Dark passage

Insemination, 12-hour tanning, and . . . modka
By JAMES PARKER  |  June 5, 2007

SUNSET TAN: A place of junk science, altered bodies, and canceled inhibitions.

As we grind collectively toward the Apocalypse, trailing a galactic exhaust of carbon monoxide, species idiocy, and empty Red Bull cans, let us pause for a moment to salute the last-ditch efforts of Thomas Hildebrand and Robert Hermes, of the Institute of Zoo and Wildlife Research. In the past 50 years, three kinds of tiger, four kinds of gazelle, and 12 kinds of kangaroo have been extinguished from our planet, and these men have had enough. Which is why, on the Discovery special MAN-MADE MAMMALS (which aired last Saturday), we found the heroic Hildebrand in his scrubs with his arm elbow-deep in the rectum of a 29-year-old bull elephant called Jackson . . . in-out, in-out . . . massaging the beast’s prostate gland while Jackson took a meditative dump on the zoologist’s bowed head.

The object of the exercise was to collect Jackson’s sperm so that it could be flown out to a zoo in Salt Lake City, where a female elephant was waiting to be inseminated. Prostate massage is the only way, it would seem: if you get involved with the boomlike five-foot penis of a bull elephant, you’re apt to get knocked over. “There’s a famous colleague,” explained Hermes, with a faint German accent, “that got a black eye from a penis banging.” Later in the show, in a more drastic, Children of Men–type scenario, the team flew to the Czech Republic to try to inseminate the last healthy female Northern White Rhino in captivity. (There are only two in the wild.) “All our hope is on her,” brooded Hildebrand, gazing at the massive, sedated form of Fatu. On hand were the precious tubes of custard-like semen obtained by sticking an electric probe up the behind of a rhino called Soa.

It’s early days yet, but I’d be surprised if some variation on the above process isn’t eventually featured in SUNSET TAN (E!, Sunday at 10.30 pm), which premiered last week. The Los Angeles tanning salon that gives the show its name is a place of junk science, altered bodies, and canceled inhibitions. Misting the breasts of José Canseco’s ex-wife with fake tan spray, staffer Erin discovers that her client’s fiancé is a plastic surgeon. “Oh,” she asks, with a bright dip of the head, “did he do those?” (“It seemed like the appropriate question,” insists Erin later to her aggrieved manager.) Nick is training Molly, and he finds that she’s booked somebody in for a 730-minute sun-bed session. “After 730 minutes under a sun lamp,” prompts Nick, “they’ll be . . . ?” “They’ll be tanned,” says Molly. “They’ll be dead,” says Nick.

The first customer featured on the show was Britney Spears, poor woman. “I love tanning because this is my time to escape from the world,” she told us — a thought-provoking detail — before drawing attention to the flaking paint job on her toenails. The Spears toes are blunt, helpless-looking, endearingly abbreviated. “And how dark do you want to be today?” asked professional tanner Lisa. Dark, please. Really dark.

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Related: The Big Hurt: Clubbing baby seals: not okay, Big pond, little pond, October 26, 2007, More more >
  Topics: Television , Britney Spears, Health and Fitness, Mammals,  More more >
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