Channel 4 is sure to assure you that Beauty & The Beast is not a “freak show” or “voyueristic”, but instead, branding it as a “series investigating the extremes of discrimination.” It may not be explotative as was feared, but does it investigate intolerance as promised?
We’re first introduced to 21 year old drama student Gary. Whippet thin legs and eyebrows crafted with neatly formed angles, Gary is the epitomy of modern age androgynous dandyism. He’s spent £31,000 on maintaining or enhancing his beauty in five years, the narrator is keen to tell us. We meet Gary as he’s preparing to splash out on a nose job and have “work done” on his cheek bones – he’d like to look more like Kim Kardashian. By this point we’ve formed an impression of his character – shallow, vacuous, and of course, boring… Shit! We’ve judged him by his looks! Touché Channel 4. Touché…
Enter Reggie. Born with the genetic disorder Neurofibromatosis (NF), he’s blighted by tumours on his face and leg. An outcast, Reggie spent 30 years inside his house, fearing people’s reactions to him. Photos of Reggie as a young boy at school show him standing alone. It’s immensely sad, loneliness being an aspect of diseases and disorders rarely touched upon by television.
Travelling from Texas to London, Reggie meets Gary, and is told about his upcoming plastic surgery. Here we get some insight into Gary’s life – hints of abandonment issues and suggestions that he compensates for low self esteem with make up and pruning. “Fix your heart” offers Reggie, imparting the common-sense wisdom that physical appearance won’t make you happier.
Gary then returns the favour and goes to Texas, where he stays with Reggie’s family. Reggie’s arranged for Gary to sit in on a nose job operation, where he sees the process first hand, and unsurprisingly, finds it somewhat perturbing. Later he meets with a woman who had a botch nose jobs, and who warns him of the dangers. As the narrator and Reggie freely admit, it’s scare tactics, but it seems to have had an effect.
As it transpires (spoiler alert!) Gary decides not to get the plastic surgery. That’s all well and good, but that’s also the conclusion of the programme. There was no investigation of any kind into prejudice – it’s referenced when he hear of Reggie’s childhood, but it’s path that’s never followed. All we learn was that there are plenty of people that want plastic surgery, but don’t need it – something which is obvious to all except possibly sociopaths and readers of lad mags.
The underlying theme throughout the programme is that perhaps Gary’s motivation for being beautiful is his unhappiness, and that surgery and makeup won’t stop this. Unfortunatly for us miserable bastards, nothing is offered in the way of pro active solutions to unhappiness, other than “be happy with the way you are” – which is an end, not a means. Beauty & The Beast may present itself as a show that explores attitudes to aesthetics and disfigurement, but underneath, it’s only shallow.