Sex obsession and primness: welcome to the new Britain
27 February 2010
It has been a hot, exciting month for those who get a thrill out of sex and punishment – that is, it seems, much of the British public and almost all of its media. There may have been natural disasters, we might be living through a period of economic meltdown, an election may be on its way, but what truly engages cohorts of eager moralists all over the country is the latest story of infidelity.
The sinners, naturally enough, need to be young, good-looking and well-known: a tubby, short-of-breath adulterer is unlikely to last long on the front pages of our increasingly tabloid press. It is the misbehaviour of men like Tiger Woods, John Terry, Vernon Kay and Ashley Cole, not to mention the piquant sufferings of their attractive wives, which offer the opportunity for aroused outrage.
There is nothing new in the press conflating muck and morals in order to give readers a sanctimonious thrill – the News of the World played that game for decades. Now, though, the tawdry, sheet-sniffing ethic of downmarket Fleet Street hacks has become the norm and, for readers, the pay-off of public humiliation is no longer enough.
Anyone who has done such an unimaginably terrible thing as to be unfaithful to his wife must be shamed in front of the cameras. He should also be punished professionally. If his marriage is on the rocks, or badly damaged, we would like to see as much of that as possible, please.
The England manager Fabio Capello, no doubt shaking his head in wonderment at the bizarre morality of the English, stripped John Terry of his captaincy when it was revealed to a horrified world that he had actually slept with the ex-girlfriend of another footballer. Now mob morality has descended upon Terry’s team-mate Ashley Cole who also failed to keep himself zipped up when away from his wife. His club appears to have buckled to public hysteria and he is now facing a large fine – £400,000, according to some reports – and the club is considering putting him on the transfer list.
Have we all gone completely mad? No one could possibly claim that private behaviour is particularly honourable at the moment. Yet, when it comes to public figures straying, rent-a-gob moralists in the press and in politics react like Victorian great aunts. During the Terry case, the children’s author Anthony Horowitz contributed a solemn sermon announcing the “end of propriety” and invoking a dazzling array of villains, including Hugh Grant, the Duchess of York and John Prescott. Even poor old Prince Charles and his tampon talk with Camilla were dragged out of the archives.
Horowitz is but one of a great baying pack, at the head of which is that towering figure of ethical authority, Piers Morgan. After watching Tiger Woods’s public confession last week, Morgan announced to a waiting world that he had been shocked by this “selfish, arrogant, cold and rather hateful man”.
The reason why the golfer was to be hated was, it turned out, quite simple. “No tears. Not even a sniffle. In fact not a single tremor of the lip.”
There we have it. The true test of sincerity, according to this high priest of celebrity, is how many tears are shed in front of the cameras. Deprived of the money-shot that is always so important to a certain type of over-excited public figure, Piers Morgan clearly felt cheated, frustrated and huffy.
This absurd and utterly bogus moralising deserves to be laughed off the pages of our newspapers. It is more demeaning than the misbehaviour it attacks.
A love affair without a happy ending
It has not been good news for fans of the jazz legend Stan Kenton that his daughter Leslie has written her memoirs. She says the great pianist was chronically insecure, a serious user of booze and pills and somewhat liberal as a parent – he encouraged Leslie to smoke at the age of four. Leslie also says that he raped her when she was 11 and continued to assault her for three years.
The surprise is that Leslie Kenton’s account of her childhood is entitled Love Affair and that it is affectionately dedicated to her father. Of the years of abuse, she writes, “The intensity of emotional exchange between us and our connection became so all-encompassing it often felt as though Stanley and I were one another.” The problem with her father, she concludes, dated back to his own damaged upbringing.
The danger of this kind of memoir is that it risks normalising the deeply abnormal, and undermining an important social taboo. Yet, in this great age of victimhood, when childhood memoirs are competitively miserable and self-pitying, Leslie Kenton’s determination to ignore the pressures and assumptions of our times and to write her own book in her own way represents a rare kind of bravery.
Community is being squeezed out of town
It is a strange and paradoxical fact that the more the Government has preached the importance of community and localism, the faster local communities have been dismantled and destroyed. Figures produced by the Government’s own Valuation Office Agency have confirmed the trend, providing a grim snapshot of the way our towns have changed over the past 13 years.
Businesses which, historically, have offered citizens social cohesion and contact are, almost without exception, on the decrease. The number of sports and social clubs has fallen by 55 per cent since 1997. Post offices are down 39 per cent; swimming pools by 21 per cent; pubs by seven per cent and public libraries by six per cent.
You can probably guess the businesses which are replacing them on the high street and beyond. Large supermarkets are up by 49 per cent, out-of-town hypermarkets by 25 per cent. Betting shops and casinos, taking advantage of the Government’s generous approach to the gambling industry, have increased in number by 39 and 27 per cent respectively. Thirteen years ago, there were 24 lap-dancing clubs; now there are 300.
There is a pattern to these changes. The investment, space and profits are going to businesses which provide convenience or titillation for individuals. The places which bring communities together are being squeezed out. It is a miserable picture of greed and social disintegration which should embarrass the Government.