Loose Women, lost perspective…

ITV’s daytime crap-cake of a talk-show, Loose Women, was yesterday subject to the acerbic criticism of Bridget Orr over at the Guardian. Dawn Kofie, F Word contributor, wrote an excellent analysis here of the show last year, and so with so many women having an aversion to watching the middle-aged panellists jawing over some trivial news-story and verbally farting out trite sexual inneundo about Colen Nolan and “her Ray” why is the show still on air? The answer is simple: this is car-crash television at its best, and while Orr considers it “hateful,” the fact that it is at times so repulsive makes it compelling viewing.

The concept of the show is simple enough: get four women, not old but not young, with dubious celebrity credentials and put them in a room with a studio audience and watch them harp on about the trials-and-tribulations of being a not-old-but-not-young-women-with-dubious-celebrity-credentials. The show is a hit with grandmothers, students and the unemployed, who are guaranteed some form of entertainment, be it at Carol McGiffin’s (Chris Evans’s ex-wife) attempts to use a hula-hoop, Linda Bellamy’s loosely-veiled-but-actually-overt references to sex with her younger partner, or Nolan’s quips at having an ample chest. Orr provides a biting, yet accurate, summary:

Male viewers embarrassed at the lechery on Loose Women could well complain that this is a case of feminism “going too far”. There could never be an all-male equivalent to the show called Talking Balls, where a crew of laddish reality-TV rejects and failed boybanders leered at the female soap stars brought on to sate them. Not only would it obviously be sexist, but the idea would never be floated in the first place. The schedulers would naturally expect the core demographic for such a non-politically correct, hyper-masculine show to be at work by then…If Loose Women tells us anything, it is that, as far as schedulers are concerned, daytime television is just for silly women.

Orr’s assumptions are confirmed by her recollection of Katie Price’s, aka Jordan’s, appearance on the show:

As glamour model Katie Price comes on to be interviewed, Nolan admits that she has been worried. “I thought, ‘I’m going to look flat-chested today,'” she says. “Yours actually look bigger than mine,” says Price. “Exactly! I’m quite proud of myself,” says Nolan, scooting her chair even closer to Price’s. More breast talk ensues.

Because obviously breast size is directly proportionate to beauty, intelligence and success…err…not really…and why Coleen, a woman who would, for many women in their late thirties to forties, be considered a role, would put such emphasis on her tits does nothing but perpetuate redundant beliefs that women are completely and utterly preoccupied with the superficial! I’m sure I don’t need to state the extent to which she speaks about her weight, and while she has done fantastically well to lose what she has (if she was unhappy about her body), why does she feel the need to transpose her insecurities onto everyone else who is smuggling a dozen rolls and a muffin top?

While, to their credit, each of the panellist have forged careers for themselves in the media (an industry which is hugely competitive) – Jayne McDonald for example, moved into television having been a singer on cruise ships, Carol McGiffin was a television producer and worked in radio, Sherrie Hewson was an actress – their professional independence is undermined by the fact that they have a complete preoccupation with men: past, present, future and prospective. We hear so much about Coleen’s husband, Ray, on a daily basis that I think the vast majority of us are beginning to feel like we know him intimately. Is this what happens when the women of Sex and the City tire of buying handbags and shoes, age ten-years and have to start earning a crust by talking about their exciting pasts, lamenting the fact they no longer feel they are as attractive as younger women, while at the same time pretending that they do not care?

Any male guest on the show is thrown into the hungry jaws of these lionesses of daytime television and systematically ripped apart by lewd, crass and downright awkward sexual flirtation – Orr recounts McGiffin’s encounter with Russell Brand:

The four presenters talk about the etiquette of flatulence, including whether Carol McGiffin, who declares that she “quite likes doing it . . . the louder the better”, would feel comfortable “pumping” in front of her “dream man”, Russell Brand. As McGiffin weighs this up, to her huge surprise, Brand appears, and they proceed to discuss her earlier admission that she would pay him for sex. Later the host, former Corrie star Denise Welch, gives him an eyeful of her cleavage, he is grilled about his sex life, and is involved in a discussion of the “suede crotch” of McGiffin’s jodhpurs. Excellent.

Undoubtedly leechery is prevalent, and Orr is right in that there could be no male equivalent. Imagine a show populated by aging male stars all looking towards, say, Peter Stringfellow as their glorious presenter, who juxtaposes stories of the fantastic sex he’s been having with a woman young enough to be his daughter, at the same time as Rod Stewart starts pushing his crotch in the direction of some lovely, young female guest – Myleene Klass, say – as he talks about the benefits of wearing a thong on the beach, while an audience of old men laugh raucously. Then, to everyone’s surprise, John McCrick wades in unexpectedly to offer the reasons why he hates women. Perfect. But let’s be realistic: it wouldn’t be acceptable, would it? Personally, I would find that uncomfortable viewing, and yet we have Nolan more-or-less pushing her breasts in the faces of any young male beau who so much as breathes in the direction of the stage, and Carol McGiffin who, let’s be honest, is hardly the biggest fan of the male sex, offering some insight into the reasons why smoking should not be banned in public places. The reasons it’s accepted from a female panellist is simple: they are considered pathetic, objects of pity, and so are tolerated. It’s unfair, but that sadly seems to be the case.

But while I can see there is much wrong with the show, that it’s nothing by cheap ratings fodder, I still watch it. Why? Because I cannot believe the depths to which ITV has stooped in the name of entertainement, but maybe they have it right? Maybe the reason the viewing-figures are so high is because the vast majority of us watch it not because we enjoy it, but because we enjoy having a bloody good moan about it before, during and afterwards. When I’m home, come a Friday, I’m absolutely gutted that that’s the last installment I’ll be getting for the week of the in-bitching of the panellists as they all fight to be some sort of lead woman, and the only thing that get’s me through the weekend is the knowledge that come Monday Nolan will have a fresh batch of stories about how Ray tried to initiate sex through foreplay which she, frankly, could not be arsed with, and McGiffin will have undoubtedly got pissed and done something ‘crazy,’ fuelling the vast majority of conversations for the rest of the week. I hate it, but I love it because I hate it. It’s a complicated relationship, but am I wrong? Surely this isn’t what women really want from daytime viewing, right? Offensive, stupid, or strangely entertaining? I for one cannot decide. Perhaps if we interpret it as nothing more than a satire: the manifestation of the stereotypical assumptions made about women after a certain age, and laugh at its woeful inaccuracy. Would that work? And with that I’ll end with Orr’s genius account of a classic-cringe-worthy Loose Women moment:

All the presenters get dressed up in their wedding finery to watch Charlie, a dog owned by presenter Sherrie Hewson, get married to a canine called Dolly. Yes, really. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the dogs are dressed in wedding outfits and Torchwood star John Barrowman presides over the ceremony with countless bad puns (the nuptials are termed, “puptials”, for instance). The long-suffering host, Kaye Adams, says “I can’t believe we’re doing this.” Nor can we.