Peddle your porn if you must, but don’t preach
Phwoar. This is the stuff. Excuse me while I loosen my tie and wipe the computer screen. It’s getting a bit steamed up in here.
As love scenes go, this prose certainly beats the hell out of that bit in the Wide Sargasso Sea. It’s up there with the business in Birdsong where the chap meets the lonely French housewife. In fact I’d say it’s even hotter than the opening of The Godfather, you know, with the bride’s eldest brother and the bridesmaid in the broom cupboard.
It’s – well, I am only about a quarter of the way through a massive 4,022 word dispatch from Sydney, Australia, and – boy oh boy – I don’t know how much detail you can take.
It’s a report about the famous film star who has it away with a Qantas flight attendant in the toilet at 35,000ft, and for all those tragic members of the male sex who have ever wondered how a gorgeous 5ft 9in blonde Australian air stewardess might respond to your overtures, here is the answer.
“He held my hands. Then he started kissing me. The kissing was very passionate and his hands were all over me. I just melted. He was caressing my neck, holding my head and starting to undo the buttons on my dress. The way he was going, he would have made love to me right there.
I was very turned on and so was he. I had butterflies in my stomach. I was touching his face and hair. He had beautiful skin. I was undoing his shirt as well ” – and then I am afraid it becomes frankly unsuitable for a chaste newspaper such as this one.
I can almost hear the marmalade dropping across the nation, and people asking me indignantly what my purpose is in recycling this filth; and the answer is that this bizarre piece of porn is in fact of great political interest and importance, because it is of a kind that appears almost daily in a certain tabloid newspaper.
The paradox, the mystery, is that this paper – let us call it the Beast – is just about the most savage and hysterical and reactionary paper in Britain. In common with some other tabloids, the Beast’s columnists and editorialists seem to believe that Britain has collapsed into a Hogarthian stew of licence.
They slobber and fume about marital breakdown and divorce and single parents and degeneracy of all kinds. They rave about swearing on television, and the casual pornography of the airwaves.
They denounce the daily exposure of our children to sexual material; and yet how do they stuff their news pages? They get their ace reporter to fly half way round the world, laden with hundreds of thousands of pounds, and they buy the story of some poor misguided girl who should have known better, and then they quote her in the manner of a Readers’ Wives column.
You want more? You don’t? Never mind: here goes. “Eventually I couldn’t bear it any longer. I just grabbed his hand and said, ‘Come in here a minute.’ By this time we had half our clothes off and I didn’t care about anything. I led him to the cabin lavatory next to where we had been sitting and locked the door ”
At which point I am afraid it becomes truly dirty, and the point is we would all be in blissful ignorance of this pornography if it had not been for the Beast’s decision to flex its massive cheque book, and we are therefore entitled to ask what on earth the tabloids think they are doing.
How can they cope in this bordello, all those moralising columnists of the Beast? How can they mount their pulpits, whilst simultaneously purveying these scenes of fornication?
There they are, these moral mullahs, lining up like the bearded women in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, to shriek and throw stones at the very practices so lovingly detailed in their own pages.
How can they do it? For the benefit of those people who have never read the tabloid press, and for all those sensitive foreigners who are appalled at the British media, let me explain.
The first thing to grasp is that these tabloids sell sex. That is the name of the game. Every day for the past fortnight, the Beast has been trying to boost sales with some red-hot DVD called Sins or Jackie Collins’s Guide to Adultery, or whatever; and every week these tabloid papers pry, bribe, lie and bug in order to reveal that human beings are sometimes engaged in carnal activity.
They then publish these titillating details, which are devoured across the land with a mixture of gratitude and self-disgust, and which are indispensable to maintaining circulation.
But you cannot just give the public a tide of sex. People don’t want to feel dirty, or that their baser instincts are being manipulated. It is therefore vital, if you are a tabloid editor, simultaneously to purport to disapprove of the filth you purvey.
That is why you also hire lots of columnists to engage in bishop-like finger-wagging, to legitimate the sexual revelations; and of course the more disapproval there is, the more titillating it all is.
That is the beautiful symmetry; that is the magnificent hypocrisy of the product. The moralising intensifies the pleasure of reading the revelations, just as Gladstone intensified his pleasure in encountering prostitutes by flailing himself later on. The exercise is therefore essentially literary, and to that extent it is not to be taken seriously.
Reactionary tabloid attitudes may often be justified. But they fulfil the same literary function as the articles about economics in Playboy – ballast intended to boost the excitement of the main attraction.
I make these points, because I sometimes worry that politicians care too much about these tabloid fulminations, when the editors don’t really mean to be serious, and don’t really have a moral position. If they did, we would all be obliged to investigate the private lives of tabloid editors, to see whether they could really pass judgment on the rest of us.
Did any tabloid editor ever have the slightest whiff of cannabis at university? Hmm? Come on, ‘fess up. On the other hand, maybe we just don’t want to know. Carry on peddling the porn, folks, but don’t expect us to listen to the hellfire sermon.