hosts takes a good five minutes to explain that he had been happily married for 50 years until his wife died last year - at such times, the silent naked woman in front of them almost seems forgotten and irrelevant.
I Want Your Baby!
But there is no hiding the fact that the more outrageous the show, the more it pulls in viewers.
Last week during a segment on breastfeeding, the host of the Dutch Saturday night show, Langs de Leeuw, suggested he would like to try breast milk.
An audience member offered him some milk she had expressed but host Paul de Leeuw told her he would rather take it from its source and suckled both her breasts on live TV.
A huge social media row followed quickly, although the network did point out that the act had not been sexual.
A few years ago I made a film on another controversial Dutch programme called I Want Your Baby!
A single woman who wanted a child, was allowed to select the father of her baby from a group of eligible men, voting off the weakest links each week. That show caused uproar in the Netherlands and prompted questions in parliament - it never got beyond the pilot.
Last month, reality TV in France was plunged into some deep soul-searching over its future after a contestant died on the tough desert island challenge Koh Lanta and the doctor - who was unable to save him - killed himself.
Poor ratings caused Italy's state broadcaster RAI to scrap all its TV reality shows back in 2007. RAI said it would put the money it saved into Italian-made films and more intellectual programmes.
Now its new female director has called time on sexily dressed showgirls and game-show assistants on screen, claiming she wants to project a more sophisticated image of women on the network - one where women are more than cosmetically perfect airheads.
For any viewer missing the hitherto ubiquitous bimbo though, she does remain intact on scores of programmes broadcast on the private channels owned by the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Back in Denmark, Blachman points out that he never judged or criticised the naked woman's body.
"It's a show, which actually is a tribute to women," he says.
Unfortunately for him, his "tribute" has not been re-commissioned.