Sex Box is just fucking awful (or just awful fucking…)

Sometimes, you have to wonder what goes through the thick skulls of commissioning editors and TV executives. Times like when Alcatraz was cancelled but Once Upon A Time mangled itself into a second season (although I’m assured by those in the know that the latter improves significantly). Or when The History Channel decided that Giorgio Tsoukalos was a credible expert and when Horizon decided to ask some very interesting questions about science, and then answer them by asking the very same question again but just slightly re-worded. The back-room machinations of television frequently addle me with frustration.  And so it occurred once again when I accidentally caught some of Channel 4’s Sex Box while waiting impatiently one day for some porn to download.*

What is wrong with the show? Besides everything, of course. Well, it’s taken me a while to get to it (yeah, I’m a couple of weeks late from Channel 4’s “Real Sex” season, but I’d rather be right than timely), but I think I’ve figured out why it’s so objectionable and quite literally the worst thing ever (okay, not literally). Not because I think frank and open discussions of sex on television is a bad thing, leave that to the Daily Mail comments board, but just because I don’t particularly think this constitutes frank and open discussion of sex on television.

Let’s start with the format. The idea is that a couple will have sex in the studio, albeit not televised and completely locked away in a soundproof room, and then talk about it afterwards (although, let’s be honest here, if you can talk afterwards, you’re blatantly doing it wrong). Studio-based shows are infamously cheap filler. The presenters may change their shirt every episode, but that doesn’t mean the episodes weren’t pumped (do feel free to drink for every vaguely dirty word) out in quick succession in a day. This nice, controlled, contrived and predictable environment is just one of the reasons that so many TV shows are studio-based. In minimises all the fuss and uncertainty. But you can’t imagine for a moment that the Sex Box concept wouldn’t be significantly improved if instead of being in a clean, sterile, windowless room that might only be of interest to medical fetishists, the participating couples did the old in-out-in-out in the comfort of their own home, with their own toys, in their own bedsheets (or sofas, or kitchens, or their flatmate’s bed, you know…) and then discussed it over a coffee in their own living room. But no, that would be expensive. Location teams, relighting indoor scenes, and pouring over the documentary footage is a pain in the ass, and that costs more money than even a fairly nifty set and a week of studio rental time. And of course, “Couples Have Sex In Their Own Home” doesn’t make for as catching a headline as “Couples Have Sex Live In The Studio”. Even if that headline is mostly lies as it’s pre-recorded and the sex isn’t televised at all. Which leads to the immediate conclusion that this was never about discussing sexual attitudes openly, and everything about grabbing a headline or courting controversy in advance.

But that’s a relatively minor gripe, really. I could apply that to half of television. What about the concept itself?

The idea that couples are more open to talking about sex after having it seems to be plausible theory. But like all good theories, it needs to stand up to observation, and it’s clear that it doesn’t after all of about, I dunno, about 18 seconds of watching an interview. The post-coital chats are about as awkward as any pre-coital chats, or any chats so far removed from coitus that giving the chat a temporal location based around coitus seems somewhat inanely redundant. The responses to questions like “what did you do?” seem to largely revolve around “well, we, erm… err… we did some foreplay… then, erm, kinda did it…” But, you know, that’s vanilla sex for you. It’s about as eventful and enlightening as teaching atheism on the National Curriculum. The retarded questions are delivered by stealth, such as asking a lesbian couple “what are the most irritating/clichéd questions you’re asked?” as a way to get around asking those irritating, clichéd questions in the first place. And far from being frank and open the discussion is so general that, really, once the time is up you realise what you’ve really done is spent 10% of the time listening to a couple “um” and “ah” and 90% of the time listening to Dan Savage** being so bloody post-modern that he may as well classify “blinking at someone in a funny way” as full-on sex.

Clearly, that particular theory doesn’t hold out – although the theory that the format was devised purely for the headlines it would create seems increasingly plausible. You see, the way to get a frank and open discussion about sex is just to talk to people who are comfortable having those discussions. There’s no trick to make “real” people want this, you just have to find the “real” people who do in the first place. You can find them, and clearly a few contestants (no, wait, that’s for the next section) participants are like that. But certainly one of the most reliable methods for generating frank and open discussions about sex is to find some sex-positive feminists and feed them white wine (not red, and not after midnight***).

Then there’s the “expert” angle. Sex experts, or “sexperts” in the trendy lingo, confuse me massively. I fail to see how someone becomes an expert in the topic, particularly when few are ever worth their salt. Take Cosmopolitan’s One True Way of having sex that they promote while pushing their 50 Moderately Warm Tips For Medicore Sex That Will Utterly Fail To Blow Your Mind – it doesn’t matter how much these “experts” claim that Position X “gives the woman control over the depth of penetration” when it’s blatantly obvious from the pastel coloured silhouette demonstrating it that she’ll be more “sweet Jesus my calf muscles are about to go…”

But more specifically, the presence of “experts” raises sex up on a pedestal and turns it into a competition that you must be good at – and more specifically, you must be good at in the way we tell you. Experts are like priestly gatekeepers to knowledge, and in an almost priestly way they guard that knowledge and release it in return for you prostrating yourself to them. It turns sex almost into a religion in some respects. And so, participants contestants (yep, this is the right section) emerge from the Dreaded Sex Box to lay down in Judgement from The Panel. Separated by a sharp division, the Experts, the Judges sit there like rejects from Dragons Den while the contestants submit to Judgement. Okay, so that makes it sound overly dramatic and ever so slightly kinky, but purely from the point of view of the visual cues, this gulf of separation between Interviewer and Interviewee makes the relationship immediately more like Judges and the Judged. Surely, this poor setup intimidates people away from frank discussions, undoing any effect having the chat post-sex could have, and surely the overarching concept would instead be better served by a round-table discussion over a cup of tea. Or coffee. Or wine. Or a burger. Or whatever takes your fancy, really. Just not this forced and artificial crap.

*Of course this isn’t true. It’s a facetious lie used for comic effect. I actually stream my pornography.

**In fairness, Savage’s tip that straight couples could learn from gay couples by asking “what are you into?” is reasonable advice. Although one person’s profound wisdom is another’s blatantly obvious.

***They form slimy cocoons and emerge a day later as second-wavers.

An Uplifting Story! PLZ SHARE!! LOL!

A young, 22 year old preacher was praying one day when he had a revelation from God. He was to become a missionary and take the word of God to the farthest flung reaches of the world. After some more thought, he decided on Africa, and picked a small group of villages in one of the poorest areas. So he raised the money to travel from his generous friends and packed his new Bibles, small and leather-bound, also bought by the generosity of his friends and flock.

In the first village, he found two children starving. Their parents were dead and they were just being raised on the street, collecting scraps of waste people had thrown out. The preacher didn’t know what to do, he reached into his bag to find one of the small, leather-bound Bibles he had brought with him. But, just as he was about to hand it to the small boy, he put it back, and reached into his other pocket and handed the child his last sandwich that he had packed for the flight.

In the second village, he found a family all infected with AIDS. Even the children of the family, five of them, were cursed with the disease as it was passed onto them by their parents. The father was clearly close to death, and so he reached into his bag for one of the small leather-bound Bibles. At the last moment, though, he couldn’t hand the man a Bible, so instead reached into his other pocket and gave him the last of his money. He helped the children fetch some clean water, and helped repair the window of their house.

In the third village, the man was almost destitute. Suddenly, a Toyota Hillux full of child soldiers roared into town. As the children jumped down with the AK-47s and extended 40-round magazines, he fled, and hid behind a small stack of bins. He heard the rapid shots of the fully-automatic gunfire, and eventually saw a few men dragged into the street and shot in the head. Finally, he saw some grown men walk into a far house and listened to the screams as they raped the women inside. No longer able to bare it, he reached into his bag to find that one leather-bound Bible that he wanted to give to others, but had really saved for himself…

Upon flicking through the Bible, he found that it contained no real help on close-quarters combat tactics or evasion techniques when facing off against heavily armed guerilla fighters in their own territory, nor did it really offer any help in terms of translating “please don’t shoot” into the local language. Also, upon realising the extent of the suffering around him, he concluded that no loving God could ever allow this sort of nonsense to happen and became an atheist, and would pray to Richard Dawkins daily. Also, his shivering may have been due to an easily preventable illness that he got in the country that could have been avoided if he took the recommended vaccine rather than thinking it would make him autistic. Also, that the leather on the Bible covers was an act of animal cruelty and so vowed to become a vegan, except for fish. Also, in a final act of common sense, he ran off, located the nearest American embassy and got his nearly bullet-ridden ass out of the country and back home, where he embarked on a large money-raising exercise for multiple charities, including Water Aid and Doctors Without Borders, as he realised that the thousands of dollars he spent on travel arrangements and buying books that didn’t really help the situation would be best off in the hands of experts with existing infrastructure and contacts to make a difference by employing local labour and buying local goods to simultaneously provide aid and improve the economy of the region. Also, that in hindsight having the Bibles in English in a place where literacy levels were low because of the lack of access to good education was a kinda stupid idea. Also, that preacher’s name was Albert Einstein.

Most of you won’t share this because you’d be bored to death by the end of the first paragraph, but share it if verbose, preachy, supposedly enlightening, anecdotal fiction annoys the fuck out of you, too.

UKIP is racially motivated – and here’s the maths to prove it

TL;DR, using Bayes’ theorem and UK demographic data, the odds that the United Kingdom Independence Party doesn’t have a racist agenda are 1 in 1.35 billion. Yes, I have that much of a life.

I know this is getting a bit old now, but it was brought up on the Mock The Week clip-show and I thought “what the hell, I haven’t totally over-laboured and nerded-out over a point in a while”.

Take a look at the United Kingdom Independence Party’s (UKIP) cover for its annual conference:

My eyes! The goggles do nothing!!

So, apart from the vomit-inducing design and colour scheme, much has been said about the complete lack of non-white faces on it (not least because of the implications of the headline). At least ones that weren’t photoshopped in by the Huffington Post.

But, but, but… says UKIP, that’s racist. Why should we care about what the colour of their skin is? They’re just people. Indeed, here’s Godfrey Bloom saying as much in such an eloquent manner:

Aw, bless, he thinks he’s being intelligent… anyway.

I’ve recently edited this because I noticed the original video was taken down. This current one also has Bloom’s “slut” comments at the beginning and him attempting to defend himself over it. I also just love how the woman on the right (I assume a UKIP special advisor?) seems to be fundamentally unaware of how language works. Like, seriously? You really aren’t aware of the common usage of the arbitrary-combination-of-vowels-and-consonants that looks like “slut”? Where have you been for the last… ever?

The average social justice nerd will say that this is important because it’s about visibility. If you hide a particular demographic, actively or by accident, you’re ignoring them, you’re pretending they don’t exist, and you’re actively excluding them from important discussions, political or otherwise. Hence why even small groups shown in stock photos are often implausibly diverse; out of a group of six you’ll expect at least two black guys, an Asian and someone in a wheelchair (though she’ll be white, as you can’t stack the under-privilege deck too much), while one will be gay and the last remaining white male will probably represent peanut allergies or something. This has been expressed better (and also far worse) by various others, it isn’t worth covering much further.

Personally, however, I’m more interested in something a bit harder (said the actress to the bishop…). You can argue the benefits of inclusion with idiots all day, but numbers don’t lie. So let’s take Godfrey Bloom at face value. His point is a common one; that if you talk about race, you’re a racist. Supposedly, racial equality should evolve organically without prodding and therefore the over-representation in small groups described above (“political correctness gone mad” as the Daily Heil might say) should cease to be. In theory, representation should then occur naturally through sufficiently large sample sizes. At least, that’s what I’d hope he thinks, since that’s the only non-racially-motivated interpretation I can think of for Bloom’s bizarre tirade above (it couldn’t possibly be that he has no idea what he’s talking about…).

Do we have a sufficiently large sample size to try this on? A UKIP related one? Hell yes we do! Right there, above, 17 headshots wide and 16 headshots deep, the front cover of UKIP’s conference booklet shows a whopping 272 gurning faces (well, 269 if you count the three chopped off at the corner, 265 if you count the big gold sticker covering a few).

Next, it takes all of two seconds to look up the demographic information for the United Kingdom. The punchline being that the country is 85% White British, or about 90% White Any, with 10% being composed of myriad ethnic minorities.

I’ve often wondered what would happen, if anything, if we actually split “white” into further categories since it makes sense to sub-divide your largest categories to make them more useful and considering the cultural diversity exhibited between rural and urban England – and come on, Yorkshire is totally an ethnicity – but I digress.

Back to the punchline, this means around 1 in 10 people in the UK are non-white. This will vary from place to place, of course. If you’re lucky enough to hail from the desolate wastes North of The Wall, this will be 1 in 100, while in London it is about 1 in 2. So your expectations will certainly change, and if you grow up in certain areas you might think absolutely nothing of a grid of 100 faces that are all-white. However, we are talking about the United Kingdom Independence Party here, not some regional separatist movement, and so the overall UK numbers are fit for purpose.

Anyway, taking Godfrey Bloom’s apparent take-home point at face value (“hey, we’re not racists, this is totally just random chance!”), this would give us an expectation value of 27 non-white faces on UKIP’s material (0.1 x 273, rounding off). But that’s an expectation value, if I roll 6D6 (that’s 6, six-sided dice, for the uninitiated) I should expect each number, 1 to 6, to come up once. But it’s not outside the realm of possibility to get three sixes pop up or two ones. If it wasn’t, Yahtzee would just suck. So instead we need to think of a distribution based on the odds of picking that many of a certain type of person. This is not an intuitive calculation, and I confess that before I popped the numbers into Google Calculator I didn’t expect to suddenly be talking orders of magnitude at this point.

So, what are the chances of UKIP making an all-white cover if they weren’t operating on some kind of racial prejudice? I.e., if they were completely motive-free and representing the United Kingdom as a whole. It’s simply a case of multiplying the 0.9 chance of picking a white person at random 272 times for each face. 0.9272, in fact. This works out as a staggering 3.5×10-13. In odds ratios this is 1 in 2.7×1012 – or 1 in 2.7 trillion. (in Northumberland, the equivalent calculation would produce 1 in 16, which is still low but not outside the realm of chance and might have produced a more interesting discussion below, while the London figures produce a “holy crap we’re talking number of particles in the universe” sort of figure – see what I mean about this being emphatically unintuitive?)

That’s the prior odds of this booklet cover happening by chance, and so we can say it’s pretty much beyond mere chance. If the party held a conference every day since the universe began, featuring random faces plucked from the UK’s ethnic make-up, we would expect to have seen this happen, by chance, about twice. So something else must be at work here, most likely UKIP’s internal racial demographic. But that does suggest that they don’t represent a significant chunk of the population, or actively go out of their way to not represent them. And that’s the point. Is it really a racist comment to question why a party allegedly representing the best interests of an entire country have zero representation, and apparently zero interest in such representation, of a tenth of its population?

More nerding-out below

1 in 2.7 trillion, however, is merely a prior probability of such a poster happening at random. Does it say “UKIP are a bunch of racist fucks”? No it doesn’t; it could just be chance, and strictly speaking it only represents a particular frequency of that chance and the rest is inference. We can, however, go one further and figure out what the odds are that UKIP are a bunch of racist fucks given that they produced a conference poster of nearly 300 all-white faces. That’s the question we want answered, and yeah, you know where this is going…


Okay, so this is the cynical explanation.

To cut a long story short, P(A) is “the probability of [A] happening”, while P(A|B) is “the probability of [A] happening given that we know [B] is true”. Importantly, P(A|B) is not the same as P(B|A).

Here we do hit some hot water and have to do some handwaving. After all, the odds above are easy to calculate from demographic data and so P(B) is simply 1 in 2.7 trillion. But what are the prior odds that “UKIP are a bunch of racist fucks”? I’d say “pretty fucking high”, given that Godfrey Bloom was fired for calling women sluts, that their policies are firmly xenophobic, and that calling them “Diet BNP” is an insult to the concept of a diet/lite soft drink. They have questionable policies, and multiple prior convictions in the racism/xenophobia game. But let’s be generous and make it a true prior probability, given no other data, and say this value of P(A) is 1 in 1000 (not that it matters, it won’t be on the order of magnitude of trillions so it’s not going to mess with us too much).

It occurred to me a while after I originally wrote this that you could get an empirically informed value of P(A) by taking the total number of political parties in existence, and taking P(A) as the fraction of those that are considered, unambiguously, to be racially focused and motivated. Then I realised that doing this would probably mean P(A)>0.1, as opposed to P(A)=0.001. It doesn’t matter too much, you can ass-pull the priors as they also represent your personal prior biases – cf. The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, where this is discussed at great length. 

Secondly, what are the prior odds that “UKIP will produce an all-white conference poster given that they’re a bunch of racist fucks”. Probably pretty high, but there is a probability that they might cover themselves or not express it in this way, so it won’t be 1. Somewhere in the region of 0.5 sound good to you? People are welcome to find more robust ways of working that bit out, though I doubt they’ll do much to the result below.

A lack of rigour is a red herring here, though. This sort of calculation is very good at taking you biases into account – and if you iterate with new data, you should converge on the same answer regardless of your prior biases. The practicalities of this are best left to people who treat Bayesian maths as more of a religious lifestyle choice rather than a tool for facetious trolling, though.

To complete the little trick, we need to change P(B) into something more useful, using the law of total probability to change it into (P(B|A)xP(A)) + (P(B|C)xP(C)) – where P(C) is the complementary value of “not a bunch of racist fucks”, which is 999 in 1000 given our other prior probability, P(A), of 1 in 1000. It should be obvious that with no racial prejudices that P(B|C), “the odds of an all-white conference poster coming from a non-racist-fuck party” will tend towards P(B), as it’s the one-in-trillions value of doing it by accident. So P(B|C) = P(B) or there abouts. As I said, this is facetious trolling.

For anyone confused by the above, P(B|A)P(A) + P(B|C)P(C) totals up all the possible sources for our piece of evidence, P(B). It either comes from a “racist fuck, intentionally”, P(B|A), or from a “not-a-racist-fuck, unintentionally”, P(B|C). It’s a necessary step to stop the numerator being larger than the denominator and producing a P(A|B) greater than 1, which is, of course, even more absurd than the notion that Godfrey Bloom has a functioning nervous system capable of operating his mouth. With me? No, never mind… let’s just move on.

The final expression to work out is, therefore, (0.5 x 0.001) / (0.5 x 0.001 + 1-in-2.7-trillion x 0.999). Bung that into Google calculator and you reach the conclusion that the probability that UKIP are a bunch of racist fucks given their conference poster is 0.99999999926. The odds that they’re not racist fucktards then works out to be 1 in 1.35 billion.

Hey, I don’t make the rules, blame the universal wavefunction and the boundary conditions of the universe.