Belated thoughts on Charlie Hebdo, religion, free speech, and all of that jazz

“A shocking crime was committed on the unscrupulous initiative of a few individuals, with the blessing of more, and amid the passive acquiescence of all.”

Tacitus

I haven’t been much inclined toward blogging of late. Which is strange, as a lot of troubled thoughts have been rattling around my head – most of them relating in particular to the Charlie Hebdo murders. I’m sure you’d all like to know my opinion – however belatedly it might have arrived. And that’s what you’re going to get.

My overriding emotion is one of indignation. If there’s one thing more unedifying than a senseless massacre, it’s the pack of dribbling morons that follows – unable to offer any comment but a reflexive concession that senseless massacres are inevitable as long as we haven’t yet capitulated to those that might commit them.

Britain is a nation of weaklings. We value courtesy, tolerance, and – well – politeness. We do so at the expense of all other considerations.   Is there anything more hopelessly British than politeness toward those who deserve scorn, respect for those who deserve none? When someone bumps into you, isn’t your first instinct to say sorry? I’m not sure what ‘sorry’ means in this instance; the best I could come up with is “I regret that you are a cunt.” But I’d venture that this isn’t the sort of respect most of us would like to receive.

If you wanted a demonstration of this sort of respect, then you didn’t need to look very far. Shortly after the leaders of the not-quite-so-free world had finished their meaningless stroll through Paris, the King of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, dropped dead. Leaders of the free world immediately hurried toward Mecca, so that they might respectfully wrap their lips around the engorged Saudi phallus on our behalf, and imbibe the resultant black succour. Even Obama – who didn’t even bother with the Paris demonstration – took the trip to bend the knee. Would it have been naive to expect anything else?

Sure, the Saudis routinely brutalise people for crimes like blasphemy and sorcery – but they are important to our National Interest. Westminister even lowered the flag at the news – to widespread chagrin. I suppose if Josef Stalin had died shortly after VE day, we’d have given him the same treatment.  Maybe Churchill, whose funeral we recently commemorated in a typically British festival of second-world-war fetishism, was a monster to have ever held meetings with him.

Perhaps the most famous victim of the almighty Saudi sarlacc – at least in recent times – is Raif Badawi, a blogger who has become something of a hero among free speech advocates. For the crime of ‘insulting Islam’, he’s been sentenced to a thousand lashes, to be delivered in weekly chunks of fifty. He’s served the first of these chunks – but at considerable cost to his health, according to his doctor. And so the state has stayed its hand for the moment. This is the sort of mercy that obviously deserves our respect.

It’s hard to bring to mind the terrible reality of this sort of punishment: a big long whip rending the flesh of a person’s back into blood-sodden pieces. I’m sure in the Middle Ages, the people of England would have had a fairly clear idea of what brutal punishments entail – they would undoubtedly approved of them, in much the same way the Saudi populous does currently. But now it seems surreal.

Here’s a confession which might shock you: I’m not sure I’d be blogging if doing so would put me at the slightest risk of being flogged to death. Most bloggers cower in fear in the face of a menacing email – this guy is prepared to defy the world’s most well-financed brutality. He must have balls of steel.

The Pope voiced his opinion on the Charlie Hebdo affair, and drilled down to that which we all know is the real problem: gratuitous offence-giving. His solution – and, to his mind, the only solution – is to react with violent force against anyone who offends your conviction. His view would find much sympathy among the Saudi courts, I’m sure.

“If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

His Holiness seems to not only want to absolve those that might react violently to perceived slights, but to suggest that they had no choice but to do so. According to Francis, this is not only a probable consequence, but an inevitable one. You will get a punch if you insult his mother; he is as much to blame for this as, say, clouds are for rain. The puncher is thereby absolved of all agency, and the person being punched is the victim of some act of (ha!) God.

Think about that for a second. If you’ve ever at any point wondered how Christianity managed to mutate from a celebration of one heretic being tortured on a cross to a justification for thousands of them to be tortured on a rack, you’ll find an answer in this demented logic.

Could there be a more regressive, more stupid statement on violence? Isn’t this the precise opposite of ‘turning the other cheek’? This isn’t even an eye for an eye. This is an eye for an eyelash. This is a person who over a billion people look to for ethical guidance. I can’t be alone in finding that worrying.

Religion, eh? If it’s not a young man in a balaclava shooting cartoonists, it’s an old man in a dress spouting bland pieties about how cartoonists might avoid getting shot.

Ol’ Frank has, during his short time in office, picked up something of a reputation for progressiveness among (how can I put this delicately?) thick people. The Vatican PR machine deserves a lot of credit for this; Ratzinger left the building and every thought of raped little boys completely vanished from the agenda. Wow, this new Pope’s so progressive. He even says that gays might not be inherently evil? That’s so swell! Wow, according to this guy, dogs can go to heaven! What a cool pope! Catholicism seems just so sensible now!

The standard for Islam is similarly low. Islam can now be said to be tolerant because, if interpreted correctly, it might allow that apostates be permitted to live. I also once heard a story of how Mohammed gave his last Rolo to a Zoroastrian – how magnanimous of him. If I were to pick one seventh century warlord on whose values to base mine, it would be him.

From where do these terribly low standards come? The fear of being labelled bigoted is a powerful deterrent.  Just look at the spread of term ‘Islamaphobia’, which is like kryptonite for Guardianistas. Whether or not there’s any organisation behind this – and there is certainly reason to suspect that there is – makes little difference to the outcome. Islam is an idea – or collection of ideas. Some are historically suspect; some are morally repellent; some are plain nutty. Some, astonishingly enough, are even wise – the idea that the entire lot exists as some indivisible package, however, is not among them.

I desire a world in which people can bring themselves to say things like ‘I believe in freedom of speech’, without having to clench shut their jaws to prevent the escape of some ‘respectful’ caveat or other:  Yes, while we do all agree in freedom of speech, but it should have limits. Let’s be fair, the cartoonists did insult Mohammed. As for the Jews in the supermarket, well: they were Jews. Come on.

I’m going to be writing more in the future, and on this subject. The alternative seems an act of near-complicity.  Fortunately, there already exists an healthy body of lucid writing on the matter; all that’s left is for a large amount of people to write, speak and draw whatever they like, regardless of any lingering fear of being censured, censored or shot in the head.

Until next time!

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On being offensive

Right,

You guys better wipe those grins off your faces, because this is a serious one.  I’m going to throw my hat into the ring on this whole Maajid Nawaz stuff.  I know.  It’s crazy.  But I’m going to do it!

Now, I’m sure a large proportion of you are unaware of this controversy.  Worry not, friends! I’m sure you’re in good company.  If you’re looking for a detailed explanation of what happened, then Tom Chivers, Nick Cohen and some bunch of secular lawyers have all written on the subject.  But if you’re not, I shall save your blushes and provide a summary:

Maajid Nawaz is a Muslim and Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for some London constituency whose name now escapes me.  He appeared on the BBC’s ‘The Big Questions’, which is an early morning (10am on a Sunday!?) show in which they debate big dumb questions like ‘what would Moses have thought of Justin Beiber’s arrest’ and ‘ethnic cleansing:  right or wrong?’  Not last Sunday but the one before, there were some people in the audience wearing t-shirts depicting the prophet Mohammed.  It wasn’t long before one of the Muslims present informed everyone that the image was offensive to Muslims.  Nawaz replied, somewhat reasonably, that he was also a Muslim and it didn’t offend him.  He later tweeted the picture along with a similar sentiment.

The tweet is pretty ghastly, I warn you.  Would you like to see it?

Alright, then:

jesusandmo

Cast your mind back to the aftermath of Lee Rigby’s murder.  You might recall, if you were paying the slightest attention, that one consequence of the whole unpleasantness was a resurgence of anti-Muslim sentiment, manifest specifically in protests led by the EDL.

You might also recall one specific incident at a mosque in York, where the Imam let the EDL protesters in for tea and biscuits, and they all had a long chat about what they actually believed.  In a subsequent Guardian editorial, one of the Mosque’s elders (don’t ask me what an elder is, I’m guessing it’s a sort of man who many agree is old and therefore wise) quoted Voltaire’s most famous aphorism:  “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Unfortunately it seems that in some quarters that lesson was misheard as “I disapprove of what you say, so I will deny you your right to say it and subtly incite your death and that of your Pakistan-based extended family.” In these quarters, of course, a Muslim claiming not to be offended is really, really offensive, since unless all Muslims are united in their outrage then that outrage can’t well be exploited for political leverage, can it?

Tell Mama, a group set up to monitor hate-crimes against Muslims, put out a statement about the whole thing. One line in particular stood out for me:

For many Muslims, the perception may well be that Islam is once again being mocked and the strength of this feeling should not be under-estimated or disregarded.

This is a recurring motif that keeps cropping up amidst the uproar: Nawaz knew that ‘many Muslims’ were going to take offence, and that he should therefore have refrained from saying anything.  I’m not even sure that this is true, but let’s assume that it is.  Is this reason enough for someone to not say something?  Because some people might consider it offensive?

Right.  Now, I am not – not – denying that anti-Muslim prejudice exists and is a huge problem.  But here’s the thing: having your beliefs ‘mocked’ is not such a bad thing.  Seriously.  It’s not always a sign of prejudice or hatred.  It is – occasionally – an indication of the highest respect.  Perhaps that seems nonsensical.  Perhaps it even seems offensive.  Indulge me, pray.  Have you lot never heard any heavy metal?  Let’s take a very brief tour.

holywood

This is Marilyn Manson’s Holy Wood album, from 2000.  The cover depicts Manson as Christ (complete with a spear-wound in his side) rotting on the cross.  In it, Marilyn Manson sings a song called ‘The Fight Song’, in which he advises his audience that he is neither ‘a slave to a God that doesn’t exist’, nor a ‘slave to a world that doesn’t give a shit’.

You can probably see how some people might find that offensive.  You might also say that Manson has deliberately set out to offend people.  Well, the only reply to that is ‘good’.  That’s his job.  That’s the job of the artist.  If a piece of art is described as ‘inoffensive’, this is usually taken as shorthand for ‘not very good’.

“Have you seen the new Matt Damon film?”

“No.  How is it?”

“Inoffensive.”

“Brilliant!  I’m there!”

As far as the cover is concerned, it’s hardly the most offensive I’ve ever seen.  It’s not even close.  Was it censored?  No. I remember walking past HMV and seeing this image displayed on a poster that filled the entire wall.  This stuff is mainstream; this album went gold on either side of the Atlantic (and, impressively, managed to do so without inspiring societal collapse.)

Allow me to make an obvious invitation:  why not imagine that Manson had posed as Mohammed?  If his album had contained lyrics about Iran?  Or about Palestine?  Syria?  Would that be okay?  Would that be offensive?  Or would it be essential?  Who knows.

Blasphemy rating:  6/10

ghua

Okay, a year later and we have a Slayer offering ‘God Hates us All’. Weirdly, this album was released on September the 11th, 2001 – which I suppose you could take as evidence that, if God does exist, he was trying very, very hard to tell us something.

This cover isn’t quite as graphic as the Manson one – it doesn’t depict any actual human suffering.  But it does show the Bible desecrated, which some religious people found immeasurably worse, and sure enough, demanded it be censored.  American recordings, who probably just wanted an easy life, complied.

This album contains many pearls of wisdom.  Here is a selection:

“The strength of religion is the repression of knowledge.”

“…you’re blind, screaming for your God.  Pathetic God!”

“…I reject all the biblical views of the truth, dismiss it as the folklore of the times.
I won’t be force fed prophecies, from a book of untruths for the weakest mind.
I keep the Bible in a pool of blood so that none of its lies can affect me.”

You get the idea, don’t you?  I’m really treading the same ground here.  Overblown; ridiculous; all statements Maajid Nawaz could have probably made without inciting anything more than a raised eyebrow or two, or perhaps a chuckle here and there.

Blasphemy rating:  8/10

cradle

Okay, we moved up a gear here, haven’t we?  This one isn’t even music, and you’d have to be very charitable indeed to term it ‘art’.  It’s a T-Shirt that Cradle of Filth released in the mid-nineties, in a subtle attempt to court controversy.  For those of you suffering from a visual impairment, the front depicts semi-naked nun masturbating herself, while the rear bears the slogan ‘Jesus is a cunt’.

I’m not sure I can offer much in the way of commentary on this t-shirt.  It speaks for itself, does it not?  While researching, however, I did stumble across a discussion on the Cradle of Filth website where people shared their experiences of being arrested for wearing the t-shirt.  The most pertinent contribution came from some guy named Paul:

“As a Christian I’m not fond of the ‘Jesus is a cunt’ shirt, but I find it distressing that anyone could be fined for wearing one. What happened to freedom of speech? Sure, it’s my God, and I don’t like seeing others disrespect my faith, but who am I to tell someone else they have to shut-up? I thought we were all free to express ourselves – which takes tolerance.”

No, Paul.  Tolerance is where you stop people saying things you don’t like!  Idiot!

This t-shirt achieved some notoriety, and went on to inspire copycats, including a ‘Dani Filth is a cunt’ version.  But I’m not sure we’ll be seeing an Islamic version any time soon.  If a picture of Mohammed saying ‘how are you doing?’ is deemed ‘deeply offensive’, I can only imagine the reaction that would spark.  Probably something like this.

Blasphemy rating: 9/10

This next one is a bit more relevant to the case in hand.  It’s from South Carolinan death metal outfit, Nile.  It’s the first track from their 2009 album, ‘Those Whom the Gods Detest’.   Appropriately enough, it is entitled ‘Kafir’.

There is no God!

There is no God!

There is no God!

There is no God but God!

Allah-hu-Akbar!

Oh dear.  This is an open goal for even the most inept offense-taker.  It is, if I’m not very much mistaken, a pretty fundamental Islamic creed.  The rest of the song is no less Islamic; the verses are bastardisations (mistranslations?) of various parts of the Qur’an.  In fact, I’m not sure there are any truly original lyrics to this song.  It’s really a cover.  Allah only knows what confusion this song might inspire in Orthodox Muslim households:

“What’s that racket?  It doesn’t sound very Islamic.”

“It’s very Islamic.  Listen:  ALLAH HU AKBAR!!!!”

“Alright then.  Can you turn it down a bit?  Please?”

“Sure thing mother!  THEIRS IS AN AWFUL DOOOOOOOOM!!!! KAFEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRR!!!!!”

Can the words of the Holy Qur’an be offensive?  I’m not entirely sure.  But offense-takers are a resourceful bunch.  I have faith in you, offense-takers!  Of course, this particular recitation is a bit subversive.  In other words, it’s too arty – which is, after all, The Problem.  Maybe they should come up with a new rule: only recite the Holy Qur’an if your rendition won’t inspire anyone to think about the words in ways that they haven’t already thought about them.

Allah, of course, anticipated all of this; that’s why he made sure to specify that there shouldn’t be any stringed instruments.  (Accounts of Mohammed’s life lead me to believe he’d have been more of an electro sort of guy.)  Of course, enforcement of this law probably would lead to a great many aspiring guitarists to switch to woodwind, which, based on this clarinet rendition of Necrophagist’s ‘Full Body Autopsy’, might actually be quite interesting.

Anyway, subverting the holy Qur’an probably makes it even more blasphemous.  Although I suppose that, what’s blasphemous and what’s not blasphemous is largely a matter of perspective.  EXCEPT WHEN ITS NOT!

Blasphemy rating 0/10 (or 10/10, possibly.)

I could continue in this vein for a long, long while.  But we’ve all got lives to lead.  I think we’ve established that there’s a generally accepted bar for what constitutes inflammatory material.  And in the case of the Prophet Mohammed this bar is set absurdly low.  It has been decided that there shall be no images of this person, no matter how stunningly innocuous they are.

Here’s the thing:  Being confronted with something provocative is a privilege.  Having your beliefs challenged is a privilege.  Having your beliefs mocked, maligned and ridiculed is a privilege, and it staggers me that anyone could be so willing to give it up.

If an opinion cannot survive rock and roll music, or a crude drawing of a man saying ‘how are you doing?’ is it really an opinion worth having?  You know, I learned more about what’s really written in the Bible from ‘Holy Wood’ than I ever did in Sunday School.  It showed me another perspective, as good art often does.  Good art alters you and your beliefs.  It’s not something you have any control over.  Perhaps that idea disturbs you.  Perhaps it scares you.  Perhaps it excites you.

Here are some questions that have been posed before, and will be posed again:  Where are the Muslim pop stars? Rock stars? Artists, musicians, poets, novelists, filmmakers, comedians, and satirists?  Where’s the Islamic Marilyn Manson?  Alice Cooper?  Madonna?  Where’s the Islamic Life of Brian?  Book of Mormon?  Jesus Christ Superstar?  Where’s the Islamic Divine Comedy?  Paradise Lost?  His Dark Materials?  Why must the author of ‘Jesus and Mo’ remain anonymous?

When we arrive at the answer to that lot, we’ll have found something worth being offended over.  That a whole universe of art, music, literature and thought is being denied to us by religious thugs who, in spite of their purported ‘respect’ for certain figures from antiquity, have no qualms over exploiting the nebulous ‘hurt feelings’ of those figures in order to further their own brand of vacuous, sycophantic, asinine, dribbling hypocrisy.

Here’s a thought experiment.  Consider, if you will, a man who holds an opinion that he suspects you might find objectionable.  He doesn’t know that you’ll find it objectionable, he merely suspects that you might.  Consider that this man then withheld this controversial opinion on the grounds that someone, somewhere might take offense at it.  Again, he doesn’t know that they will, he merely suspects.

Would you consider that evidence of ‘respect’?  Of that man’s high opinion of you?  Or is it evidence, rather, to the contrary?  Of his horribly low opinion of you?  His view that you are a delicate flower whose sensibilities cannot endure the slightest whiff of contrary opinion, or, worse, a potentially violent lunatic who might at any moment erupt into rage?

Would you consider this person a friend?  Would a real friend be so horrifically patronising?  Would a real friend deceive you in this way?  Would they mollycoddle you so?  Would they lie?  I do hope you consider that offensive; I certainly fucking would.

Salaam, until next week.

PS.  The preceding blog contained words and images that some people might have found offensive.  Those that are easily offended would have done well to avoid reading it.

PPS. Nick Clegg has publically backed his man.  Well done, Nick Clegg.  I was going to make some wise-crack about your party renaming themselves the ‘Illiberal Autocrats’, but I’ll have to save that for another time.  By the way, this piece regarding the dubious fruitcakes in your party might be of interest.

On the rights and wrongs of decapitating someone

Good day to you, comrades.  I hope you’ve enjoyed a productive week, and all that.  Before I begin, I fear I must issue a clarification.  Not because I was wrong, but because I was right to such an extent that people’s eyes didn’t believe the truth they were seeing.

The chocolate bar under discussion did indeed contain enough sugar to kill a medium sized rodent.  Allow me to elaborate.  Even if we were to discount the possibility of the animal choking to death, or the impact the chocolatey goodness would have on the animal’s teeny-tiny digestive system, but for reasons of toxicity.

Sugar in that quantity is actually slightly toxic.  I have looked up the medium lethal dose (LD50) level for sugar, and I can tell you that it is 29.7 grams per 1 kg of body mass.  Since this bar of chocolate contained 218 grams of sugar, any mammal weighing less than 7.34 kilos would likely suffer a fatal overdose.  So really, any rodent barring the giant talking ones that feature in ‘Biker Mice from Mars’ should probably avoid eating this chocolate.  But I am not an expert, and I do the bare minimum level of research before submitting this stuff.  So, should anyone wish to contribute something further to the how-much-sugar-is-required-to-kill-a-medium-sized-rodent question, then feel free to do so.

Onward.

Yesterday brought the insane news that Facebook has decided to allow its users to use its site to watch videos of real-life decapitation.  That is, people getting their heads chopped off.  I can’t think of very many reasons why anyone would want to watch people getting their heads chopped off.  In fact, I can only think of two:

  1. Information.
  2. Entertainment

Let’s discount the second reason for the moment, and address the first, which is the one that Facebook are using to justify the fact that they’re going to host videos of people’s heads being forcibly severed from their bodies.  It will facilitate discussion of the rights and wrongs of decapitation.  Perhaps, for some of you, this is helpful.  Perhaps you really feel that you absolutely have to see someone getting murdered to be able to really understand the reality of what murder is.

I’m not sure why Facebook feels the need to provide this service.  Are a lot of people demanding it? Though I haven’t checked, I would assume that, the internet being the internet, these people could quite easily track down videos of people being murdered elsewhere.  If they really were that way inclined.

A Facebook spokeswoman said:

“People are sharing this video on Facebook to condemn it. If the video were being celebrated, or the actions in it encouraged, our approach would be different.”

Oh, well that makes all the difference.  Quite how Facebook intend to qualify whether the murder is being celebrated or not, I have no idea.  Maybe a decapitation would qualify for a ban if it is soundtracked by something sufficiently flippant, like Kool and the Gang’s ‘Celebration’.

However they’re going to make this distinction, I’m not sure it makes a great deal of difference.  To act as though this point is an enormous game-changer, as Facebook are doing, seems slightly naughty to me.  Do we really need to see a decapitation in order to condemn it?  Are there really some people undecided on whether or not they approve of decapitation, who require a video to be finally persuaded that decapitation is, on the whole, not a good thing?

Now, onto the real reason I suspect that a lot of people will want to watch this sort of thing:  entertainment.  They might want to gawp, revel in the horribleness of it all for the moment, or delight in the fact that they’re breaking some taboo.  Perhaps it’s simple morbid fascination.  Whatever the reason, these people must already have had an interest in seeing people getting their heads chopped off.  Again, quite why Facebook feel they must feed this interest is beyond me.  If anything, this will just make more people turned onto the pleasures of vicariously enjoying someone else’s suffering.

In response to this decision, there has been widespread outrage.  Many are predicting a U-turn, but it turns out there has already been one U-turn, back in May, and so a second would constitute the second part of a double-u-turn, or a w-turn.  Or perhaps it would be more like a slalom run.  In any case, it’s the sort of maneuverer that leads me to believe that Facebook have not the slightest idea of what they are doing, or why.

There will be some who say that this is an issue of freedom of expression.  Everyone, according to this view, should be able to view pretty much whatever content they like.  One only need apply this same logic to child pornography to see this objection fall to the ground like a decapitated corpse, but let’s indulge it for the sake of argument.  In general, I have a lot of time for free expression.  But Facebook don’t.  Just look at article seven from Facebook’s terms and conditions:

“You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.”

That’s pretty much everything imaginable, then, with the merciful exception of religion-baiting. It’s worth observing that Facebook (and indeed society at large) consider naked tits more worthy of censorship than someone getting murdered.  I suspect this observation will be repeated so often that it seems almost trite already.  How can tits be more damaging to the viewer than murder?  How can someone’s dick be more worthy of a ban?  I consider even full penetrative sex less offensive that someone getting murdered!  Even the most depraved sort of scatological gangbang is less offensive!  Ask yourself what’s more disturbing to watch:  someone having an orgasm (something you’d wish to happen to yourself), or someone having their cervical vertebrae penetrated with a bread knife (something you certainly wouldn’t)?

This is not to say that I think Facebook should start slackening their censorship of excessive nakedness.  If we want to see tits, we can go elsewhere, to a site explicitly designed for that purpose.  I’m reliably informed that such sites exist.

In any case, they’re presumably going to scrub that last little bit off this particular article quite soon, since I can’t imagine many things much more graphically or gratuitously violent than a human being having their head sawn off (though I confess, as a human being myself, I might be suffering from a little bias).

In fact, I can only think of one thing more violent, and that’s a small child getting their head sawn off.  Would Facebook allow that, I wonder?  If not, they’d have to put in place some sort of age limit on the decapitation victims in the videos they are hosting, which will then have to be moderated by a team of people responsible for determining whether the person getting his/her head chopped off is old enough to be getting his/her head chopped off on Facebook.  A fourteen year old decapitee might be acceptable.  A thirteen year old one might conceivably not be.  Where does one draw the line?  There is no real right answer there, is there?

Yes, actually.  There is.  I can tell you exactly where:  Don’t host videos of people getting their heads cut off, Facebook.  You psychopathic fucking cunts.

Until next week!

PS. For those that haven’t already, don’t forget to like my facebook page!

LADS WHEY LADS

Good day, everyone!  Are you all aware of the phenomenon of ‘Lads’ Mags’?  (Laddy lads WHEEEEY banter lads).  This is the term being put about to describe men’s magazines that feature, prominently, images of attractive young women in various states of undress.  I’m talking about Nuts, Zoo, Front, FHM, that sort of thing.  Well, I have learned there are some people that don’t approve of these magazines.  In fact, they really really fucking hate them, as this video demonstrates:

Tesco are restricting them to over 18s and the co-op want to put these weird cellophane burqas on them.  As I understand it, this has been acheived by threatening legal action on the grounds that staff and customers of the shops might look at the front of these magazines, disapprove of them, and feel discriminated against; presumably in much the same way that I feel discriminated against every time I have to sell someone roast beef flavour Monster Munch when flamin’ hot is readily available and obviously superior.   Their website explains at great length why they despise them so.  Here is a representative extract:

Lads mags aren’t just a bit of harmless fun. By portraying women as dehumanised sex objects they fuel attitudes that underpin discrimination and violence against women.

Shit the bed.  Dehumanised sex objects.  That’s quite a claim, isn’t it?  A claim worth investigating!  Alright, now I know most of MY readership are far too sophisticated to know of this sort of publication.  But, since I have access to a magazine rack, I thought I’d do some research on all of your behalfs and flick through Nuts and Zoo and find out exactly what the problem is.

I can reveal that both magazines cover a range of topics, all of them thoroughly blokeish.  Cars (of the absurdly fast, expensive sort), football, jokes, films and games are all given some space, but we needn’t concern ourselves with those, because no-one finds them objectionable; the contentious bit is the bit where women are photographed with very little clothing on.

Zoo leads with some pictures of someone called Melissa D.  I know nothing about this woman, other than that she looks like a glamour model.   In the accompanying interview, she complains that men are always staring at her breasts.  I’ve no reason to doubt her.  In order to address this, she recommends that men wear dark glasses in order to disguise their perverted leering.

So far, so educational.  Nuts, clearly, has a high standard to meet.  It leads with a photo shot with someone called Holly Hagan.  I know nothing about this woman, other than that she looks like a glamour model, and appears in something called ‘Geordie Shore’.  Her pictures are also accompanied by an interview, which, after an initial exchange of banal pleasantries, becomes suddenly gripping:

“How are your new boobies settling in?” asks the interviewer.

“Oh,” Holly Hagan replies, “they’re really good, as all your readers will probably appreciate.  Thanks for asking.”

So there you go.  Now we’ve established a tone.  Frost/Nixon this ain’t.  The vocabulary strikes me as quite infantile.  Who says ‘boobies’, other than small children?  Is it now considered respectful to refer to a woman’s breasts as ‘boobies’?  Is this how the readership of Nuts magazine refer to them in common parlance?  If this girl was to walk past a construction site, would the workers there pass comment on her ‘boobies’?  Is it now ‘get your boobies out for the lads?’ (lads whey banter grenade)

I can only speculate as to the thinking behind this.  Perhaps the editor is under some intense pressure to avoid language that might be considered misogynistic, and so will cross out words like ‘tits’ or ‘breasts’.  But surely ‘boobs’ is alright?  Sure ‘boobs’ is preferable to ‘boobies’?  The word ‘boobies’, in this context, makes me think that this magazine is trying to titillate the mentally handicapped, which I find a little creepy, really.  Another weird thing I can’t help but notice is that the wording of the question endows this woman’s tits with some agency independent of the woman herself.  I thought we were meant to be objectifying women here, but we’re going the other way.  We’re imagining their boobs are separate life-forms.  How are they settling in?  Settling into what?  Like lodgers?  Pets?  Is this woman some sort of marsupial?  Is her body host to some alien parasite?  Are we going to get a chest-bursting scene shortly?

So my eyebrows were already scrunched up in befuddlement at this point, but shortly afterward the line of questioning took a sharp turn for the really bizarre:

“Who is the funniest person in the Geordie Shore house?” asks the interviewer.

“Charlotte,” Holly replies.

“Who does the smelliest trumps?”

What the fuck magazine am I reading, here?  The Beano?  “Smelliest trumps!?”

My first thought was that the wording of this question is unbelievably puerile, but then when I tried to come up with an alternate wording I realised that it is actually very difficult to phrase this question in adult terms.  There is simply no grown-up way of asking someone to quantify the smelliness of a fart, let alone a series of farts coming from a particular person over a period of time, unless you want to resort to the sort of technical description otherwise restricted to biology textbooks.

This sort of thing is (I’m reliably informed) typical Nuts and Zoo fare.  Critics of these magazines often claim that they represent an unrealistic view of women.  Well, based on what I’ve just fucking read, I’d have to agree.  Their portrayal of women, to put it mildly, is implausible.  Only a dunderhead could imagine that these people are representative of all women, which is probably where difficulty lies since this seems a magazine that dunderheads might enjoy immensely.

But isn’t that the whole point of this sort of thing?  Yes, it might present an unrealistic picture of women.  The film “Speed” might give you an unrealistic expectations of public transport, should we be worried about that?  It’s entertainment.  It’s escapism (though quite why you’d want to escape to a world where women are quizzed on their gaseous excretions is beyond me, but each to their own.)  Aren’t there other publications that are far worse?

Well, yes, there are.  Even the League of Puritanical Busybodies concedes this:

This campaign isn’t arguing that LAYDS MAYGS (whey banter footy legend lads) are the only publications sending out damaging messages about women’s role in society. For instance, many groups and individuals have criticised the harmful effect that some women’s magazines have on women’s body image and self-esteem.

Yes, indeed.  Let’s examine that one, shall we?  We’ve looked at the men’s magazines, I suppose it’s only fair that I give the women’s magazines the same treatment.  So I did.  Now, before we go any further I feel I should post a disclaimer:  while what has come before has been light-hearted, relatively speaking; what follows does become ever-so-slightly ranty.  So if you don’t want that over your afternoon coffee then stop reading now.

Fair warning.

So, it transpires that women also enjoy looking at pictures of semi-naked women.  They like it perhaps even more than men do. But there are several differences between LAYDS MAYGS (lads lads lads lads lads laaaaaads) and their female-orientated equivalents.

In the former, the semi-naked women are photographed willingly, in an environment that they have control over.  In the latter, they do so unwillingly (or perhaps unknowingly) at a time when they might not particularly want to be photographed.  Perhaps they are with their kids, or just generally minding their own fucking business.

In the former, the semi-naked women are paid for their work.  They are paid quite handsomely; in fact this is one industry where women command greater wages than men.  In the latter, they are not paid, but the paparazzi who photographed them from the balcony of an adjacent hotel certainly is.  As a result of this insanity, this sort of thing happens whenever Kate Moss and her kids visit LA X.

In the former, pleasant, flattering things are said about these semi-naked women.  Their audience pretty much worships them, as do the people who write the magazine.  In the latter, cruel, unflattering things are said.  Comment is passed on how their weight has fluctuated over the past week-and-a-half, and attention is drawn to the accompanying stretch marks.  This is one aspect of these magazines that fascinated me instantly:  the practice of splashing a photograph of some woman on a beach across the front cover, along with their weight in stone (or dress size).

How these magazines know how much these women weigh, I do not know.  Do they just flat-out ask them?  Do they somehow trick them into standing on a pressure plate?  Do they hire some savant fairground worker with the ability guess the weight of the celebrity from across a crowded beach?

Thinking that the contents of these magazines deserve a greater degree of scrutiny, I delve into the pages of Closer.  Abandon all hope, all ye who read this fucking magazine.  A two-page spread is devoted to David and Victoria Beckham’s marriage, replete with speculation and quotes attributed to ‘pals’, ‘insiders’ or the ever mysterious ‘a source’, yet lacking any explanation as to why any sane person other than David and Victoria Beckham should give two fucking shits about David and Victoria Beckham’s marriage.  Another page is devoted to pictures of celebrities are wearing, along with a big tick or a cross depending on whether the bitches that write this shite approve of the appearance of the woman in question.  Another particularly odious feature is where some awful woman scrutinises Jennifer Aniston’s date with her fiancé:

“Jen and Justin’s wedding is said to be on hold and their body language here isn’t doing much to dispel rumours they’re having relationship problems.  Certainly, it’s Jen making the most of the effort while her fiancé glowers.  I’m not convinced Jen will get the fairy-tale ending we all want for her.”

Oh yes.  We all want a fairy tale ending for Jen.  Yes, all of this is done out of concern for her wellbeing.  Holy balls, this is enough to send me into apoplexy.  I wonder why he’s fucking glowering?  Is it because he’s trying to go out for a meal with his fiancé, but can’t do so without the pursuing swarm of paparazzi, all hoping for pictures to sell to some terrible shit-rag so they can publish it next to a vacuous opinion penned by some fuck-nugget for the enjoyment of morons?  That would certainly make me glower.

So in conclusion, I did not much enjoy either sort of publication, but in terms of pure old-fashioned mean-spirited women-hating misogyny, LAYDS MAYGS (banter) have a long way to go before they can hold a candle to this other fuckwittery.

Right, I’m done.

Thanks for listening.

A good week to one and all.

Bitches.