The sexual freedoms gained in the Sixties have nothing in common with today’s dismaying bombardment of explicit images at children.
“Three million people saw your bottom!” So ran the shocked letter I received in the late 1960s after I had presented Late Night Line-Up wearing a daringly short skirt. Back then, minis were still news: Jean Shrimpton had recently caused an international storm by wearing one at the Melbourne races in Australia. Certainly, no women wore them to present BBC chat shows – no women presented chat shows in those days.
Looking at the pictures today, a miniskirt seems harmless. But some people took offence: they felt mine was too raunchy. They were alarmed, convinced that such clothing somehow put the morals of the nation at risk. It might enflame people’s lusts and prompt them to acts of sexual behaviour that, by the standards of the day, were to be deplored: sex before marriage, for example.
Sex makes one generation fearful for the next. It has always been so. And in each generation, there are always those who consider the more risqué edges of the entertainment industry to be going too far. In 1890s Paris, onlookers took against the frills and suspenders of can-can dancers. By the 1950s, its Crazy Horse cabaret was making witty mockery of such shows, while itself leaving little to the audience’s imagination. At the same time in Britain, nudes posing in tableaux at the Windmill Theatre were still not permitted to move.
Now I find myself caught up in concerns about the sexualisation of children today. This week, I was quoted as condemning outright Lady Gaga and other performers for seeming obsessed with appearing at their raunchiest in their pop videos and on prime-time television shows. So have I changed sides? Or has the world changed?
It could be that I have grown old. I am now in my late 70s; I no longer belong to the generation that rejoiced in outraging its elders and struggled against the strictures of Mary Whitehouse (I thought she was wrong then, and I still do).
But in my time, I have loved the gyrations of Pan’s People, the Top of the Pops dancers whose routines were flirty rather than raunchy. Late Night Line-Up regularly championed what then seemed like avant-garde works showing life in the raw (in all senses) – films such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and plays such as Nell Dunn’s Up the Junction. Has there been a significant change since then or am I an ageing spoilsport?
In 2001, I made a four-part series for BBC Two called Taboo, which looked back at how censorship had changed over my lifetime. During filming, I broke several taboos of my own: using words that would normally be bleeped out; watching a porn film in production; and being filmed casting an appraising eye over a young male with a sturdy erection. I also had the ”fun’’ of pornography explained to me by young men, including Toby Young, today a pillar of Michael Gove’s educational establishment. None of this, I argued, was harming my moral values. Sex I considered a life-enhancing activity, promoting pleasure, well-being and, if you were lucky, a lasting, loving relationship. But, most particularly, it was watched by adults who were able to judge for themselves, certainly not by children. That is what is different today. Children are the new target market.
What has changed is not the fascination with sex; that will always be part of human nature, and people will continue to find ways of gratifying it. Once, such pleasures were exercises in power, with secret indulgences often illegal. Herod served up the head of John the Baptist to have Salome dance for him. Victorian gentlemen had their cabinets of Eastern erotica. In the 1950s, you had to belong to a private club to be allowed to watch strippers at work.
While our curiosity with sex persists, the means of access to sexual material has broadened exponentially. The media explosion brought on by the internet brings performances within the reach of anyone, children included. And today’s smartphone-savvy youth think nothing of forwarding explicit images and video clips to others’ handsets. This week, a new set of contestants entered the Celebrity Big Brother house to take part in Channel Five’s fly-on-the-wall show whose audience is mostly millions of young people. Prior to his incarceration, one housemate proudly boasted of his intent to have sex on screen – “and none of this under-the-covers —-”.
On New Year’s Day, any family that watched Sherlock, the BBC’s adaptation of the Conan-Doyle stories, may have been surprised by the scene featuring a nude dominatrix. Despite dozens of complaints, mostly about its suitability for a pre-watershed audience, the episode is due to be screened again in full at 7pm tonight. Perhaps inevitably, it is already among the most viewed on iPlayer, the BBC’s online watch-again service.
And then there are pop videos, now available on demand, thanks to digital television and YouTube. At the touch of a button, I can watch a barely clothed Rihanna wiggle and grind her way through a song (her recent UK concerts had one critic complain of “relentless crotch-level bombardment”); or a Lady Gaga clip in which a drink is forced from a glass down someone’s throat; another where she lies among the black ashes of a burnt-out bed with a skeleton beside her. There is a mix of surreal mockery and exhilarating outrage in such performances. And their production values are outstanding. Money has been spent and creative talents engaged to put these artistes where they are, among the world’s great entertainers.
So what is there to complain about? It is the availability – indeed, the marketing – of such raunchy videos to the young and impressionable that disturbs me. Something has shifted in our culture to bring sub-teens within the orbit of suggestive sexual activity. T-shirts with cheeky, even lewd slogans – jokes that only adults can understand – are designed and sold to the under-10s. Children can hunt on a multitude of television channels for something that looks vaguely adult and vaguely transgressive. Can it be good for them? I for one would not be prepared to take the risk.
The responsibility of bringing up young children must be harder today than ever. In my day, I had Brownies and choir practice to keep me busy, and each afternoon at 5pm, the safe haven of BBC Radio’s Children’s Hour. Today, the options are almost infinite. Even childhood is changing. Girls are reaching puberty younger than ever. How are we to bring up our daughters to give them a sense of worth and confidence that doesn’t depend on tacky raunchiness?
The Islamic world takes a hard line, protecting its young, and even its adult women, with a series of religious prohibitions that reduce their freedom and spontaneity. We obviously don’t want to go that way. But we can’t be surprised by their shock and distaste for some of the West’s indulgences.
Above all, I don’t want to stifle the sheer joy of self-expression, the delight and pleasure to be had from music, from dancing and singing. These are among the riches of human experience. Every child deserves to know them and love them. But to learn of them from entertainments meant for adult tastes is to risk damaging that treacherous path from innocence into grown-up judgment. There’s just too much raunch being marketed to those who are too young for it.
[[[ *** RESPONSE *** ]]]
You have not grown old Joan, but rather it is the Lower Class demographic that has attenuated itself as part of mainstream society with these self affirming displays. Being such a large number of Lower Class people it is inevitable that this would happen someday, 99% culture could be what is considered Lower Class – this is enforced with lack of wealth distribution for a start and obviously alienates the aging who are unable to participate in the demonstrative and boisterous activities of this class, health and aesthetics notwithstanding.
The discerning class conscious types will remain as insular and ‘covered up’ as ever (with the best advocating all and sundry’s democratic right to self-expression while attacking mob-rule) though trappings obtainaed with wealth do not equate to class (selfish sequestration or land and money by billionaires in tax havens or secret accounts – while people in their own countries starve and are jobless than researching a better society or at least opening soup kitchens in their own neighbourhood for a tart (Self Pride is a ‘No 3rd world in my backyard attitude.’), refusal to eschew asset declarations) and is increasingly being confused with class which again precludes protection of the very freedoms and modes of life unthinkable the ‘classy’ themselves detest! (i.e. it is not class to impose one’s way of life on others, it is a right though to demand the same reasonble space for the same expressions).
It is even possible that Joan has never had an opportunity to CHOOSE what class she belonged to and simply followed (or was hijacked) by her family or social circle and society around her though rising in class stature is a very difficult thing as much as ‘slumming’ in youth can create problems later in life when the individual ‘grows up’ or tires of having fun or is manipulated by society again into ‘agedness’ or ‘pc-ness’ or ‘appropriate mainstream-ness’.
Young children and all society should be made aware of ALL demographics and social choices and aspects and characteristics of the same, so that self determinism will be allowed them as in a free democratic society, as well as laws to prevent manipulation or enforcement of local society, socil circles, even parents, on the same young children and citizens of a nation. This is the essence of civilisation that appears to have bypassed Joan entirely that even results in Jopan writing an article like this. Meanwhile many prominent and free minded thinkers are targetted for abuse and even incarceration or chemicala and electronic control by the psychiatric establishment and religious fundamentalists for their free thought.
Some of us know because we have suffered decades of such persecution in countries and societies posing as modern democracies while merely being mob-rule minded oligarchs and pharisees abusing all differing modes of expression in life witrh money and collusion with the state.
Much like the thing with the Dalai Llama which is quite vicious and abusive of child rights. I felt sorry for that kid in the movie. I try to avoid ethnocentrism, but taking a little kid away from his family at such a young age and laying all that heavy spiritual responsibility on him is child abuse. B
AgreeToDisagree January 8, 2012 at 6:28 am