Op-Ed: The Show That Strips You Off

Last night was the second episode of revived documentary series Strip Tease. Like the week before, the show received a large social media response and has been fuelling a social and political conversation, confirming that this show is unlike any other on the air right now.

The first scene says it all. Charlotte, 16, hangs up the phone and lights up a cigarette. She just told her boyfriend that she is pregnant after being in a relationship for 1-month. There is a sharp contrast between the first two 20-minute pieces: one followed a lady convinced that aspartame is going to kill us all; the other a rich perfumer who discovers that he is an heir of Dom Juan. To close the show, we follow Charlotte in her hesitation to announce her father the happy news.

Last week, Strip Tease, created in 1985, premiered after a two-year hiatus. The show’s title has always been well-known in France with the slogan “the show that strips you off,” with a clever play on words that conveys not only an obvious image of strippers, but also of stripping off the “clothes” of society to expose what is really going on. The show premiered with an hour-long piece on a young farmer who is mildly mentally and physically handicapped. We observed him trying and failing to find love, as a matchmaker presented a young Romanian woman to him. The segment, without any concession, shocked most of its viewers, unaccustomed to such a format, and content.

Is it voyeurism or extraordinary documentary? I, as a viewer, am unable to answer such a question. Like the majority of criticized mainstream documentaries, the show deals with the life of the people that society ignores. Either the subjects are too well-off to be a part of the viewers’ daily lives, or instead most of them personify a particular group within society largely marginalized, in the case of Charlotte, the future teenage mom without any means of supporting herself. But this show approaches this differently. It does not comment or explain anything. Neither is there any soundtrack.

Rather than the traditional documentary format where the voice-over is driving/orienting our thoughts, Jean Libon and Marco Lamensch, the creators of the show have taken another approach centred around true awareness rather than an agenda. It is just the camera. It is just people’s lives. No explanation is given. We are alone, in front of our TV, confronted to a reality we are not accustomed to seeing. Then the question is: why is this confrontation shocking us? Some of the characters are living in social misery – though she has not any revenue, Charlotte decides to keep her child, because she does not want to endure a second abortion – while other people have grand life goals – save the world from aspartame – but none of the characters lack humanity.

Then viewers then react to what they have seen. I mocked the obsession of the woman who borderline verbally assaulted anyone eating gum saying, “It will kill your brain cells.” I felt dismay after following the rich perfumer and his frustratingly ambiguous relationship with his charming assistant. He explicitly told her that he chose her for her looks rather than her capabilities. I felt angry during the last piece about Charlotte: angry at society for our unfairly different levels of social integration, angry at the directors for showing this story, and angry at myself for being condescending and thinking I was better than her.

Last night, like most of last week’s viewers, I was disturbed by a program that shows – or exposes – the life of others, the life of people I am not, the life of people with whom I am very rarely if ever in contact.

Strip Tease is a show about difference, and whether it generates comprehension or indignation, it makes us think about our relation to others. This is why this show is political: because it questions our capacity to live together in the polis.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: