Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Men Behind the Mask; GARETH LIGHTFOOT outside the Box

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Men Behind the Mask; GARETH LIGHTFOOT outside the Box

Article excerpt

FREAKSHOW TV - we all like it really. We claim we're so elevated, peering haughtily over our broadsheet newspapers, tutting disapprovingly and wringing our pious hands in superior moral concern.

Then when The X Factor stomps its spangled jackboots all over the nation in the autumn, it's no-holds-barred pointing and guffawing at the tone-deaf stooges with zero selfawareness.

And when Channel 4 (of course) screened the documentary Dogging Tales last year, millions tuned in to gawp and tweet at the people in the animal masks with their quirky outdoor sexual pursuits.

True, some of this telly makes you feel genuinely uncomfortable, sensing exploitation of the vulnerable, but some makes for mostly guilt-free viewing.

You can't really blame TV for spotting entertainment value in fantastically odd subjects.

Secrets Of The Living Dolls seems to bear all the hallmarks of freakshow TV in its peek at an emerging subculture.

It follows "female maskers, a hidden community of ordinary family men who lead extraordinary double lives". They dress up as dolls in elaborate plastic body suits and masks.

At the first slo-mo reveal of a "doll", I have to admit - strike me down with lightning, send me to Hell and call me a horrible, horrible man - I laughed.

I'm sorry, I'm really sorry. It just looked funny. I'm so sorry.

Then you got to know the men behind the masks, and the childish giggles - and slight chill at seeing plastic people walking about like animated mannequins - quickly subsided.

Far from being a freakshow, the programme set out simply to show some quite sweet, gentle people with an unusual hobby.

And, in the main, it succeeded.

The maskers' motivations seemed mixed, but the pastime appeared purely aesthetic and entirely harmless - as strange as it all seemed at first glance to a conventional, drab dullard like me. …

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