During the big parental reveal at the end of a recent episode of BBC3’s noisy, sunburnt ethical minefield Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents, hard-drinking 18 year old builder Phil uttered some worrisome syllables of excuse for much misogynistic meandering on his phallocentric holiday.
When questioned by his parents, he spoke out for his ‘generation’, claiming “I’m just doing what every lad does…This is what people our age do.” Quite a claim- either he’s an omnipresent prophet-deity with the capacity to know all acts of offensive, sexually aggressive behaviour wherever they happen, or, much more likely, he’s a complete arse.
Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents is part of a wider, long-term trend in youth sexuality on television; a spectrum of extreme behaviour, ‘shock and awe’ sexual representation to entice an audience into outrage, and crucially, viewership.
After three hit series, it would seem that this is a format that is here to stay. Find a volunteer eighteen year old regular sod and parents fool enough to consider spying on them appropriate action, drop them on an island of aftersun and hangovers and watch the fireworks. And they do- the whole of Sun, Sex… is about looking; endless gratuitous shots of the female form are blended into the environs with vigorous, thoughtless editing, until the audience believes itself to be watching a broadcast from a forbidden parallel dimension where thighs and cleavage are the anonymous, unique property of dark, loud rooms in the Mediterranean.
This sense of dislocation hangs heavy in every episode. Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents displays an unrealistic, end-of-the-pier, off-kilter kaleidoscope of sexuality, detached from reality and driven by alcohol, bravado and a nakedly manipulative television production team. There’s absolutely no excuse for the behaviour exhibited by some participants on Sun, Sex…, and the producers soberly offer them no quarter, merrily displaying such horrors, pandering to the amused middle class voyeuristic audience. Shock! He threw up! Egads! She’s hardly wearing anything at all, as that morally questionable close up helpfully demonstrates! Sadly, the show remains compelling viewing, if only to question these ethics, the sanity of the parents and whether this is how we want our generation to be seen. It is made to be compulsively watchable and not to represent – these are, now, apparently mutually exclusive qualities.
However, on occasion, we get glimpses of a better, more honest show. When a father finds out on camera that his son has got into University, when a Mother and Daughter unite over their differences despite religious disagreement; the socio-cultural seam that Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents so merrily mines is rich enough as it is, and presented faithfully and intelligently, can make for fantastic, emotive, relatable viewing. It could be called Sun, Soul-Searching and Re-negotiating Long-Term Parental Relationship Structures. Or not, whatever.