Some offers are easy to decline, and I’m guessing that for most of us these would include having sex in a small soundproofed box in a TV studio in the presence of a live audience and then emerging for post-coital analysis with a panel of “sexperts”.
This is the conceit of a new Channel 4 show, Sex Box, and it appears to have found the necessary volunteers. Naturally the possibility of real sex really happening between real people on a real TV show has got the media moralists duly steamed up and the publicity should secure a good first audience, until viewers realise it has all the titillation of a bunch of middle-aged people sitting on a sofa talking about sex.
The only new facet is that the couple will actually have had sex immediately before the discussion and though it will have been off camera (because it is in a box) they may emerge flushed, giggling and looking a bit bed-ruffled. Naturally the whole thing is terribly serious, highbrow and not at all voyeuristic and is about “demystifying” sex – and thank God for that, because it’s the one thing you just can’t find out about on the internet.
Of course, the box format is not original, having been tried out in the early days of television by the legendary Austrian impresario Erwin Schrödinger. On his show Cat in a Box, Schrödinger’s cat is invited to sit in a crate, in front of a studio audience, where it may or may not be exposed to a lethal chemical. Since we do not know its fate, for those watching from outside the cat exists in the state of being simultaneously alive and dead. The same is true on Sex Box. We cannot know for sure whether the couple are actually having sex in the box; they might have smuggled in a torch and be playing whist. But during their time in the box they are existing in a state of both copulation and non-copulation, thereby rendering the programme less a prurient sex show and more an investigation into the principles of quantum mechanics.
But the parallels do not end with the box. Though it is not widely known, Schrödinger also ended his experiment with the cat emerging to discuss its experience with a selected panel of specialists. The show’s creators said it was intended to demystify the process of receiving or not receiving lethal doses of chemicals while sitting in a crate. The cat would explain the experience of being simultaneously dead and alive, in accordance with the laws of physics. “Well, Mariella, to be honest, I never really felt all that dead. In fact I felt very alive. Pass the Whiskas, will you.”
Asked what they actually did while in the box, the cats mostly said they had stretched out, licked their paws and coughed up some fur balls. Later, to boost falling ratings, a cat of each gender was put in the box and interviewed afterwards. However, once released from the box, they giggled a bit, got all coy and said that actually they had mostly played whist.
Sadly, Cat in a Box was not a success. Audiences struggled with the cruelty of simultaneously killing and not killing the cat. It was denounced by the Mail as “this sick series” and Schrödinger never worked in television again.
The format was shelved and not revived until Dr Who, which saw an elderly actor invited to get into a blue box with a much more glamorous young woman on the pretext that he was going to show her the seven moons of Gallifrey. As now, we never see what happened inside the box, but the companion would talk afterwards about being “taken to another world”. Unfortunately, their postbox discussions fared badly with a test audience, so it was decided it would be better to have them kill Daleks instead.
But now, at last, the new Channel 4 series could finally mark the big breakthrough for boxes, which have been sadly under-represented on mainstream TV. Decades after John Logie Baird, we still await the first detective or newsreader in a box. The problem remains that if the news is read from a box we will not know whether it has actually occurred. Then again, isn’t that true of Sky?