On Thursday night, the British broadcaster, Channel 4, screen a documentary entitled ‘Dogging Tales’. The show was a viewing hit. According to The Independent, it pulled in 1.9 million viewers, a 70 per cent rise on the channel’s normal viewing figures for the 10-11pm time slot. The show had a peak audience of 2.1 million and was the most popular slot among 16-34 year olds, according to the channel.
The film also attracted considerable Twitter reaction, with most of the responses focussing upon the extraordinarily creepy and bewildering choice of animal masks.
The documentary formed part of the Channel 4 ‘True Stories’ strand, and sought to explore the sexual phenomenon of ‘dogging’, a form of public sex behaviour which I’ve researched and written on. Directed by the award-winning film-maker Leo Maguire, I was expecting the film to fall short of everything I would hope for (anything short of a ten part detailed series on an academic’s research area is inevitably inadequate) but I was hopeful that it would be well-made, and provide some interesting insights which might de-mystify some of the myths surrounding this sexual phenomenon which occupies a grey space legally, culturally and socially.
The programme failed to really reveal anything new or offer any real understanding of dogging as a phenomenon. The legal position was barely touched upon. Instead – and through a handful of ‘talking heads’ the programme seemed to set-out to ridicule the interviewees and mock the sexual phenomenon. Some very serious issues – for instance, how consent operates, the freedom of the women involved for example (issues of potential domestic abuse) were avoided. None of the players were seen as confident and happy – all were presented as ‘desperate’ in some way. Either, lacking in social skills, lacking physical attraction or their employment (in the case of the truck driver) found it difficult to find alternative ways of obtaining a sexual encounter.
We see one complainant but there are a host of stories which could have been mapped through by the documentary team – looking at newspaper reports, and then exploring the space from the perspective of a number of players. For example, nearby resident/complainants, business operators (for example, if a layby, a cafe), the doggers themselves – the wife, the husband, additional players, the voyeur – the Police, the lawyers, and -self interest I know – but some academic ‘expert’ voices too.
If you missed the show, you can still catch it on 4OD. Check it out here.