Tuesday, 15 February 2011


Roaring has demanded that I review RiRi’s ‘S&M’, recently exhibited on a screen near you, claiming that she is going to write some ‘theology’. I think this is code for climbing into bed with a Chinese take-away, a bottle of wine and Gone With the Wind (again).

Having been banned in 11 countries, with MTV apparently considering a re-edit, and suffering a pre-7pm anti-curfew by
Radio 1, I was ready for a Massive Spontaneous Orgasm upon pressing the play button.

I think though The Mirror captured it quite nicely with their insightful comment:


Aside from the mild hilarity of actually seeing that expression caught in print, it’s not exactly the response you’d be pleased to receive if you’d burgled Ann Summers and pulled all the Valentine stops out for when your man gets home.

"Oo-er" is a bit more Carry on Camping.

The Carry On movies weren’t sexy for a whole different reason though. After all Rihanna is more attractive than Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor combined. (Just imagine.) S&M is actually an anti-sex video, which I’m afraid can only be explained by reference to a Roland Barthes essay on strip-tease as the exorcism of sex.

Writing in 1957, he observes how the props of the music hall and the exoticism of the dress imply the unreality of what lies beneath:

‘the nakedness which follows remains itself unreal, smooth and enclosed like a beautiful slippery object, withdrawn by its very extravagance from use.’

And this is before the Advent of Photoshopping.

And speaking of the allegedly erotic dancing of strip-tease, he points out that the ritual gestures and the constant motion actually conceal nudity and the fear of immobility. The ease and seamless nature of the act make them remote and non-erotic - a fact immediately verified by considering amateurs or our own partially bungled, awkward and embarrassed attempts, which by their fear and vulnerability actually succeed in being erotic. Provided we don’t fall over and start crying.

So through all her different poses, which bring to light in silly ridiculousness all kinds of fetish (even her Scary Spice impression from the video... [sorry this was Roaring's observation which my shameful lack of interest in Spice Girls videos is unable to corroborate]) that depend upon being secret, shameful, forbidden &c. for their allure, she magically weaves a vacuum of anti-sex through her flawless, glazed hips, sexorcising the world. Except presumably for teenage boys who wank off to it anyway because it’s apparently a WOMAN, although a WOMBAT would probably do the trick in a fix.

Also, the oft-repeated line: “Sex in the air, I don't care, I love the smell of it.”

Seriously. Oo-er.

Barthes essay is most amusing because what he really hates is the amateur strip-tease competitions; that stripping can now be thought of as a career, that it is made ‘familiar and bourgeois’, that we ‘could not conceive eroticism except as a household property, sanctioned by the alibi of weekly sport’.

Pole-dancing classes anyone?

The story gets even weirder though when you read in today’s Guardian Joy Nilsson, postgraduate student at a London university, on a protest march against the closing of lap-dancing clubs: “If they close the clubs many women will drop out of higher education... I love my job and I’m very proud of what I do - it fits perfectly with my studying, it’s very flexible and you get your money up front. What other jobs give you that kind of freedom?”

Apparently 1 in 3 lap-dancers in Leeds are doing it to fund their education. This presumably fits in to the government's “Big Tits Society” area of policy.

So what MTV tells us is that our culture has successfully exorcised itself of sex for money. Culturally sex has become banal. Just think of Bridget Jones’ casual reference to anal sex - you probably didn’t even notice it. This hasn’t in anyway diminished the fact that sex is still sold everywhere for money and that bodies in poverty are exploited. But in a sexless culture this ceases to be a moral concern, it becomes simply an economic concern.

Incidentally, these themes come together in Mike Figgis’ production of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia. The libretto is vicious to poor Lucrezia and throughout we are treated to the ENO's garrulous shouts of “WHORE WHORE WHORE EVIL WHORE EVIL INCARNATE &c.” Figgis has worthily sought to combat this misogyny by interspersing a series of films, which speculate on her earlier life with mood pieces suggesting a decadent, incestuous and violent family life through which her later actions become the result of familial abuse.

Although this does at least introduce some complexity into this flatly evil woman, these short pieces all have the soft lighting, arty posing and mannequin-actors of soft-porn movies - or a music video. The distance this builds from reality destroys the actual vulnerability of Lucrezia and we’re left with LuLu sucking her brother’s finger in a sort of unreal sexless incest. It is somehow both non-erotic and sexually abusive.

Which really is the worst of all possible worlds.

Really fabulous singing though.

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