The main thing about the 132-pound scrotum is that you can’t look away. Even behind its demure blur, added by The Man With The 132-Lb. Scrotum’s producers, it’s a scene-stealer. The mass is the size and shape of a trash bag full of rotten tomatoes, a swollen lump that has engulfed Wesley Warren, Jr.’s penis, testicles, and livelihood. Toward the end of TLC’s one-hour special (which was originally produced for Britain’s Channel 4) the scrotum is finally removed, and because it is no longer attached to a human being whose privacy is being respected, it becomes a specimen of biological tissue, un-blurred, rendered in pure high-definition.
It is awful.
It’s also impossible to tear your eyes away. Count on TLC to bring a baldfaced freak show to the screen, making the mortification of the body the subject of your attention for a whole 60 minutes.
This is not a brand of television that we “do” anymore, in a theoretical sense. This type of circus finger-pointing is one usually left to tabloids or dark corners of 4chan. So much so that there is not much left to say about the one-hour special, beyond the facts: Once upon a time in a country with terrible healthcare coverage and little other institutional supports for its most desperate, a man developed a rare and disgusting condition and spent four years trying to prevent it from killing him. In his direst straits he alighted upon a strategy that would bring him funding for a potentially life-threatening surgery that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars—media exposure.
It’s a sick, sad world. Fortunately, Warren doesn’t seem too down about it. He’s not a happy man, but he’s remarkably upbeat, both before and after his eventual surgery. What primarily distinguishes Scrotum, aside from the subject matter, is that Warren is darkly humorous about his own condition, able to expose its indignities and to also laugh at it, at least a little. He dresses it in a hoodie, because that’s the easiest way to cover his legs and get around the city. He wheels around the lump in a little cart, heavily limping behind it. There is no discernible cause to Warren’s condition, which is nothing more than an abnormally large and constantly growing scrotum, one that began to grow one night after Warren accidentally injured one of his testicles. It’s extremely rare and eventually fatal. Warren’s main goal is to get the scrotum removed without compromising his genitalia or dying the process of a long and painful surgery.
The most upsetting part of the hour-long “documentary” is not the scrotum itself but that Warren has been so clearly reduced to desperation. The special tracks Warren’s quest to find a way to address the enlargement, but because of his state-sponsored disability pension, he can only afford medical help in his home state of Nevada. No one there knows what to do with him. He’s forced to either ignore the rapidly growing scrotum—which is growing at a rate of three pounds a week—or to raise the funds to try to pay for medical help out-of-pocket. If the British film crew came to America to film the barbarity of our people, it surely would find more fodder in the bureaucratic cruelties of the healthcare system than in one man’s enlarged scrotum. There is a point about midway through the show where Warren is convinced that he is going to be homeless, penniless, and deformed for the rest of his life, and the possibility makes him so distraught that he calls his U.S. senator (unclear which one) and tries to get them to help him—or at least just listen. It’s so obviously unhinged, so clearly bordering on crazy. Warren seems wild with desperation, half-sobbing into the phone. It’s disturbing that although the film crew has shown compassion for Warren’s condition, it also revels in exposing the ugliness of despair.
The last time I wrote about TLC, I ended up writing about dignity—and dignity, I think, is what is in question in The Man With The 132-Lb. Scrotum, too. This is a man robbed of everything left to him, playing his final (and ultimately trump) card—a total exposing of self, both literally and figuratively. It does work. He finally gets the attention of a clinical professor of urology in California, who not only is willing to tackle the huge problem but also offers his services pro bono. The price appears to be anything resembling dignity in the future, now that he is an object of ridicule, the punchline to a joke, a laughable figure. But considering the payoff, which is the semblance of a normal life, perhaps such a trade-off is worth it.
The show itself is too long—the material is only enough for about 20 minutes, though the title, clearly, is enough to sell a whole hour’s worth of commercials. The tone does not veer as wildly between derision and compassion as TLC’s fare usually does. That makes it a slight cut above the rest. As for the story? I’m not quite sure. It’s like peering through curtains at the freak show at the circus. It starts out funny but leaves you with a broken heart.
- Fellow A.V. Clubber David Sims and I both were ‘shipping Monique and Wesley by the end. (We were foiled, but wow, that woman is a really good friend.)
- You know that part in Arrested Development where the government thinks they have cell phone pictures of a desert but it’s actually, as Barry Zuckercorn points out, “balls”? I thought about that a lot.