Sunday 22 April 2012

Lads Mags - degrading us all.

To say that I hate 'lads mags' like Nuts and Zoo would be an understatement. I would honestly rather see real hardcore pornography on sale in WH Smiths than I would these unpleasant, unfunny, sexist magazines.

It's taken me a while to put my finger exactly on what I feel the difference is, but this article in The Guardian finally helped me do it. It's by a former lads mag editor, Terri White, who has partially realised the damage that magazines like this do.

I have no problems with sex. I rather enjoy it. I even try to be good at it. I don't have any issues at all with the idea that people may get some enjoyment out of watching people have sex, or even just looking at naked people, and that some people may enjoy the idea of people watching them, or even be prepared to do it in return for financial recompense. That's all fine as far as I'm concerned.

For me, one of the most uncomfortable sex icons in the history of cinema is Barbara Windsor. Note that I'm not saying 'bad', but 'uncomfortable'. I'm not talking about her looks, body or voice, or anything like that. It was the attitude that the characters she played tended to put forward. The kind of characters that would respond to somebody pinching her arse or groping her with a 'Oi...cheeky!' and a friendly laugh. I always found something about that kind of thing to be written in such a way that it was somewhat encouraging of that kind of behaviour - because she enjoyed it, because she was up for it, because that kind of thing was all okay really. I love the Carry On films, but I do think their attitudes towards sex were uncomfortable at times.

It's the hint that real women? They love this kind of thing, they do. Women that don't are probably feminists or frigid or something.  And that's the kind of thing that Nuts and ZOO have ended up running with, with their emphasis on 'real women' and 'humour'.

Pornography tends to sell fantasies. Most glamour magazines tend to sell fantasies. Nuts sells attainability, and that's where the problem comes in. When it shows, say, "Karen, 24 receptionist from Wigan" with her tits out, talking about how she loves porn and has tried threesomes, it's not being sold to the reader as how strong and sexual women are or can be. Instead, it's being sold that this is what 'real women' like.

Bear in mind that the culture that these mags engender is the kind of culture where Danny Dyer (a man who desperately aims to be Ray Winstone but actually manages to land squarely on 'Artful Dodger') jokes that a man should 'cut his ex's face, so noone will want her', and that's okay until someone outside of the cocoon of tits and hate actually reads it.

One of the things that Terri White talks about is the idea that the mags didn't use words like 'tits', because that would be degrading. I rather feel that is completely missing the point, especially when there are regularly headlines like "Massive Boobs Special Issue!" plastered across the front of the magazines.

There's another point. The defence is sometimes put out that they're "celebrating women". They're not. If they were, they'd be reflecting a range of shapes of women, rather than the absolute homogeny of slim with massive boobs. This is a genre of magazine that once ran a competition where they encouraged women to win a boobjob by sending pictures of their boobs and then chose who was most in need of a boobjob. Celebration of women right there.

They don't celebrate women. They specifically celebrate women with huge boobs. Well, slim women with huge boobs. Well, slim white women with huge boobs. Because do take the time to try and spot how often any ethnicity other than white women are on the front cover. And no, Nuts and Zoo, 'ginger' doesn't count.

Anna Arrowsmith (AKA Anna Span) wrote a defence of pornography some time ago where she pointed out that porn is somewhat democratic, in that there's a variety of shapes and sizes, because all kinds of people get turned on by all kinds of visuals. And, also, it tends to feature men as well, rather than just constant disembodied breasts. This isn't to say that the porn industry doesn't have huge problems, and huge issues towards women - of course a lot of it does. However, with lads mags, there isn't even an alternative.

That's a big problem with the humour as well. It isn't humour. It's  what is more and more being referred to as 'banter', which is just shit, boring and moronic, and encourages more of it. It also tends to be parrotted by horribly defensive blokes, who spout homophobic, racist, sexist, idiotic guff and defend it with "it's just banter, mate". The magazines don't print outright racist or sexist jokes, but I'd be fascinated to know how many of them they get sent by readers.

The degradation of women in these magazines is awful. It reduces them and their worth to their willingness to get their breasts out (as long as they're big) and whether they enjoy being objectivised. They then act as if this is what real women are like.

The degradation doesn't just stop with women, either. The idea that this is what men like and are like is degrading to men as well. The idea that we're all lads, who can't think of anything better than what Eddie from Bottom would describe as a "wazzo pair of jugs". That we all think that this is what women should look like, and that we're only interested in a weirdly specific kind of woman. It degrades men and women by acting as if we're all stupid.

It's degrading to sex, by pushing a viewpoint that is entirely focusing on a serial-killer-like preoccupation with specific body parts, and women that act a specific way. It degrades sex by ignoring the idea that it should be about more than just big boobs. It ignores variety. It ignores fun and silliness and replaces it with banter.

It assumes stupidity. It assumes sexism. It assumes a base level of ignorance and attitude on behalf of the reader that must instinctively dislike anyone that isn't the same as them.

I can see how pornography can be improved. I think sex is an inherently good thing, and pornography can celebrate that, and the more women that work in the field, the more it tries to aim towards what women like as well, the more the audience can change and the more equal and positive a thing it could become.

Can anyone really see a way that lads mags can improve?

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