UK Politics

Bring back the shops with blacked out windows and beaded curtains

Yesterday in the Guardian Libby Brooks and Zoe Williams were debating Labour MP Claire Curtis-Thomas’s campaign to get newsagents to move lads’ mags to the top shelf. Williams opposed the campaign, on the grounds that “you can see all the porn you could ever want online, and the idea that children will be “protected” from nudey trash by not being able to reach it is absolutely absurd”, while according to Brooks it was a welcome if late act of resistance against “the increasing pornification of the mainstream”.

Today in the Times, Nuts writer Ed West defends his magazine, saying that “Nuts has always employed a strict code of self-censorship…drugs are never alluded to; likewise binge-drinking is absent, largely for fear of alienating powerful advertisers…And even the milder sorts of swear words relating to our reproductive organs or toilet activities are censored (derogatory terms for women have a blanket ban)”. I’m sure they do, but if last weekend’s Guardian article by Janice Turner is anything to go by, you don’t need derogatory terms to be derogatory:

Zoo is pondering the tabloid story that comedian Steve Coogan has impregnated Courtney Love under the headline “You put your cock in that?”, remarking that the singer has “nasty, lumpy breasts” and “had an awful lot of sex” with her dodgy “previous owners”. Zoo is currently searching for Britain’s dumbest girlfriend. Tony Miller from Manchester proposes his lady love, Fi: “I’m going to get her a stale turd for Christmas,” he says, “because it goes with her shit brain.” Zoo had more than 200 entries to its competition to “win a boob job for your girlfriend”, a prize to “transform her into a happier, more generous, intelligent, spiritual, interesting version of the slightly second-rate person she is today”. Pictures of Jordan before and after her own journey from B to DD are featured, along with a selection of breasts to solve the reader’s dilemma: “Which type of tits do you want for YOUR girlfriend?”

Like Libby Brooks, Turner says that magazines like Nuts and Zoo are “just one manifestation – along with cable stations, advertising, internet sites and Big Brother’s sexual shenanigans – of how pornography has invaded mainstream culture”. Johann Hari lamented in the Independent last month that he was “a member of the last generation of Western teenagers who had to struggle and strive to get hold of porn”, and I can’t help thinking that it’s something you should have to struggle and strive to get hold of. There might be an element of “kids today don’t know they’re born” about this – in my day we had to forage and barter and sometimes we’d go months without the stuff – but I do think that too much, too readily available to people too young, and too visible to people who don’t want it – isn’t doing us any favours. Let’s imagine, for argument’s sake, that the Duke University scandal – in which 3 members of a university lacrosse team have been charged with raping a stripper, and one sent his teammates an email that read: “tommrow night, after tonights show, ive decided to have some strippers over to edens 2c. all are welcom.. however there will be no nudity. i plan on killing the bitches as soon as they walk in and proceding to cut the skin off while cumming in my duke issue spandex” – let’s imagine that this had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the increasing number of stripclubs, lapdancing clubs, semi-pornographic magazines, and all the other manifestations of the “increasing pornification of the mainstream”. Let’s pretend that none of that is a factor at all. There are still some of us who – while absolutely happy for adults to use porn – don’t actually want the mainstream increasing pornified.

Nigel Farndale wrote in last weekend’s Sunday Telegraph that:

though I have been invited to lap-dancing clubs by well-meaning male friends, I have never actually been to one. It is partly because they sound such humiliating places: groups of beery, red-faced men getting sexually aroused in front of their mates. Not nice. But it’s also because taking your clothes off for money has to be demeaning and wrong – just plain wrong – even if you do choose to do it…Perhaps the last true feminists are men like me who want to complain when they see those giant billboards around London advertising Spearmint Rhino, but daren’t for fear of being cast as killjoys.

I prefer the term “gentleman”, personally, but I agree about Spearmint Rhino. I say bring back the shops with blacked out windows and beaded curtains, and I think Claire Curtis-Thomas is right. Yes, it’s true that you can find all manner of filth online, and good luck to you, but the point is you still have to find it; it’s not there on Yahoo!, whether you want it or not. If a magazine wants to use sex as its main selling point, then fine, but it belongs on the top shelf.