Daytime TV: Stuff of legend

Gary Day remains unenlightened about the Turin Shroud, and finds Cupid's arrow wide of the mark

January 7, 2010

It's 1988. A piece of cloth snipped from the Turin Shroud has been successfully carbon dated. Four laboratories have independently found that it was woven between AD1260 and AD1390. So, that's it then. The shroud is not Jesus' burial cloth. It does not have his image imprinted on it. Those scorches are not the flash marks of the resurrection. The shroud is a fraud.

Wait a minute, though - what's this? Two people with minimal scientific background, Joseph Marino and Sue Benford, have forced the scientists to think again. Joe, a former Benedictine monk, and Sue, a world-champion power lifter, discover that the sample contains traces of cotton where the cloth had been repaired. This means that it is of a different material to the rest of the shroud. Which in turn means that it really could be the burial cloth of Christ. And with that implication left hanging, the credits rolled.

But what did we actually learn? That the white coats have been upstaged by amateurs? If so, the reputation of scientists is as dubious as the relic itself. All that money and they can't even analyse a bit of fabric properly. Or rather, they can. It's just that they didn't think to ask why it came from the 14th century and not earlier.

Frederick Zugibe, former chief medical examiner of Rockland County, New York, is convinced that the "Man of the Shroud" was crucified. He should know. He has spent his life studying the effects of that particular form of execution.

We had a shot of someone hanging from a cross in his garage while the good doctor took notes on his physical condition. He seemed just a little too eager to describe the cramp, the knotting of the muscles and the slow asphyxiation. What, you wondered, would he have done had he not gone into medicine?

He was one of the few - and I hesitate to use the term - scientists interviewed who was not or had not been a member of the Shroud of Turin Research Project. This body was founded by the Catholic Church, but if that piece of information was in the programme, I missed it. And if it was, then there ought to have been some discussion of how it might have influenced matters. There were, for example, severe disagreements between members of the research project and some of the laboratories performing the tests.

Knowing about the involvement of the Church would also have provided a useful context for the former head of the project, Raymond Rogers' endorsement of Joe and Sue's research, which they claimed proved the existence of God.

The Turin Shroud: The New Evidence (Channel 4, Wednesday 30 December, 8pm) was less an investigation than an imposition on the understanding. There was no consideration of how the image had been produced and no real critique of the claim that it's the face of Jesus. Obviously it's not. Anyone who examines the shroud properly can see that it's King Arthur, lying on his tomb with lances on either side.

Take Me Out (ITV, Saturday 2 January, 7.15pm) is the name of a new dating show. After the first ten minutes I began to wish someone would take me out. And shoot me. I was plunged even further into gloom by there being no shortage of volunteers for the task.

Thirty women run on to the stage waving, pouting, blowing kisses and applauding themselves for being so attractive and having names that all seem to end in "e". They are there to get a boyfriend.

"I've been calling Cupid," said Georgee, "but he hasn't returned my calls." Host Paddy McGuinness promised to see what he could do. One man at a time is lowered on to the stage. If the girls like him, they leave their light on. If not, off it goes.

But that was too complicated for Aimee, who pressed the wrong button when Rob took off his shirt. The girls stay on the show until they have chosen a man. If all the choices are like Greg, they could be there until their silicone drains away.

Greg seemed to think he had achieved something just by coming from Peterborough. But in case that wasn't enough to impress the girls, he adorned himself with a pair of lurid shirt sleeves and essayed a salsa. He looked like a wounded butterfly. The studio was plunged into darkness. Jim had more success. He was a wrestler and amused the girls by turning Paddy upside down and smelling his bottom.

New Year, new depths. But it's only a bit of fun isn't it? No, it isn't. Take Me Out is ritualised humiliation. So let's hear it for the humanities. We may not be able to establish the authenticity of the Turin Shroud, but we know crap when we see it.

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