A warning of the wild power of internet fame


Viral videos are now a business, and most internet users are more streetwise about the dangers of online fame. This documentary, sensitively and clearly put together by Flynn, was an important, snatched moment of internet history, recorded before the world moves on again.

File on 4: Undue Influence (Radio 4, Tuesday) was another piece of sensitive reporting of a topic that traditional media has been slow to understand. Joice Etutu investigated the phenomenon of social media influencers being secretly paid by cosmetic surgery clinics to promote high-risk procedures.

These, including the “Brazilian butt lift”, take place in Turkey and are largely aimed at black women, who reported experiencing horrific outcomes, from disfigurement to sexual assault by medical staff. Etutu’s tone was delicately balanced: she never judged her subjects’ motives in seeking to enhance their bodies, and allowed them plenty of space to tell their stories, which were at times very upsetting.

Etutu’s instinct for this story, and its wider implications for social media and the cosmetic surgery industry, was spot-on. A relatively recent graduate of the BBC’s trainee programme, Etutu is a rising star.

Her report was complex and multi-pronged, and it felt alarmingly as if nobody in authority cared about these women or their bodies. One of the patients said to her surgeon that she could have died. His response was a heartless shrug: “Are you dead?”

Meanwhile, more people with Instagram followers hanging on their every word promote risky surgeries without disclosing they’re being paid.

The internet is a dark marketplace for modifying the human body, but, as Alice Roberts is arguing this week in Bodies (Radio 4, Monday to Friday), the history of anatomy has always been shot through with our desire to locate and comprehend the soul. 

Roberts, who is Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, has a gift for lively presentation of her material. She devoted the first episode to an overview, which was a bit frustrating;  I wanted her to dive straight in with the scalpel.

But, patience: she’s going to be introducing the embalmers of Ancient Egypt, the physical ideals of Ancient Greece, and the grisly relics of medieval Europe and beyond, on to the later practice of dissection as theatre. 

Lockdown means we’re all spending a lot more time with only our bodies for company; how will this change  our perspective on the world? It’s fascinating to begin finding out.





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