The front page of yesterday’s Daily Mail ran with the forthcoming ‘Let Children Be Children’ report, an independent review commissioned by David Cameron into the sexual commercialisation of children, due to be released tomorrow. In its finest crusading voice, the Mail wrote:
“David Cameron will endorse the proposals of Reg Bailey [the chief executive of the Christian charity Mothers’ Union] who found parents are deeply concerned that sexual imagery in television, advertising and pop videos is making children grow up too fast.
Ministers will make clear that they expect changes and the Government is prepared to intervene directly unless the conveyor-belt of smut is toned down.”
When I think about a “conveyor belt of smut” I imagine something on the scale of Barclaycard’s giant waterslide snaking through the streets of London, with a load of wobbling tits, sexually explicit song lyrics and gay kiss storylines from soaps juddering past people’s office windows. Although, I’d wager that it runs directly through the offices of the Daily Mail’s web team.
Because once you finish reading the Mail Online’s report about the smut that our children are exposed to – on television, the internet, and in the high street – you can then read about how lucky Gary Lineker is, spending the day on a sun-kissed Miami beach with his 31-year-old “model turned actress” wife Danielle. Go on, why not scroll through umpteen photos of her “sizzling body” in a black string bikini. Phwoarrr!
Still not tired of bikinis? Well, you can always click on the Mail Online’s other story about Danielle Lineker, in which you get to see photos of her wearing an open shirt over a different bikini. Or you can drool over shot…after shot…after shot…after shot…of the girls from The Only Way is Essex wearing…er..bikinis. Or maybe you’d just rather settle for Cameron Diaz in a “nude swimsuit”. Your choice.
OK, what about some science and technology news instead? Did you hear about the iKini? Apparently, you can charge your iPod with it and…oh, wait, the article features a blonde model wearing a solar-panelled bikini. Sorry.
Perhaps you’d prefer an article about Imogen Thomas “showing off her figure in a tight red summer dress alongside tan strappy heels” as she embarks on a much-needed clear-out of her wardrobe. The lead photo is a gratuitous shot of her cleavage as she hoicks a bag of clothes into a charity shop, which practically places you in between them and muffles your internal reading voice. Go on, you know you want to!
And let’s face it, she’s a remarkable role model for young girls. With the lucrative commercial opportunities and kiss and tell deals off the back of the Ryan Giggs affair, not to mention the nude modelling for Nuts and Zoo magazines (the kind of lads’ mags that David Cameron, Nadine Dorries and the Daily Mail want to see encased in a modesty cover and banished to the top shelf), she’s a modern day success story. Look, kids, she drives a Mercedes SLK and can afford to give away bin bags full of designer labels! Look how easy, yet aspirational, it all is!
But if none of that floats your boat, there’s always the Mail Online’s favourite sex tape and reality star, Kim Kardashian. If she callously suffocated a load of chicks and tossed their lifeless bodies into the slobbering jaws of an irritable Doberman, the Mail would probably report on how the chicks’ fluffy yellow feathers complimented her amazing shoes and low-cut, figure-hugging dress. They cover her every fucking move. The Kardashians simply must have some dirt on Paul Dacre.
For a newspaper with a free-to-access website, full of questionable ‘celebrity’ role models and cheap titillation posing as news, it’s laughable that the Daily Mail should report on the Bailey Review as if it’s the moral guardian of the world.
Even the Mail Online’s report into Reg Bailey’s review was crammed full of photos from Christina Aguilera’s “raunchy” X-Factor performance from last December, including a screengrab of the precise moment a backing dancer spread her stockinged legs during the dance routine.
Mary Whitehouse once said: “Last Thursday evening, we sat as a family and watched a programme that started at 6.35pm. And it was the dirtiest programme I have seen for a very long time.” I imagine several Daily Mail journalists reluctantly endured the same level of filth while searching for the sexiest looking screengrab they could find from December’s X-Factor. Poor souls.
Also talking about the Bailey Review yesterday was Tory MP Nadine Dorries. She took to the airwaves to speak to a slightly bemused-sounding John Humphries on Radio 4’s Today programme, where she once again dribbled a load of vague, outdated statistics about pre-watershed sexual references on TV. The exchange went as follows:
Dorries: “In terms of the watershed, at 9pm, there are 1.8 references to sexual intercourse before the watershed in the evening. Many more sexual innuendo and other references…”
Humphries: *interrupting* “Sorry? 1.8…say that again. There are 1.8…”
Dorries: “There’s recently been a recording of sexual innuendo, references to sexual intercourse…and there’s a whole list of comments made before the watershed. 1.4 references to sexual intercourse before the watershed at 9pm.”
You can listen to the full interview here, but Dorries’ comments are typically confused. Firstly, she quotes two different figures relating to pre-watershed references to sexual intercourse on TV, which strongly hints that she doesn’t have the first clue what she’s talking about (it’s also a different figure to the one she cited in Parliament in May). And secondly, the figures she regurgitated (“recently” recorded, apparently) had already been whisked off to a lab and carbon-dated to the early 1990s, where they’ve apparently been doing the rounds on American Christian websites for years.
You’ve almost got to give Nadine Dorries some credit. Securing yourself a slot on Radio 4’s flagship news programme to confidently spout woefully inaccurate twaddle is impressive. Disturbing, but impressive.
Referring to the prime-time filth on our screens, Dorries also claimed that “young boys want their young girlfriends to behave like the women they watch on X-Factor,” which perhaps insults young people’s intelligence slightly.
When I was a kid, I once found two books in my mum and dad’s bookshelf which made my eyes widen with delight: one was Ronnie Barker’s Gentleman’s Relish, which was a collection of Victorian nude photographs and saucy postcards, and the other was a cocktail recipe book called Rude Cocktails, featuring nude photography by David Thorpe.
If dislodging those books had caused my parents’ bookshelf to suddenly revolve, transporting me into a magical, Narnia-like world, I still probably would’ve just sat there studying every nude picture intently, while rudely ignoring the attentions of a charming woodland satyr.
Based on Nadine Dorries’ assumption that young people are impressionable to the point of having wildly inaccurate expectations of the opposite sex, I probably should have grown up believing that foreplay would come with a free champagne cocktail. Or maybe I should have expressed confusion when my first sexual experience wasn’t preceded by my girlfriend posing against a scenic backdrop, holding a parasol.
Don’t get me wrong, I agree that kids should be kids. I don’t want to see little girls dressed up as if they’re starring in a school production of Band of Gold, and I obviously don’t want young kids surfing the internet for hardcore porn. But some of the anticipated recommendations in the Bailey Review range from the painfully obvious to the worryingly meddlesome.
The Advertising Standards Authority should discourage the placement of billboards with sexualised imagery near schools and nurseries or other areas where children are likely to view it. Also, no bear traps should be laid in school playgrounds. And children should not, under any circumstances, be issued with crossbows during assembly.
Lads’ mags should be moved to the top shelf or sold in covers. Fair enough. No children should have to see Danny Dyer’s smirking face superimposed over the nipples of a curvaceous blonde. If you’re moronic enough to buy such mags, you’re probably tall enough to reach them.
A single website to be created, to act as “an interface between parents and the variety of regulators across the media, communications and retail industries”. What’s this website going to be called? Mumsnet Extreme? Will the media, communications and retail industries be able to keep up with the sheer volume of complaints they’ll receive from all the parents they’ll most certainly be offending in various ways across our vast culture? And how will that work exactly? Is there going to be a Blue Peter totaliser that will set off a vibrating alarm in David Cameron’s trousers when a complaint receives a certain level of support? “We’re only 80 complaints away from having Bill Turnbull arrested for saying ‘boob’ on BBC Breakfast this morning. Here’s how you can get in touch, parents!”
A clampdown on sexualised and violent images shown before TV’s 9pm watershed. This is another no-brainer. But here’s the thing: if pre-watershed TV is sanitised to create acceptable, clean family viewing, then post-watershed TV should cater for an adult audience and be strictly off-limits to anyone complaining about the effect it’s having on their children (who shouldn’t be watching anyway).
I distinctly remember watching Die Hard 2 at gone midnight once, when “frickin'” was still being dubbed over every use of the F-word and John McClane’s famous “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” line was changed to “Yippee-ki-yay, kemosabe”. (Although, the American dubbed-for-TV version changed the line to: “Yippee-ki-yay, Mr Falcon,” so maybe we got off lightly.)
Of course, with the advent of Sky+ and internet television the watershed is somewhat irrelevant these days anyway. People can watch whatever they want at whatever time of day they choose. Prime-time TV can be toned down and sanitised to a point where the only programme available is a cartoon of Alan Titchmarsh playing Hungry Hungry Hippos with a kitten, but there will always be content that’s naturally inappropriate for children of a certain age.
As such, regardless of the government’s various reviews and recommendations, parents are always going to be the first and best line of defence in terms of what their kids are exposed to.
With the Bailey Review condemning what it describes as the “sexualised images used in public spaces and on television, the internet, music videos, magazines and newspapers,” it’s called for public space to become more family friendly, thus changing “the wallpaper of children’s lives”.
Let’s just hope that Nadine Dorries and the Daily Mail aren’t decorating.
[UPDATE: Only a few days after I published this post, the Mail Online ran a photo-heavy article about two girls from Channel 4’s Made in Chelsea series, which showed them cleaning cars and bouncing on Space Hoppers….in bikinis. It surely won’t be long until Loaded or FHM magazine comes as a free supplement with the Mail.]