Is­land where all men and women are equal

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - COMMENT - Mary COM­MENT Carr

BE­FORE Peter Stringfel­low opened his ill-fated lap-danc­ing club in Dublin, I had the du­bi­ous plea­sure of be­ing a guest at his flag­ship venue in Lon­don. To say it was a crush­ing dis­ap­point­ment is an un­der­state­ment. Sur­rounded by plush ban­quettes and pre­dictably naff light­ing, beau­ti­ful-look­ing girls in G-stings ei­ther danced for­lornly on tables or worked their non-ex­is­tent socks off en­treat­ing stu­pe­fied-look­ing men to shell out for pri­vate dances.

The at­mos­phere, a blend of dull cor­po­rate con­form­ity and quiet des­per­a­tion, seemed to mock the rep­u­ta­tion of Stringfel­low’s clubs as oases of heady sex­ual lib­er­a­tion. Like Hugh Hefner, Stringfel­low, al­though on a smaller scale, is of­ten hailed as a sex­ual pi­o­neer who helped res­cue his gen­er­a­tion from the but­toned-up re­pres­sion that lin­gered long af­ter the Vic­to­rian era. Be­fore Hefner donned his vel­vet dress­ing gown or Stringfel­low his leop­ard-print thong, sex was hid­den and il­licit, found only in racy nov­els that were of­ten banned, or be­tween the dog-eared pages of erotic pam­phlets.

But as the ge­nie was re­leased from the bot­tle and sex be­came more vis­i­ble, two-di­men­sional draw­ings of naked fe­males and dirty books gave way to pageth­ree girls and soft-porn pin­ups. Hefner’s Play­mates and bun­nies, as well as the bal­loonch­ested girls who swarmed around Stringfel­low raised the bar fur­ther on male fan­tasy ma­te­rial.

SUD­DENLY flesh-and­blood women from Katie Price, who fashioned her sur­gi­cally en­hanced al­ter ego Jor­dan in the 1990s, to Pamela An­der­son, could carve ca­reers out of ap­pear­ing per­ma­nently sex­u­ally avail­able. No longer had men to con­tent them­selves wor­ship­ping pin-ups from afar – the ad­vent of sex-kit­ten celebri­ties and re­al­ity TV stars held out the fan­tasy of star­ring in their own X-rated film.

For all that was writ­ten about Big Brother as a grand so­cial ex­per­i­ment, study­ing hu­mans as lab rats un­der a tightly con­trolled sit­u­a­tion, re­al­ity TV is also a symp­tom of how sex is now main­stream. The first Big Brother was more in­no­cent than its bawdy suc­ces­sors but, even so, the sus­pense didn’t just hang on Nasty Nick’s skul­dug­gery but on the flirt­ing be­tween the cast.

Love Is­land, which has no pre­ten­sions to do any­thing other than film ripped and bronzed young­sters cou­ple up and have sex, is the mod­ern equiv­a­lent of etch­ings pro­duced by cave­men de­signed to tit­il­late. Yet ou­trage about its ex­plicit scenes and per­ceived mo­ral bank­ruptcy sug­gests that the great sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion spear­headed by Hefner never ac­tu­ally hap­pened and that open dis­plays of sex­ual in­ti­macy are as much a rar­ity for us as our great grand­par­ents. Nei­ther of which is true.

The pro­duc­ers of Love Is­land are com­mod­i­fy­ing sex and ex­ploit­ing the des­per­a­tion of some young men and women for fame to pro­duce a rat­ings top­per. Sex sells bet­ter than bak­ing, build­ing house ex­ten­sions, slim­ming down en masse or any of the other ac­tiv­i­ties from other re­al­ity shows. More young­sters ap­plied for Love Is­land than for Ox­ford and Cam­bridge uni­ver­si­ties com­bined. So why the shock at it at­tract­ing huge rat­ings? Why are so many of us be­hav­ing like nuns trapped in a prover­bial brothel?

NO ONE’S forc­ing any­one to watch it. All we have to do is make sure chil­dren don’t see it be­cause we have a duty to pro­tect them for as long as pos­si­ble from our sex-sat­u­rated cul­ture. The out­cry smacks of the same pu­ri­tanism that was un­leashed when Hefner be­gan his Play­boy em­pire – an at­ti­tude that at least had the ex­cuse of gen­uine of­fence be­ing taken – or from the part of the #MeToo move­ment that im­poses such nar­row terms on ac­cept­able be­hav­iour be­tween men and women.

True, the Love Is­lan­ders seem ter­ri­bly shal­low and empty-headed, par­tic­u­larly as our Leav­ing cert stu­dents face into their ex­ams. But at least the young men and women are com­pet­ing on equal terms. Thirty years ago the ‘girls’ would be crowd­ing into a Jacuzzi with one man to see who could win his af­fec­tion. Love Is­land is cer­tainly not ev­ery­one’s bag but, in terms of gen­der re­la­tions, it is progress.

Poldark

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