What the pornographer did to me

Just came across this deliberately provocative but oddly innocent unpublished ‘Malcom Playce’ column from way back, long before the internet made things so much worse.

I was a teenage browser. It was The Carpetbaggers that started me off. It was on a bookstall at the local church jumble sale, and my mum said I wasn’t to buy it.

I found it later in my dad’s wardrobe. The self-same copy. I read bit by bit while he was at work, carefully putting it back where I found it. My mum caught me once and said they had removed it from prying eyes at the jumble sale and were discussing with the priest what to do about it.

I moved on to the second-hand bookstall outside a local antique shop. If you pulled out the fat paperbacks they had a habit of falling open at grimy pages.

Now I hadn’t liked the violence of The Carbetbaggers but I had git a bit of a strange feeling in the groinal area at some of the other bits. And when I found a tattered copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in a junk shop I thought I was very grown up. It was all over the papers at the time – one of the big moments of the so-called Swinging Sixties. ‘Filth’ in the High Court. And here it was, In my hands. It did almost nothing for me.

Soon I was skimming through mucky American and Scandinavian potboilers. Press against the table outside the antique shop in case anyone should notice anything untoward happening. It was one way of learning about the facts of life, but there were so many unanswered questions I couldn’t ask my mum or dad, because then they’d know I had been reading dirty books.

It was later that I discovered ‘girlie’ magazines. `Surprised? Well I lived a sheltered life of sorts and in those days they were tucked away on top shelves. And I always preferred reading words to pictures, as they got my imagination going. It was when I sneaked off to a distant town to buy my first cigarettes. I had seen the odd torn out picture of naked women in the playground at school, but nothing like the racks of erotica in this corner shop. And they were on stands.

I had covered my embarrassment about buying fags by flicking through the tawdry junk on display. A lot of my questions were answered at once. And while my imagination ran away with me when I was safely tucked up in bed, it never occurred to me that some men actually masturbated onto the pictures themselves.

Until, that is, the night-watchman on a local building site had a heart attack doing just that. It shocked me then; still does. But I can understand the lonely inadequacy of the man who does. Surely that is not a violence against women, but a pathetic attempt to seek comfort in sex. Or is every wanker to regarded as a psychic rapist?

There are other, subtler forms of violence which pornography brings on. For the teenage me, the lush and often extraordinary pictures that I saw provided an already romantically inclined imagination with what I believed were the raw materials of a woman’s body. Together  these elements warped into an idealisation as much as an objectification of the female form.

Nurtured by the cinema, where people seemed more real than in tatty bookshops, these mistaken identities of women got in the way pf personal relationships. There was reverence, awe, desire, and total confusion in my perceptions of the girls I went out with.

Were these women really like than under their clothes? And if they were – which was their real image – dressed or undressed? Any notion of them as people was obscured by imagery which had nothing to do with them and who they were.

This was the work of the pornographer. Turning women into things, symbols, totems. Creating in the minds of impressionable youths an image of what women should be like. Should be. By distorting.

Small wonder that the pornographer’s ‘art’ has been adapted by the advertising industry. They have the same aim in mind – to make people want their product. The naked woman spreadeagled over a centrefold has become just that – a product manufactured by men in their own tortured idealisation of women.

Small wonder that eroticism, whether blatant or obscure, has become the tool of the television advert. What better place, safe in your own home, to fantasise about all the tings you desire? 

And so we come full circle. Books with sexy bits sell well. The comic book equivalent for those lacing imagination needs sexy picture. Whatever turns you on?

But if sex sells, why aren’t the women in these pictures the true fat cats of capitalism? Because it is not their sexuality that is being sold.  It is just an idea, an image, a product called sexual arousal among men that the men behind the scenes are manipulating (for money, of course). There is and never can be a human relationship between an image and a flesh and blood person with an intellect.

And that is the tragedy which the pornographer cannot or will not, see. Justifying their work by offering sexual gratification at one remove, or even claiming the status of erotic art for something which reflects no human dignity or warmth; these are poor excuses for a guilty conscience, if any exists. Pornography is about making money, and to hell with the consequences.

As a callow youth I did not see that. I saw only beautiful women with beautiful bodies, who sometimes visited me in my dreams. I never met them, and never will. But it might be far better if the notion of depraving and corrupting so beloved of wrong-headed moralists who hate sex, were applied instead to our ability to relate to one another as people. Pornographers make it more difficult. Moralists can make it near impossible.

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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