August 6, 2008

The Lads’ Mags That Show Everything Except Respect


THEY'RE offering "instanthit hedonism". They "celebrate thrill seeking and instant gratification". All in all, the Tories' shadow spokesman on children, schools and families is not a huge big fan of lads' mags. Michael Gove's take on the kind of publication exemplified by those literary giants Nuts and Zoo is that they actively encourage the kind of feckless, thoughtless behaviour in young men implicated in the stubbornly high incidence of unplanned teenage pregnancies, as well as a general disregard for personal responsibility.

In truth, it comes as something of a relief when statements such as his emerge from a youngish man. Women complaining about the torrent of soft porn posing as generalinterest male magazines are too easily dismissed as passe feminists who've failed to notice the world has moved on beyond their dated notion of acceptable behaviour. Predictably, the publishing houses involved rushed to diss Gove's intervention, suggesting that there was absolutely no proof that ogling semi-nude women in sexually provocative poses made the readers presume that the girls they met socially were in the market for instant, loveless, drunken coupling.

True enough. Then again, it's hardly a provable proposition. But what is undeniable is that the advent of cheap, weekly male mags well within the purchasing range of young teenage boys has had an demonstrable effect on that whole corner of the market-place. The kind of magazines which men once bought "because of the great features" (and just happened to feature some women pouting in their panties) were jolted into new brazenness by a raft of mags that were wall-to-wall dressed-down pin-ups.

Nuts gets the prize for naked selfinterest, with its habit of picking up models in the street, inviting them to the studios to pose unpaid for "glamour" shots, then peddling the results as attainable real-life tottie rather than jet-setting models. The editors of this unedifying batch of top-shelf, low-life material have long argued that it's all a bit of laddish fun, and critics are too po-faced to get the joke. The jokes in the likes of Loaded and Front and co are a mite difficult to discern amid the sheer tackiness of the posed pictures and the pre-adolescent snickering of what passes for text. Teenage boys stashing glossy magazines with nude women at the back of the cupboard with the footy kit are a long- standing tradition. A much newer phenomenon is represented by those publications whose featured females aren't promoted so much as sex objects as sex toys with built-in obsolescence, to be regarded with less reverence than the latest computer game. The ultimate in throwaways; a used woman.

However, what Gove calls instanthit hedonism in current culture is not a purely male development. The actor Eileen Atkins had a pop at ladettes last week, indicating that feminists of yore didn't storm the barricades to find them being later vaulted by posses of drunk girls intent on proving they could do aggression as well as the next guy. I heard that analysis taken to task by a younger contributor on Woman's Hour a couple of days later, suggesting that if today's young women want to exhibit their more masculine side, why not? Almost as if there were a cultural equivalence between young men getting in touch with their feminine side by nurturing their children, and young women liberating their chromosomes by getting smashed and having sex in the street.

What I hope Michael Gove was getting at was the importance for both sexes of respect; respecting each other and, just as importantly, respecting themselves. The world has, indeed, moved on from that age of ignorance, confusion and embarrassment when a young woman might fear pregnancy if a bloke put his hand up their skirt, and young men had to visit a strange chemist shop to gain the courage to buy condoms.

The chances of most 21st-century teenagers reverting to pre- marital abstinence are precisely zero. In an age of greater freedom, greater honesty and sophisticated contraception, sex is regarded as a recreational pleasure, and not just for the young, either, given the latest rise in sexually transmitted diseases among middle-aged singles. Anyone trying to do a Canute against the rising tide of sexual opportunities is liable to get more than their tootsies wet. Nevertheless, if sexual pleasure becomes little more than the kind of casual gratification Gove is flagging up, then the participants are the ultimate losers.

It's back to that respect thing again. And that's not a quality displayed by lads' mags towards their readers, with their cynical pitch for the lowest common publishing denominator. Reaching an era where women can celebrate their sexuality is an entirely healthy development. Featuring them as cheap porn for snigger louts is not.

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

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